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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Necessity
This is not only a book with which any Hawthorne fan should be familiar, it is a necessity to anyone who is studying the Romantic Tradition. This text is an elegant commentary on the ideals that the Romantics held dear, such as the authenticity of a life close to the earth, the superiority of existence outside of common society rather than within it, and our innate...
Published on June 17, 2003

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "Chronicle of Failure and Bet rayal"
Hawthorne's third novel, THE BLITHEDALE ROMANCE, combines

diverse elements such as mystery, passion, social reform and philosophy-even a ghost story--all blended into a delightful literary patchwork. Set in mid 19th century Massachusetts this novel was inspired by the author's personal sojourn at Brook Farm-an experiment in Socialism and communal living--where...
Published on March 3, 2005 by Plume45


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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Necessity, June 17, 2003
By A Customer
This review is from: The Blithedale Romance (Hardcover)
This is not only a book with which any Hawthorne fan should be familiar, it is a necessity to anyone who is studying the Romantic Tradition. This text is an elegant commentary on the ideals that the Romantics held dear, such as the authenticity of a life close to the earth, the superiority of existence outside of common society rather than within it, and our innate ability, with enough well-directed effort, to transcend our own humanity. Like a breath of fresh air after Wordsworth, Thoreau, Keats, and both Shelleys, Hawthorne's cynicism and pessimism on these topics shine clearly through this work. Though admittedly he has failed in his announced effort to make the text cheerful and lighthearted, this is not such a complete failure as one may initially suppose, when this novel is contrasted with his others. Much of the humor that is in the book is centered around the narrator, Coverdale, whose nature forces him to fit in with his surroundings in a way which is a bit askew, precipitating enjoyable scenes which the reader can appreciate, if he or she has refrained from judging this main character. The treasure in this book, however, is not mainly in its humor, but rather (for me at least - each person presumably takes from it something different) in the elegance with which so many universal truths are exposed (often only partially, so that the reader can feel a sense of triumph when they wholly uncover them) to our conscious awareness. As you have no doubt already surmised, I highly recommend this novel.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An impassioned human drama, December 23, 2002
The Blithedale Romance is a somewhat dark, depressing tale of idealism gone awry and of friendship and love torn asunder by private ambitions. The romance of these pages is not what many modern readers may expect to find here; there is no penultimate consummation of love among these characters, nor is there much happiness indeed to be discerned from the complexity of their relations one with another. Much has been made of Hawthorne's own temporary residence at the utopian-minded Brook Farm a decade previous to the publication of this work; it is true that some of the experiences derive from his own memories, but Hawthorne went to great pains to make clear that this is a romance first and foremost and bears no direct relation to the experiences of his own life. Those who would read this novel in an attempt to get at Hawthorne's true feelings about the utopian socialism he flirted with and watched from afar during his pivotal creative years may well miss out on the thought-provoking treatment of such wonderfully literary, fascinating characters as Hollingsworth the idealistic philanthropist, Zenobia the modern feminist reformer with a fatal flaw inimical to her self-realization, and the sweet and frail Priscilla.
The first-person narrator of this story is Miles Coverdale, a man difficult to come to terms with. He joins with the pioneers behind the utopian farming community of Blithedale and truly takes heart in the possibility of this new kind of communitarian life offering mankind a chance to live lives of purpose and fulfillment, yet at times he steps outside of events and seems to view the whole experience as a study in human character and a learning experience to which his heart-strings are only loosely bound. The drama that unfolds is told in his perspective only, and one can never know how much he failed to discern or the degree to which his own conjectures are correct. His eventual castigation of Hollingsworth cannot be doubted, however. This rather unfeeling man joins the community on the hidden pretext of acquiring the means for fulfilling his overriding utopian dream of creating an edifice for the reformation of criminals. This dream takes over his life, Coverdale observes, and his once-noble philanthropic passion morphs him into an overzealous, unfeeling man who brings ruin upon those who were once his friends. It is really Zenobia, though, upon which the novel feeds. She is a fascinating woman of means who makes the Blithedale dream a reality, a bold reformer seeking a new equality for women in the world who ultimately, at Hawthorne's bidding, suffers the ignominious fate of the fragile spirit she seemed to have overcome.
This is not a novel that will immediately enthrall you in its clutches. The first half of the novel is sometimes rather slow going, but I would urge you not to cast this book aside carelessly. The final chapters sparkle with drama and human passion, and you find yourself suddenly immersed in this strange community of tragic friends-turned-foes. You care deeply what happens to such once-noble spirits, and while you may not find joy in the tragic conclusion of the ill-fated social experiment of Blithedale, you will certainly find your soul stirred by the tragedy of unfolding events.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 4.5 Stars . . . Warnings and Whimsy, June 1, 2010
By 
Eric Wilson "author" (Nashville, TN United States) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Blithedale Romance (Paperback)
As a Hawthorne fan, I allowed this book's title to dissuade me. A romance? Not my thing. Surely, this would be sub-par fiction from one of my favorite American authors. I set aside my objections, however, after seeing that England's Westminster Review called this book "the finest production of genius in either hemisphere." I was further intrigued by its exploration of the Utopian ideal, in this case, the fictional communal farm of Blithedale, based on Hawthorne's own real-life experiences at the short-lived Brook Farm outside Boston. There are romance elements within this story, yes, but the initial romance is that notion of a better life somewhere else, with like-minded souls, forgetting the reality of the fallen nature in mankind.

