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The Blithedale Romance [Hardcover]

Nathaniel Hawthorne
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Jan 2001
The selection of "Backgrounds and Sources" focuses on Hawthorne's visit to Brook Farm in 1841, as reported in his letters and The American Notebooks, as well as on other experiences and observations which find expression in the novel. The essays in "Criticism" include fifteen "Contemporary Reviews" that locate the problems of the novel pursued by later critics in a more detailed and sophisticated fashion. "Modern Essays in Criticism" represent the perspec-tives of Irving Howe, Roy R. Male, A. N. Kaul, Leo B. Levy, Hans-Joachim Lang, Philip Rahv, Allan B. Lefcowitz, Barbara F. Lefcowitz, Nina Baym, Hyatt H. Waggoner, Frederick C. Crews, Kelley Griffith, Jr., Louis Auchincloss, James H. Justus, and Kent Bales.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product details

  • Hardcover
  • Publisher: North Books (Jan 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1582871353
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582871356
  • Product Dimensions: 13.8 x 21.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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About the Author

Novelist and short - story writer, Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804 - 1864) is one of the most influential American writers. A vital figure in the development of American Literature, he first became known for his Twice Told Tales, a collection of now - famous short stories. Later in life, he also wrote novels. A contributor to various periodicals throughout his life, Hawthorne left an indelible mark on world literature. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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First Sentence
THE evening before my departure for Blithedale, I was returning to my bachelor apartments, after attending the wonderful exhibition of the Veiled Lady, when an elderly man, of rather shabby appearance, met me in an obscure part of the street. Read the first page
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An impassioned human drama 7 Jun 2003
By Daniel Jolley HALL OF FAME TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
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.
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2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
I read this book for college and at first was worried that it would not hold my interest for long. However, I was pleased to discover that The Blithedale Romance was full of mystery and intriguing characters. I would recomend this book to any reader who enjoys unraveling entwined strands of love and committment against a background of evil darkness.
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Amazon.com: 3.9 out of 5 stars  28 reviews
31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Necessity 17 Jun 2003
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: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.
21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An impassioned human drama 23 Dec 2002
By Daniel Jolley - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
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.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 4.5 Stars . . . Warnings and Whimsy 1 Jun 2010
By Eric Wilson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: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.
12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars magic realism 24 Nov 1999
By Mark Chivers - Published on Amazon.com
Format: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.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Just didn't like it 31 Oct 2010
By Kevin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I decided to read Blithedale Romance because the plot was purported to explore utopian ideals and the breakdown of a utopian society. I thought it would be an interesting take on the subject, along the lines of Brave New World or 1984. What I got was something very different, and pretty disappointing at that. A lot of things about this book frustrated me. First, the events in the book are just plain unrealistic and non-believable. For example, when Coverdale's hotel window just happens to look out onto Zenobia's drawing room in Boston, and a huge confrontation takes place as a result. Second, the character descriptions are repetitive, and also hard to believe. I mean, how many cheesy ways can you think of to describe the delicate and fragile nature of poor Priscilla. A crumbling flower? A pale ghost? The Veiled Lady? A lost rabbit? Just please stop it; we get it after 30 total pages of this. Third, I believe that Hawthorne had the 19th century version of ADD. He goes off on non-consequential tangents that are boring. At times, he seems to be writing without a purpose. If you take out all the tangential descriptions, you could probably reduce this book to a short story about Hollingsworth, Zenobia, and Priscilla. Instead, we're required to read a whole novel that lacks tempo due to the frequent and irrelevant interruptions. Fourth, the characters are one-dimension and lack any depth. For example, Hollingsworth is the guy who believes in a single ideal at the cost of all others; everything about him follows from this, other than an occasional reference to his gentle nature. Priscilla is always the innocent and fragile little girl; nothing more.

I'm giving the book two stars instead of one because there are three or four noteworthy quotes/observations in the book that I did like. In hindsight, I should have just read these passages from the book, and skipped the rest. You can't carry a whole novel on three or four wisdom soundbites.
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