The Blithedale Romance

by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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Summary of Chapters 1-8 in The Blithedale Romance


In Chapters 1-8 of The Blithedale Romance, the protagonist, Miles Coverdale, joins the utopian community of Blithedale, hoping for a fresh start. He meets other key characters, including the charismatic Hollingsworth, the enigmatic Zenobia, and the mysterious Priscilla. The narrative explores the ideals and challenges of the community, as personal conflicts and individual motives begin to surface.

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What is the summary of Chapter 1 in The Blithedale Romance?

Miles Coverdale, a young man, is returning home from an exhibition by the Veiled Lady, a well-known mesmerist of the day, where he had been inquiring of her concerning the success of the Blithedale experiment. Coverdale is approached by an elderly acquaintance, Mr. Moodie. The latter asks Coverdale if he is going to Blithedale the next day. When Coverdale answers in the affirmative, that he is indeed going in the morning, Moodie asks if he would do a favor for him. Coverdale hesitates, uncertain whether he can or should commit much time to such an individual. Moodie himself then hesitates and decides that perhaps it would be best to ask an older man or even a lady who is going to Blithedale. Coverdale suggests a man named Hollingsworth, who is a few years older than himself.

Moodie then asks if Coverdale happens to know a woman named Zenobia. Coverdale states that he does, that she is a resident of Blithedale and that Zenobia is not her real name, but only a cover.

When Coverdale is unable to convince Mr. Moodie to trust him with his confidence, the two make a tentative arrangement to meet in the morning, before Coverdale departs for Blithedale. Yet Mr. Moodie does not appear.

On returning to his apartments, Coverdale settles down and ponders about his decision to join the Blithedale experiment, whether it is the wisest course he could take.

Finally, Coverdale heads for bed, in preparation for his trip the next morning to the Blithedale community.

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What is the summary of Chapter 2 in The Blithedale Romance?

The next day, Coverdale had journeyed to Blithedale. Though it was mid-April and the morning had been warm, a sudden snowstorm blew in, providing a marked contrast to the warm, cozy fire that Coverdale enjoyed in his apartments at the community. In an act that he describes as "heroic," Coverdale decides to venture out into the snowstorm. He is accompanied by three others, including Hollingsworth. The four travel through the town to its environs, enjoying the brisk, stormy weather. Coverdale, however, enjoys it less than the others do.

Coverdale speculates on their experiment to change the world. He seems reluctant to fully commit himself to the philosophy behind Blithedale, yet enjoys the time while it lasts.

On the travelers’ return to their lodgings, they are welcomed by Mrs. Foster, the wife of Silas Foster, who is the real farmer of the community, and has undertaken to teach the inhabitants the art of husbandry. Other residents of Blithedale also appear, most notably two young women, who have a certain of uncertainty as to their place in the community.

As the greetings are concluded, the noted Zenobia enters the parlor. Zenobia is a leading figure of the community, who has taken this name as a pen name for her magazine articles about the philosophy behind the community. She is looked upon, and looks upon herself, as a regal personage, both in Blithedale and in the world at large.

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What is the summary of Chapter 3 in The Blithedale Romance?

As "the first comer", Zenobia welcomes the travelers to Blithedale Farm, having "something say to every individual".  She tells Mr. Coverdale that she is a fan of his poetry, and has even committed some of it to heart.  Zenobia is undeniably a "remarkably beautiful" woman.  The narrator notes that she exudes a sense of sexuality which, "though pure...(is) hardly felt to be quite decorous".

When someone asks how tasks will be assigned on the farm, Zenobia responds that the women will at first take on the domestic duties of the house, but that in time, depending on "individual adaptations", some men may work in the kitchen instead, and some women in the fields.  Silas Foster, who works the fields, comes in and comments on the gloomy weather, and his pessimism causes the visitors to doubt for a moment the wisdom of their undertaking.  Their courage prevails, however, and Coverdale expresses the joy they take in their purpose, to show "mankind the example of a life governed by other than the false and cruel principles, on which human society has all along been based".  Foster, ever the voice of foreboding, comments that "unless the women-folks will undertake to do all the weeding", the farm will never be able to compete with the Boston producers.  Coverdale thinks it is "rather odd, that one of the first questions raised, after their separation from the greedy...self-seeking world, should relate to the possiblilty of getting the advantage" over others.

There is one more member of the group still to arrive - Mr. Hollingsworth, a philanthropist (Chapter 3).

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What is the summary of Chapter 4 in The Blithedale Romance?

Huddled before the warmth of the hearth fire that is "somewhat too abundant", the group gathers together, fieldhands, handmaidens, and the visitors to Blithedale.  Everyone is friendly, but rather awkward - "it (is) the first practical trial of (their) theories of equal brotherhood and sisterhood".  Coverdale, in his mind, questions the motivations of those present, wondering if it had been by necessity rather than by noble choice, if those present "would so quietly have taken (their) places among these good people".

As expected, Hollingsworth soon arrives, but with a mysterious guest, "a slim and unsubstantial girl".  Hollingsworth tells the group that he does not know the girl; an old man brought her to him and begged him to bring her with him to Blithedale.  Understanding that the girl must have friends here, Hollingsworth obliged.

The girl is pitiable, dressed "in a poor, but decent gown" and with a demeanor that is "depressed and sad".  From the moment she enters the room, she has eyes only for Zenobia, who is understandably taken aback.  The girl says her name is Priscilla, and will not reveal her surname.  Inexplicably pleading, she asks "only that (Zenobia) shelter (her)...that she will let (her) be always near her". 