"The Blithedale Romance" is told first-person through the eyes of Miles Coverdale, a young poet. It's an easier read than Hawthorne's other novels, told with a wry sense of humor and sarcasm. He wonders, for example, whether this social experiment will be aptly named "The Oasis" or "Saharah." As Coverdale joins the other dreamers at Blithedale, he imagines the spiritual benefits of hard work, the joys their own labors will bestow upon them, but those "clods of earth . . . never etherealized into thought. Our thoughts, on the contrary, were fast becoming cloddish." The romance of their fellowship and shared subsistence loses its sheen, even in its first days, when they realize they must beat out the local market-goers, if they are to find the best produce. The very dog-eat-dog mentality they hope to escape becomes part of their reality, if they hope to survive their first winter together.

The idealism of their Community begins to crumble beneath the personal, though outwardly philanthropic, ambitions of formidable Mr. Hollingsworth. Hollingsworth's goals draw in the equally formidable--and unforgettable, among women in fiction--Zenobia, who seems to be the leader of this ragtag Community. While Coverdale resists Hollingsworth's requests, Zenobia is joined by the farm's newest member, frail but graceful Priscilla, in falling in love with Hollingsworth. The connections between these four souls become clear as the story goes along, including the mysterious Mr. Moodie and the ominous Westervelt. These characters' pasts, their hurts, their loves and affections, will ultimately doom the otherwise noble intentions at Blithedale. Tragedy will ensue. And once again, as in the Garden of Eden, mankind's selfish endeavors derail his attempts at bettering humanity.

Hawthorne, through Coverdale's confessions, not only warns us against the laziness that makes no effort at betterment, but against the lofty ideals that can become so narrow-minded they harm our greater good. He gives thought-provoking commentary on love, feminism, socialism, art, hard work, and the fundamentalism that now plagues our country in various modes. In confession, Mr. Coverdale shows his own culpability in the farm's failed experiment. If we are to live together in harmony, if we are to improve as a society, we could take a few lessons from "The Blithedale Romance," choosing a balanced view of men and women, the spiritual and physical, and the need for community with occasional retreats for personal refreshment.

Despite its numerous ideas and commentaries, this is the most whimsical--until the end--of Hawthorne's stories. Its plot meanders, but the characters are deftly drawn, full-bodied and multifaceted. Even in providing a cautionary tale, Hawthorne seems to follow his own advice and take a lighthearted approach to the unpredictability of the mind and the human heart.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Much More Than Your Typical Romance, December 24, 2007
By 
B. H. Stewart (Cincinnati, OH United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
I often go to the public library on Saturdays and select an armful of books to take home. I check out so many because I know that only one or two of them will strike my fancy. This particular time I went through my stack of novels, reading the first 50 or so pages, and found all of them wanting--except for the last one in the pile: The Blythedale Romance by Nathaniel Hawthorne. It's funny how some reviewers insisted that the first few chapters of this novel were "slow going." It's all in what you're looking for, I suppose. Like most 19th century novels, the plot is developed in its own time. Since this was before movies were around, more scene descriptions and character development was necessary. I was immediately enchanted with this tale of a group of intellectuals, or would-be intellectuals, who decided to give Utopia another chance. I found the narrator, Miles Coverdale, charming and witty and all the characters interesting and complex. This kind of surprised me, because I read the book years ago and liked it, but felt that now I might have outgrown it. Not so. After House of the Seven Gables, it's my favorite Hawthorne.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars magic realism, November 24, 1999
This review is from: The Blithedale Romance (Paperback)
Hawthorne was able to work within a strict set of boundaries to create something of a social call to arms and equally,a strange, unwordly tale. The scenes in the forest are a clear antecedent to those writers in the 20th century working the magic realism vein. Above and beyond all of this though is the magnificent use of language to create atmosphere and brilliantly delineated characters. It's a gorgeous book ; the effect as rich as a Gauguin painting.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "Chronicle of Failure and Bet rayal", March 3, 2005
Hawthorne's third novel, THE BLITHEDALE ROMANCE, combines

diverse elements such as mystery, passion, social reform and philosophy-even a ghost story--all blended into a delightful literary patchwork. Set in mid 19th century Massachusetts this novel was inspired by the author's personal sojourn at Brook Farm-an experiment in Socialism and communal living--where he shed the trappings of polite society in order to become an instant farmer in a noble cause. Although he drew upon real life personalities of the 1850's for inspiration, his work was intended to be read and enjoyed as fiction. Despite the obvious parallels between Hawthorne and his protagonist, Miles Coverdale, readers may savor the storyline at face value; while Hawthorne was actually engaged during his time at Brook Farm, Miles remained a "frosty bachelor" all his days, despite his last-line confession.

