The Blithedale Romance

by

Nathaniel Hawthorne

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The Blithedale Romance: Chapter 20 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Priscilla immediately answers Zenobia’s call and comes into the room. This is somewhat surprising to Coverdale, who initially thought Zenobia might prevent him from talking to Priscilla. However, Priscilla’s complete lack of free will and choice makes her safe—there’s no chance she’ll tell Coverdale about Zenobia’s plans. Coverdale tells Priscilla that seeing her is like seeing a dream, but she assures him she’s real enough by squeezing his hand a little. Priscilla adds that Zenobia is more like a dream because she’s so beautiful, but Coverdale is taken by how beautiful Priscilla is in her new dress and adornments. Zenobia asks Coverdale what he thinks of Priscilla and he notes a sad sort of kindness in the way Zenobia looks at her. Coverdale compares Priscilla’s beauty to a flower, which Zenobia attributes to his poetic tendencies.
Coverdale is worried that Zenobia has forcibly removed Priscilla from Blithedale, probably to get her away from Hollingsworth so Zenobia doesn’t have to compete with her. Coverdale thinks this because just before he left Priscilla told him that she never wanted to leave Blithedale because it was such a happy place. Furthermore, Coverdale knows that Westervelt is sometimes in the house—he possibly even lives there—and so he has reason to worry that Zenobia might have brought Priscilla and Westervelt together for nefarious purposes that might destroy Priscilla’s happiness forever.
Themes
Self-Interest and Utopian Societies Theme Icon
Secrecy and Self-deception Theme Icon
Zenobia wonders why Coverdale never considered falling in love with Priscilla, insinuating that social class had something to do with it. Coverdale replies that he would have made a fool of himself if he fell in love with Priscilla in Blithedale and then he slyly asks if Hollingsworth has seen Priscilla in her new dress. Zenobia lashes out and asks why Coverdale keeps bringing Hollingsworth up. She says that Coverdale doesn’t understand how dangerous his words are. Coverdale explains that he’s motivated by a sense of duty, which makes Zenobia angrier. She tells him that duty signifies bigotry, rude curiosity, meddlesomeness, and an irreverent tendency to put one’s self in God’s rightful place. Zenobia adds that she will hold Coverdale responsible for any mischief that arises out of his interference.
Zenobia’s jab about social class preventing Coverdale from falling in love with Priscilla reveals Zenobia’s own intuition—she knows that Coverdale is somewhat ashamed of his own class prejudices and strives to hide them. Zenobia’s comment threatens to drag them out into the light of day. It is humiliating for Coverdale who thinks he has successfully hidden his unfair bias. Zenobia also says she’ll hold Coverdale responsible if anything bad comes out of his meddling, which she knows will scare him. Coverdale wants to be the savior, and he would be horrified if anyone could rightfully accuse him of actually being the villain of this story, which is a kind of moral vanity.
Themes
Self-Interest and Utopian Societies Theme Icon
Progressive vs. Traditional Gender Roles Theme Icon
Secrecy and Self-deception Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Coverdale is on the verge of leaving after Zenobia’s outburst, but he catches sight of Priscilla huddled in a corner and goes up to her first. He asks her if she left Blithedale of her free will and she tells him that she has none. Coverdale asks her if Hollingsworth knows where she is, and Priscilla says he urged her to come with Zenobia. Coverdale mentally notes that Hollingsworth is responsible for whatever happens. Before Coverdale can leave, Westervelt comes in and the sight of him makes Coverdale’s skin crawl. Zenobia tells Priscilla it’s time to leave, but Coverdale asks Priscilla if she knows where she’s going and if she wants to go. Coverdale assures her that he’s her friend, but Westervelt says Priscilla recognizes him as an older friend than either Coverdale or Hollingsworth. Westervelt beckons Priscilla to him and they leave.
Coverdale asks Priscilla so many questions about what she wants and if she feels like she has a choice because if she were to just admit that she’s being compelled to do things she doesn’t like then he can justify rescuing her. However, Coverdale fails to account for the fact that, as the ideal 19th century woman, one of Priscilla’s defining characteristics is her submissiveness. She is so submissive that it simply doesn’t occur to Priscilla that she can have a choice or exert any free will.
Themes
Progressive vs. Traditional Gender Roles Theme Icon
Secrecy and Self-deception Theme Icon