The Blithedale Romance

by

Nathaniel Hawthorne

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The Blithedale Romance: Chapter 1 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
On the night before Coverdale goes to Blithedale, he goes to see the Veiled Lady. Coverdale explains that she’s one of the first figures to win fame in the “mesmeric line.” In the Veiled Lady’s day, there was a conscious effort to create an air of mystery and etherealness, whereas in the current day, the exhibitors continuously emphasize that they are using natural rather than supernatural laws to perform seeming miracles. Whatever the Lady’s abilities are, her real allure is that nobody knows her identity because she’s covered from head to foot in a veil. This has little to do with the main events of the story, except that Coverdale asked her about Blithedale’s fate and is mulling over her answers, which can be interpreted in numerous ways.
The “mesmeric line” refers to the widespread practice of mesmerism, which included things like hypnosis, communing with the dead, or using telepathic powers to find lost objects. This was very popular in the 19th century. By going to a Veiled Lady show and asking questions, Coverdale reveals his own belief that, through mesmerism, the Veiled Lady can tell the future. It also reveals his own fear that the Blithedale project might not work out.
Themes
Self-Interest and Utopian Societies Theme Icon
Progressive vs. Traditional Gender Roles Theme Icon
A man calls out to Coverdale twice before Coverdale recognizes him. It’s Moodie, a mysterious old man who has a habit of only revealing half of himself at a time by standing in shadows or doorways. Moodie asks Coverdale if he’s going to Blithedale in the morning and Coverdale confirms that he is. Moodie says he must ask a favor of Coverdale, who readily agrees even though he has very little time to spare. Moodie abruptly changes his mind, saying he might prefer to have an older man or lady help him. Coverdale is confused as to what his age has to do with the favor, but he mentions he has an older friend named Hollingsworth who is joining Blithedale the next day, as well. Coverdale thinks Hollingsworth’s reputation as a philanthropist makes him seem reliable, whereas Coverdale’s own reputation as a poet makes him less so.
Moodie, like so many other characters in the narrative, seems to have something to hide. His tendency towards concealment is apparent in his habit of standing in shadows or leaning out of doorways—this also echoes the veiled lady’s concealment of herself behind a veil. Even Coverdale’s name reflects the novel’s concern with secrecy: “cover” in Coverdale makes it seem that hiding is central to who he is. Moodie’s attempt to conceal himself in this passage, and his unexplained decision not to reveal what the favor he needs is, sets the stage for the rest of the book, in which it always seems like only half the story is being told and the reader must figure out the rest.
Themes
Self-Interest and Utopian Societies Theme Icon
Secrecy and Self-deception Theme Icon
Coverdale assures Moodie that he wants to help, but Moodie refuses to explain what he needs. He asks Coverdale if he knows Zenobia. Coverdale says he does, but not personally. Zenobia is an author and a women’s rights advocate, but “Zenobia” is not her real name—it’s a name she uses to obscure her true identity from the world, much like the Veiled Lady’s veil, but a little more transparent. Moodie thanks Coverdale but says that he’d still rather not explain. He offers to visit Coverdale at home the next day, but he never comes. It’s only much later that Coverdale figures out what favor Moodie meant to ask him. That night Coverdale smokes his cigar and mulls over the step he’s about to take by going to Blithedale—a step that irrevocably entangles him in the “Blithedale affair.” Coverdale goes to bed around midnight.
Coverdale is writing about these events years after they happen, so he frequently comments on how his perceptions have changed between the events of the story and the current day, or how he only learned the truth of something later on. Here Coverdale also hints that the Blithedale project is ultimately unsuccessful (calling it the “Blithedale affair” implies that it did not last long and was just one episode in his life), which also means that the project itself is not the primary subject of his narrative.
Themes
Self-Interest and Utopian Societies Theme Icon
Secrecy and Self-deception Theme Icon