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Penguin Classics A to Z: B = "Blithedale Romance"

The Blithedale Romance - Annette Kolodny, Nathaniel Hawthorne

The only other Hawthorne I have read is The Scarlet Letter. In choosing the books to read for this little project, I decided to rely in large part on randomness and serendipity.


The basis of this book was Hawthorne's time at Brook Farm, a communal living experiment conducted in the 1840's by several well-known American intellectuals, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Bronson Alcott, Hawthorne, and Margaret Fuller. The experiment was largely a failure in real life, and it was very definitely a failure in fiction.


The main conflict in this book comes from the relationship between the narrator, Miles Coverdale, and three other characters: Zenobia, a young woman of fiery beauty, Priscilla, more delicate than Zenobia, and Hollingsworth. Told from the perspective of Coverdale, we basically have a love triangle between Hollingsworth and Zenobia/Priscilla. Coverdale himself is apparently not romantically attractive to either of the young women.


In time honored fashion, Hawthorne spends most of his time talking about the romantic travails of his characters and very little time actually talking about the process of growing food or surviving in a socialist utopia. It's all rather silly, really, with altogether too much swooning, weeping, and manly chest thumping.


So, overall, it's not a difficult read, but it also wasn't, to me, a particularly compelling one. I'm no fan of wilting flowers in fiction, and Priscilla was wispy and girlish, and spent an excessive amount of time fainting. Zenobia was slightly more interesting, although the absurdity of her pulling an Ophelia in her distress over losing the guy is just really a total fail in my view.


I think I'm probably done with Hawthorne.