Functioning partly as narrator and as Greek chorus passive Miles arrives at Blithedale Farm on a snowy evening in mid April, eager to begin his the great social experiment which would benefit all mankind. There he meets his similarly-minded new brethren and sistersbut the undisputed queen at the farmhouse is a beautiful, stately woman known as Zenobia. A sudden, insistent pounding at the door heralds the arrival of a shaggy bear of a man, the reformer Hollingsworth, bearing in his arms a precious burden: a pale, fragile girl, Priscilla, who requires their communal compassion. From that dramatic moment on Miles' mind and heart become entangled in the curious and mysterious affairs of these three. In fact Miles does not bother even to name the other social reformers. He devotes the next months of his life to private sleuthing and speculation on the enigma of these three individuals, although a few peripheral outsiders intrude on Blithedale's fragile harmony.

Unlike Hawthorn's previous novels, this is first-person tale; thus, we do not witness events where Miles himself is not present. Despite the high-minded social motivation of the zealous reformers, personal passions cannot be prevented, nor can their effects on others be denied. Miles undergoes several transformations of opinion and feelings for the three who fascinate him. Unable to escape their mysterious intrigues even in Boston, whence he retires to reconsider his purpose at Blithedale, he is obliged to witness their private machinations in the real world. But who will prove the hero to rescue Priscilla from her hateful life of stage deception? Is kindly Miles up to the task? The dramatic climax of Zenobia's betrayal was based on an actual lugubrious experience of the author's. The novel provides rich insight into the struggle for Women's emancipation in the 19th century, as well as thoughtful judgment on the difficulty of establishing an agrarian Eden on earth.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Seems Incomplete, December 29, 2004
By 
SB (United States) - See all my reviews
Hawthorne expresses his cynical attitude toward Utopian reformers in this novel. The narrator, Miles Coverdale, visits a Utopian commune (Blithedale Farm) where he interacts with a haughty, seductive woman named Zenobia and a timid creature named Priscilla. He meets the philanthropist Hollingsworth, who is so intent on reforming humanity that he does not have much concern for individual men and women. But all of these characters seem to have a secret and mysterious past, which is largely revealed but never fully explained by the end of the novel (at least not to my satisfaction). The story is rather bleak; it is confusing in parts, and it is difficult to tell whether or not you can fully trust the narrator's perspective. But it is somewhat interesting, and as usual with Hawthorne's novels, there are some deep insights and memorable characters.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Hawthorne's Utopia, May 24, 2012
By 
After reading "The Scarlet Letter" years ago in school, and now "The House of Seven Gables" and "The Blithedale Romance" in relatively close conjunction, there seems to be a common theme running throughout much of Hawthorne's longer fiction: namely, the deep and abiding mistrust in ideas of utopia, progress or perfectibility, especially of the human kind. Hawthorne came from a long line of Puritans, one of whom even presided over some of the Salem witch trials. Now writing on the cusp of the Civil War, he feels the renewed need for the kind of pragmatic skepticism which, one generation later, an entire generation of American philosophers will call for.

Coverdale, the naïve narrator in search of an agrarian source of truth, discovers Blithedale (the name itself should set off bells of suspicion), a community built around the ideals of Fourier, the utopian French social theorist. Fourier thought that life could be optimized through a kind of rationalistic social engineering, the basic living unit of which he called the "phalanstere." The hilarious (hilarious in that subtle, dowdy, Puritan way that was uniquely Hawthorne's) part is that, once everyone in Blithedale is introduced into the mix, tensions, different ideas, passions, and ideologies start to bubble to the surface showing just what a pipedream Fourier's utopia really is. Hawthorne's point seems to be that holding rationality primary over contingency and human emotion is shortsighted and silly. Not only is Blithedale a folly, but the very idea of a utopia is a sheer impossibility. I'm sure that Hawthorne would have us remember the clever lesson from Thomas More's "Utopia" - that it means, quite literally, "no place."

