The Blithedale Romance

The Blithedale Romance Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Blithedale Romance. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Nathaniel Hawthorne

Nathaniel Hawthorne was born to Nathaniel and Elizabeth Hathorne on July 4, 1804 in Salem, Massachusetts. The family was not wealthy, but Nathaniel Sr.’s job as a shipman kept them financially afloat until his death in 1808. Elizabeth brought Hawthorne and his siblings to her brother’s house (also in Salem) to live until they moved to Raymond, Maine in 1816. Hawthorne moved back to Salem to go to school in 1819 and then went on to Bowdoin College in 1821. Hawthorne was a rather unremarkable student but graduated in 1825 and began working on his writing career. Although Hawthorne didn’t achieve much fame from his earliest short stories and other works, he continued trying while he took other jobs (including one in the Boston Custom House in 1839) throughout the 1820s and ‘30s. After meeting and falling in love with Sophia Peabody, Hawthorne joined Brook Farm (a would-be utopian community) in the hope that he’d be able to save up enough money to marry her. However, he left after less than a year. Hawthorne and Sophia married in 1842 and had three children—Una, Julian, and Rose—between 1844 and 1851. The Hawthornes moved several times between their marriage and 1850, when they moved to the Berkshires. Although Hawthorne hated living in such a cold place, some of his most notable works were written and published during his time there, including The House of the Seven Gables and The Blithedale Romance. Hawthorne left the Berkshires in 1851 and, in 1853, moved to Liverpool, England after receiving an appointment to the US Consul there in 1853. Hawthorne did not publish anything during this period, but upon returning to the United States in 1860, he began publishing books again, beginning with The Marble Faun. The family settled in Concord, Massachusetts, but Hawthorne began feeling the effects of his old age and experienced mysterious stomach pains. Believing he just needed some fresh mountain air to recuperate, Hawthorne decided to travel in New England. While gone, he died in his sleep on May 19, 1864 in Plymouth, New Hampshire. Hawthorne was buried in the famous Authors’ Ridge in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, Massachusetts.
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Historical Context of The Blithedale Romance

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Blithedale Romance is partially based on his own time at Brook Farm, which was supposed to be a utopian-like agrarian community in Massachusetts. Brook Farm was just one of numerous utopian communities that popped up in America in the 19th century. Although most were religious, some, including Brook Farm, were dedicated to the arts, philosophy, individualism, and the belief that urban life was harmful to a person’s individuality. Most of these communities were short-lived, but some lasted decades. Hawthorne was also active during the height of Transcendentalism, which advocated for greater individualism, simplicity, a deeper appreciation for nature, and self-reliance. Similarly, the members of Blithedale in Hawthorne’s book embrace their individuality, strive to reconnect to nature by leaving large cities, and try to create a system in which they will be entirely self-reliant and will not need to depend on the outside world for food or shelter. Hawthorne had a reputation for criticizing mesmerism (also known as animal magnetism), which was something of a craze in the 18th and 19th centuries. Mesmerists used something like hypnosis to put people in a trance, and this trance was believed to allow the individual to do just about anything ranging from speaking to the dead to finding lost objects to healing themselves to reading minds. Like many others, Hawthorne believed mesmerism was at best an absolute sham and at worst a manipulative and abusive practice that enabled villainous men and women to victimize others.

Other Books Related to The Blithedale Romance

Nathaniel Hawthorne was one of the most important writers of the American Renaissance. His most well-known work, The Scarlet Letter, is often cited as one of the greatest 19th-century American novels, and it inspired future writers like D.H. Lawrence. Most of the characters in The Blithedale Romance join the community because they want to escape the corrupting influence of life in America’s big cities. Henry David Thoreau advocates for people to do something similar—to forsake the hustle and bustle of urban life in favor of a simple life close to nature—in his nonfiction work Walden. The characters in Hawthorne’s novel are also predominately intellectuals who believe in gender equality, which was quite a radical statement for the time period. A similar group can be found in Charles Brockden Brown’s Wieland, which focuses on a small group of intellectuals living in an idyllic estate in rural 18th-century America. Gender roles are a major theme in The Blithedale Romance, and Zenobia is particular is rumored to have been based on Margaret Fuller, a real women’s rights activist and friend of Hawthorne’s. For more on Fuller’s beliefs about gender equality, read her book Woman in the Nineteenth Century. Mesmerism and its evils are another prominent theme in The Blithedale Romance. Likewise, George Lippard highlights how mesmerists use their abilities to manipulate and victimize people—mostly women—in his sensational novel Memoirs of a Preacher. For another book featuring a tragic love triangle, try Emily Bronte’s novel Wuthering Heights.
Key Facts about The Blithedale Romance
  • Full Title: The Blithedale Romance
  • When Written: 1852
  • Where Written: The Berkshires near Lenox, Massachusetts
  • When Published: 1852
  • Literary Period: American Renaissance
  • Genre: Romance, Literary Fiction
  • Setting: 19th-century Boston
  • Climax: Hollingsworth ends his relationship with Zenobia to start one with Priscilla, Zenobia commits suicide as a result
  • Antagonist: Professor Westervelt
  • Point of View: First Person

Extra Credit for The Blithedale Romance

Presidential Pals. In 1821 while he was traveling to Bowdoin College, Nathaniel Hawthorne met Franklin Pierce, the future 14th President of the United States. The two began a lifelong friendship—Pierce even stayed up watching over Hawthorne the night he died.

What’s in a name? Nathaniel Hawthorne was actually born Nathaniel Hathorne (without the W), but he changed it early in life to distance himself from his ancestors. One of them, William Hathorne, had a Quaker woman publicly whipped and another, John Hathorne, was a judge during the infamous Salem Witch Trials of 1692.