The Blithedale Romance

by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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Summaries of Chapters 25-29 in The Blithedale Romance


In The Blithedale Romance, Chapters 25-29, Coverdale discovers the tragic fate of Zenobia and Priscilla. Zenobia drowns herself following her failed romance with Hollingsworth, while Priscilla is revealed to be her half-sister. Hollingsworth, consumed by guilt, abandons his reformist ideals. These chapters explore themes of unfulfilled aspirations and the complexities of human relationships within the utopian community.

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What is the summary of Chapter 25 in The Blithedale Romance?

Having come unexpectedly upon Priscilla, Hollingsworth, and Zenobia at the base of Eliot's pulpit, Coverdale senses that they have just had a scene, and that he is an intruder.  He tactfully suggests that he will go to the house and see them later, but Zenobia half-laughingly says that she has "been on trial for (her) life" and would like to have her case reheard before him.  Coverdale doesn't know what has transpired, but he can see that "Zenobia and Hollingsworth (are) friends no longer".

In Coverdale's presence, Zenobia asks Hollingsworth if he had supposed her to be wealthy, to which he replies in the affirmative.  Zenobia reveals that she had thought she was wealthy too, and although she may not be now, had been willing to give her fortune to him with no strings attached so he could achieve his dream.  She then asks Hollingsworth if he loves Priscilla, to which he also answers affirmatively.  Zenobia then exclaims that his fault is greater in God's eyes, because she is but a woman, "passionate" and "foolish", but he as a man disguises his feelings with self-deception, "stifl(ing) down (his) inmost consciousness...(doing) deadly wrong to (his) own heart".

Hollingsworth, stung, calls to Priscilla to come, but she kneels instead to Zenobia and gasps, "we are sisters".  Zenobia knows that indeed they "had one father", and the two make amends.  Priscilla then leaves with Hollingsworth, and when they are gone, Zenobia weeps "convulsively", her sobbing having "nothing to do with tears" (Chapter 25).

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What is the summary of Chapter 26 in The Blithedale Romance?

Coverdale listens to Zenobia's sobs "in unbroken silence." He wants to help her in her grief, but can think of no way to do so.  Curiously, his own heart is shaken by the "hardly mitigated torment" that consumes Zenobia.

When she has ceased crying, Zenobia recognizes Coverdale.  She quietly tells him not to pity her, because "it is a woman's doom, and (she has) deserved it".  She half-seriously urges him to write a ballad about her situation, and tells him the moral of her story will "be distilled into the final stanza, in a drop of bitter honey."  Zenobia says that the moral itself will be "that, in the battlefield of life, the downright stroke, that would fall only on a man's steel head-piece, is sure to light on a woman's heart, over which she wears no breastplate".

Zenobia laments that Hollingsworth "has flung away what would have served him better than the poor, pale flower he kept" in choosing Priscilla instead of herself, yet she admits that it was her own fault, all along, because he never sought her.  She entreats Coverdale to tell Hollingsworth that he has murdered her, and that she will haunt him, and she tears the flower from her hair and asks him to give it to Priscilla.  Zenobia says she is "sick to death of playing at philanthropy and progress", and that their "effort to establish the one true system...was...a foolish dream".  When Zenobia leaves, telling Coverdale only that when next he sees her, "her face will be behind the black-veil", Coverdale flings himself on the leaves at the base of Eliot's pulpit, sleeps and dreams, and awakens, trembling (Chapter 26).

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What is the summary of Chapter 27 in The Blithedale Romance?

It is close to midnight when Coverdale goes to Hollingsworth's window to solicit his help.  He has found Zenobia's "delicate handkerchief, marked with a well-known cypher" by the stream, and is filled with a terrible foreboding.  Silas Foster appears, and his help is requested as well.  Coverdale is afraid that Zenobia has drowned herself.

Foster is incredulous at the idea that a woman who "has more means than she can use or waste, and lacks nothing to make her comfortable", would do such a thing, but he goes along anyway.  The three men find Zenobia's unmistakable French-made shoe on the bank near the water, and taking a hay rake and a hooked pole, troll the water looking for her body.  At first, they find only "a monstrous tuft of water-weeds" and "a sunken log", but finally, Hollingsworth's pole strikes "some object at the bottom of the river", and Zenobia's body is found.  The discovery is a horrendous spectacle; the body is "the marble image of a death-agony".  Zenobia's knees are bent as if in prayer, but her hands are "clenched in immitigable defiance".  With the hook Hollingsworth has "wounded the poor thing's breast...close by her heart", just as he did in life.

Coverdale is stunned by the ugliness of her death, and muses that had Zenobia been able to foresee how she would look after being drawn from the water, she would never have "committed the dreadful act".  He likens her inability to distinguish between her romantic concepts and raw reality to "the Arcadian affectation that had been visible in all (their) lives" at Blithedale Farm (Chapter 27).

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What is the summary of Chapter 28 in The Blithedale Romance?

Zenobia is buried "on the gently sloping hill-side" where it was once supposed that she and Hollingsworth would build their cottage.  At her simple funeral, bereft of "frippery of flowers and cheerful emblems", Coverdale encounters Westervelt, who contemptuously views her death as "a foolish thing", that a woman such as Zenobia, who could have had "every prize that could be worth a woman's having", should have died for love.  Coverdale is repulsed by Westervelt's cold incapability to harbor "so much as one spiritual idea", but he does agree that it is a waste and a shame "that a woman of Zenobia's diversified capacity should have fancied herself irretrievably defeated...because Love had gone against her".  He recognizes that it is "a miserable wrong...that the success or failure of woman's existence should be made to depend wholly on the affections" of men, while men themselves have "such a multitude of other chances".

Coverdale is surprised to see that Priscilla, though grieved, is holding up well, and he understands that it was Hollingsworth all along upon whom she was dependent.  Years pass, and Coverdale is irresistably drawn to find out what has happened to the two of them.  He discovers that Hollingsworth and Priscilla inhabit "a small cottage", and that Hollingsworth has given up his obsessive quest to reform the world.  Haunted by Zenobia's death, he has focused himself on the redemption of "a single murderer" - himself (Chapter 28).

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What is the summary of Chapter 29 in The Blithedale Romance?

In this final chapter, Miles Coverdale looks back on his time at Blithedale from the vantage point of middle age.  He had left the farm "within the week after Zenobia's death", and has not had the heart to return.  He remembers the idealism of the group, the "beautiful scheme of a noble and unselfish life", and how it looked at first that "it might endure for generations, and be perfected...into the system of a people, and a world".  Although the experiment failed, a victim of their "infidelity to its own higher spirit", Coverdale still believes that, in theory, their concept was good, that they "had struck upon what ought to be a truth (which) posterity may dig...up, and profit by".

In the years since Blithedale, Coverdale, who has remained a bachelor, has lived "very much at (his) ease".  He has traveled to Europe twice, but given up poetry; he recognizes that his life "lack(s) a purpose", and that he no longer has the inclination to pursue his once deeply heartfelt beliefs.  He sardonically indicates his state of lethargy in saying that if, in "this whole chaos of human struggle", if there were a cause worth dying for he would not be afraid to give up his life, if it were not too much trouble. 

Coverdale reveals that there is a reason that he lost his passion and now lives an aimless life.  He has a secret which he has long concealed - that he, himself, had also been in love - with Priscilla! (Chapter 29).

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