The Blithedale Romance


Nathaniel Hawthorne

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The Blithedale Romance: Chapter 18 Summary & Analysis

Coverdale sleeps in after a late night at the theater. His sleep was tormented by dreams about Hollingsworth, Zenobia, and Priscilla. In one, Hollingsworth and Zenobia bend across his bed to passionately kiss each other. Priscilla sees it from a window and fades away, leaving only a feeling of sadness in Coverdale’s heart. It’s a gloomy day and Coverdale feels homesick for Blithedale. He feels sure that he might have done something to prevent misfortune from falling on his friends, but he’s abandoned them to fate. Coverdale goes to look out the window, hoping it will distract him from his depressing thoughts. Coverdale looks into the windows of the boardinghouse and sees the vacant rooms are now occupied and, as if he knew this would happen, Coverdale is unsurprised to recognize Zenobia in one window and Priscilla in another.   
Coverdale still feels like it was his job to prevent some tragedy from befalling Hollingsworth, Zenobia, and Priscilla. His dream reveals his fear that Hollingsworth and Zenobia will break Priscilla’s heart and cause her death if they openly engage in a romantic relationship. Coverdale has never dreamed about the three before, so the fact that he is dreaming of them now highlights just how far his obsession has gone—putting distance between them is not stopping him from obsessing over their lives like he believed it would, which means his obsession has gotten out of control.
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Zenobia is fashionably dressed, but she still has an exotic flower in her hair. She walks away from the window, but Coverdale expects that she’ll return because she’s probably pacing through the room instead of taking her usual daily walk (she wouldn’t want to get her dress muddy in the city streets). When Zenobia reappears, Westervelt is behind her. It seems to Coverdale that only Moodie and Hollingsworth are missing to complete the set of people that have fascinated Coverdale for so long. Even though Coverdale knows that Zenobia kept rooms in town throughout her time at Blithedale, Coverdale thinks the fact that she’s so close is a “fatal” coincidence and he even longs for some catastrophe to happen to one of them so that he can see it happen and then move on with his life.
Coverdale calls this coincidence “fatal” because he takes it as a sign that he’ll never really escape his obsession with Zenobia, Priscilla, and Hollingsworth. Because Zenobia is so close, Coverdale knows he won’t be able to stop himself from prying into her life and trying to learn her secrets again. Coverdale’s anguish manifests itself in his wish for a catastrophe to befall them. Coverdale thinks if he can see them all get hurt as a result of their secrets, actions, and relationships then he’ll finally be able to leave them behind because he won’t have to worry about saving them anymore.
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Coverdale watches Zenobia and Westervelt talk to each other. Zenobia’s gestures and other body language indicate that she’s passionate about whatever they’re discussing. Zenobia abruptly walks away and Westervelt leans against the window, looking out with a mysterious smile. Westervelt inexplicably looks straight up at Coverdale and recognizes him. He calls Zenobia to the window and she scornfully looks up at Coverdale. She gives him a nod of recognition, but she immediately drops the curtain so Coverdale can’t see into the room anymore. Coverdale notices that Priscilla is no longer in the other room doing needlework.
When Zenobia lowers the curtain, she sends the message that she doesn’t want Coverdale to have any part in her life anymore. This is very different from when Coverdale left Blithedale and she told him that she was actually tempted to confide in him and let him in on her secrets. This could mean that Zenobia is now ashamed of whatever she’s doing and doesn’t want Coverdale to judge her for it.
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