When Coverdale begins to recover from his illness, he asks about Priscilla. A letter that should have reached Blithedale long before has been delivered and it hints that Priscilla has escaped some kind of trouble and might still be liable to fall back into it. The group charitably welcomes her, though she maintains an air of mystery. Priscilla is very devoted to Zenobia, but Zenobia sometimes loses patience with her. Priscilla also favors Hollingsworth and the two often talk together. Coverdale would like Priscilla to favor him, too, but she doesn’t grow as close to him as to Zenobia and Hollingsworth. One day Priscilla brings Coverdale a nightcap she made for him and a letter. Looking at her, Coverdale realizes that she resembles Margaret Fuller, who happened to write him the letter. Coverdale tells her this and she petulantly tells him she wishes people wouldn’t have such odd thoughts about her.
Margaret Fuller was a highly influential lecturer and writer. Like Zenobia, she was a vocal women’s rights advocate. It’s believed that Priscilla’s appearance is supposed to be based on Fuller’s, but Zenobia’s character is more like Fuller’s character. Hawthorne, however, maintained that his characters were all pure fiction, not caricatures of real people.
During his convalescence, Coverdale reads every available book at Blithedale, including works by Fourier. Coverdale is impressed with these because there are similarities between Fourier’s ideas and the ones behind Blithedale’s creation. Coverdale discusses these ideas with Hollingsworth, who is horrified by some of them and orders Coverdale to hide the book before he throws it in the fire. While Coverdale doesn’t bring Fourier up again, he believes that, even if Fourier had come up with a wiser system, Hollingsworth still wouldn’t accept it. Coverdale realizes that Hollingsworth didn’t join Blithedale because he sympathized with their values, but because he, too, felt estranged from the world. Whatever tenderness and warmth Hollingsworth must naturally have, according to Coverdale, is ultimately wasted on his philanthropic ideas—he has become its “bond-slave.” Coverdale thinks this is sad, but not unusual since Hollingsworth has been taught to focus all his benevolence in one direction.
Charles Fourier was an early French socialist and philosopher. The ideas that Hollingsworth has such a strong negative reaction to are likely Fourier’s beliefs about women, sexuality, and monogamy. Fourier believed that women were just as capable as men to do the world’s work and should therefore be allowed the same educational and career opportunities. He also had some radical ideas about human sexuality, namely that people have a range of sexual needs and attractions and that they should be able to pursue them as long as nobody is being victimized. This included same-sex relationships and extramarital sexual relationships, especially because he believed traditional marriages victimized women and limited their potential for happiness and fulfillment. These last ideas are probably the ones that offended Hollingsworth, who values traditional marriage and female chastity.
In retrospect, Coverdale thinks that during this time Hollingsworth was going mad. He became monomaniacal, spending all of his time thinking of one idea, only talking with others about his one plan: to get enough money to build a large facility in which he could reform criminals by helping them cultivate their creativity and appreciation of the arts. Coverdale frequently caught Hollingsworth sketching floorplans for this building, or even making small models out of twigs and stones. Coverdale remembers telling Hollingsworth that he wished he could be as enthusiastic about the plan as Hollingsworth himself and he asked if Hollingsworth would be okay if Coverdale can’t become excited about it. Hollingsworth said he’d give it time but questioned how they could be friends if Coverdale doesn’t share his goals. This made Coverdale suspicious that Hollingsworth only took care of him during his illness to make him a “proselyte.”
Coverdale fears that Hollingsworth wants to make him a “proselyte,” or follower. This means that Coverdale fears that Hollingsworth is trying to start his own movement that he will be the leader of, co-opting the others in service of his own goals rather than advancing the goals of the collective. This is dangerous if Hollingsworth is going mad and directing all of his humanity and kindness in one direction. He’s likely to be willing to sacrifice his own followers if it benefits his own cause, so Coverdale worries that if he becomes a follower, than he will fall victim to Hollingsworth’s monomaniacal pursuit of criminal reform. It’s also noteworthy how, despite Hollingsworth’s charitable zeal, Coverdale suspects he might be quite selfish: all the tenderness and care he showed during Coverdale’s illness might, in fact, have been because he wanted to manipulate Coverdale.