The group is at a loss as to what to do about Priscilla.  Finally, Silas Foster very reasonably suggests that they let the girl stay as long as she likes, working and sharing like the rest of the company, and "in a week or two, she'll begin to look like a creature of this world" (Chapter 4).

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What is the summary of Chapter 5 in The Blithedale Romance?

After the evening meal, the group, except for Silas, gathers in the sitting room.  Priscilla sits beside Zenobia, gazing at her with "humble delight", and Coverfield supposes that perhaps she has read some of Zenobia's writings, and has been exceedingly impressed by them.  Zenobia is scornful at this idea, and says Priscilla must be "a seamstress from the city" who has come to do her sewing; the reason for her conjecture is that she has noticed "needle marks on the tip of her forefinger...her paleness...and her wretched fragility".  Priscilla begins to cry, and Coverfield and Zenobia can only surmise that Zenobia's scornful comments have been overheard.  Vexed, Zenobia resolves to be "reasonably kind" to Priscilla, and carresses her hair.  This sign of acceptance has "a magical effect" on the little waif, and from that moment, "she melt(s) in quietly amongst (them)...her tenure at Blithedale...thenceforth fixed".  Although she appears to be disquieted by the storm, Priscilla proceeds to open her bag and knit a silk purse, which has a hidden aperture that is very difficult to detect.

The group is largely uncommunicative that evening, especially Hollingsworth, who is deep within his own meditations.  They do try to decide on a name for their experiment, with "Sunny Glimpse", "Utopia", and "Oasis" suggested and voted down.  The members finally agree to keep the name "Blithedale".  Later, Silas comes in and advises everyone to go to bed, because they will be rising early in the morning to begin work on the farm (Chapter 5).

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What is the summary of Chapter 6 in The Blithedale Romance?

Coverdale awakens in the morning to the sound of Hollingsworth’s prayers coming through the partition. He is struck by the man’s spirituality, yet does not necessarily follow his example.

Coverdale also awakens to a raging fever and is confined to bed for several days. He is cared for by Hollingsworth, whose tender ministrations impress Coverdale with their tenderness. Hollingsworth’s care is beyond that of a woman’s, and Coverdale ponders how men seem to rather attack the sick than to care for them.

Coverdale also continues to be fascinated by Zenobia. She continues to bewitch him, and he fixates on the daily exotic flower in her hair. It symbolizes her personality, and he marvels how it is new each day.

He also speculates as to her past. Had she been married? Something about her suggested it, though he had no solid evidence. She was not young, but neither was she past her prime. His fascination grows to the point where Zenobia recognizes it and acknowledges it. She brushes it off as the idle thoughts of a poet.

Coverdale continues to regain his strength, despite the harsh diet of gruel that is standard fair for the ill. His esteem for Zenobia does not reach to her cooking, which leaves something to be desired. To him it smacks of pine smoke, associated with witchcraft, which might be symbolic of the spell that Coverdale feels she is casting on him.

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What is the summary of Chapter 7 in The Blithedale Romance?

As Coverdale continues to recuperate, he is visited by Priscilla, the newest Blithedale resident. She comes to his sick chamber, bearing a nightcap that she has made especially for him, and a letter for the transcendentalist Margaret Fuller. Coverdale marvels that he had just been thinking of the resemblance between Priscilla and Margaret when the former arrived in his chamber. Priscilla is confused by Coverdale’s remarks, so Coverdale does not pursue the topic.

As Coverdale convalesces, he enters a discussion with Hollingsworth concerning the works of Charles Fourier, a French theorist. Coverdale is amused by Fourier’s impractical suggestions. For example, Coverdale relates that Fourier’s theory is that, when the world’s society shall be transformed, the seas will be turned into lemonade.

Hollingsworth, however, is not so amused. He is disturbed by what he calls Fourier’s foundation of selfishness. Hollingsworth does not approve of a society that is founded upon the root cause of so much evil. While Coverdale sees some similarities between Fourier’s philosophy and Blithedale, Hollingsworth refuses to hear any more on the topic.

Coverdale begins to suspect that Hollingsworth’s tender care during his illness was nothing more than an attempt to proselytize him. Hollingsworth leads Coverdale to believe that they could never be life-long friends unless Coverdale strove with him towards the great object of his life, namely, the spread of his philosophy.

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What is the summary of Chapter 8 in The Blithedale Romance?

As spring advances, the Blithedale community celebrates May Day, albeit belatedly to avoid the remnants of wintry weather. Coverdale is not sure if this was Zenobia’s idea or the wish of the community as a whole. During the festivities, Priscilla epitomizes spring itself, with youthfulness, joy, and effervescence. Coverdale especially notices how she personifies the season, and is tweaked by Zenobia for not putting the sight into poetry. Yet during her cavorting in the fields, she suddenly seems subdued and retreats by herself until Hollingsworth leads her back to the group.

The residents of Blithedale are enjoying working the land, under the supervision of Silas Foster. They are becoming more robust, tanner, healthier, and more in tune with the soil. The community grows with both permanent residents and temporary travelers, who come to Blithedale for a spiritual retreat.

Zenobia chides Coverdale for not putting all this into poetry, but Coverdale points out that one cannot be a poet and a farmer at the same time. Zenobia teases him that he will turn farmer yet, and forsake the pen for the plow. Hollingsworth, joining the conversation, states that he does not believe that Coverdale’s heart is in either, and will never truly succeed in either. Zenobia joins Hollingsworth’s side in the argument. Coverdale concludes that Hollingsworth is rapidly making disciples of the resident women, while he remains hesitant about a commitment to the Blithedale ideal.

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