I'll forego a lot of the plot details because I read this several months ago, and wouldn't be able to do them justice without re-reading it. What I have unpacked here is just what jumped out at me the most. There is a strange woman named Zenobia who always wears a fresh flower in her hair, who turns out being the half-sister of a Blithedale foundling named Priscilla. The novel culminates in a set of philosophical disagreements between Coverdale and Hollingsworth, the ironically patriarchal figure whose presence hangs over Blithedale. I found the plot somewhat contrived and unrealistic, even for Hawthorne, but still very much worthwhile.

The action is based on Hawthorne's experiences at Brook Farm, a well-known utopian community in its own right, where he spent most of 1841, largely in an effort to save money for his marriage. He would marry Sophia Peabody (of the famous Peabody sisters) in July of the next year.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Awkward, Ungainly Mish-mash..., January 27, 2009
By 
Giordano Bruno (Here, There, and Everywhere) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Blithedale Romance (Paperback)
... but still worth reading if: 1. you are seriously interested in Hawthorne, Melville, and other writers of America's first literary generation; 2. for its depiction of Brook Farm, the influential experiment in utopian socialism of the 1840s; 3. for its ambivalent depiction of feminism among the Transcendentalists.

"The Blithedale Romance" is undeniably an ambitious juggling act. In addition to its serious social themes of feminism and reformism, it's truly a 'romance', a melodramatic love-quadrangle resulting in multiple tragedies. It's also a "Gothic" novel, dabbling in popular spiritualism and mysticism yet sneering at itself for doing so. A large part of the failure of the novel as such comes from Hawthorne's inability to keep so many balls in the air. Nonetheless, anyone knowledgeable about social history will find 'Blithedale' a virtual documentation of the inchoate state of American culture in the 1840s. There are, by the way, passages of beautiful lyricism as well as others of picturesque charm; in one chapter, for example, the narrator, a 'temperance' man, sits in a New York tavern, watching for a mysterious derelict who is the key to the story. The narrator paints a rich picture of New York life by describing the paintings on the wall of the tavern. Hawthorne, it seems to me, wrote better sentences than chapters, and better chapters than novels.

Brook Farm was only the best-recorded of the many utopian communities founded in the USA in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries. Some of them were based on religious enthusiasms, some were philosophical, but several were essentially built around pre-Marxian communism. Brook Farm was launched as a joint stock commune of philosophical bent and evolved in a few years into a rigid socialism that disappointed "free spirits" among its founders. Hawthorne was in fact one of the founders and a member of the board, so to speak, but he withdrew in dismay after less than a year. Literary scholars of the 20th C have tended to treat Hawthorne as a "conservative" who rejected social and political reform. In 'Blithedale', the 'reformer' Hollingsworth is a man of talent and integrity who is 'diminished' by his reform monomania. But the 'anti-reformer' Coverdale, the failed poet narrator, is equally diminished by his inability to commit his talents and energies to anything worthwhile. Hawthorne himself was a study in ambivalence and irresolution, as peculiar and variable as any of his characters.

If, after this hesitant recommendation, you decide to read The Blithedale Romance, be sure to take a look at the wikipedia account of the real Brook Farm. It's worth knowing that American society has had a radical socialist strain from its very beginning. The Utopians were as much heirs of the Revolution as the Hamiltonian Whigs or the anti-government Jacksonians.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Blithedale Romance, March 22, 2006
By 
Bomojaz (South Central PA, USA) - See all my reviews
Isolation and a refusal to see things straight-on are the main themes of this mildly successful novel by Hawthorne. Narrated by Miles Coverdale who comes to the Utopian community of Blithedale for his health (Hawthorne had spent some time at Brook Farm, a communal farm, on which Blithedale is based), we encounter Hollingsworth, who is interested in prison reform, and who uses the wealthy and exotic Zenobia for his own selfish purposes; she drowns herself when Hollingworth shows a romantic interest in Priscilla, Zenobia's half-sister. Priscilla is a true innocent, who is under the influence of the evil mesmerist, Westervelt.

Coverdale is always on the fringe of what's going on, but never a direct participant. He eavesdrops and spies from windows (once even while hiding in a tree), and his inability to take part in the life around him is Hawthorne's central figure of isolation. Even at the end he declares his love for Priscilla - only after she has married Hollingsworth. Hollingsworth, too, spends much of the novel in isolation, pursuing his dream of prison reform; when he gives it up it destroys Zenobia (who has been living in a romantic fantasy of her own), but redeems himself and Priscilla. While Hawthorne deals credibly with the reality vs. fantasy theme of the characters, the plot is somewhat draggy, as is the dialogue. Not among the very best of Hawthorne's works.
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The Blithedale Romance (Dover Thrift Editions)
The Blithedale Romance (Dover Thrift Editions) by Nathaniel Hawthorne (Paperback - July 15, 2003)
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