The Blithedale Romance

by

Nathaniel Hawthorne

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The Blithedale Romance: Chapter 9 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Coverdale writes that it’s not good to spend too much time studying individual people, especially because if they’re friends then one tends to magnify all their quirks, pick them apart, and then struggle to put them back together again. For this reason, Coverdale admits he might have done Hollingsworth wrong by studying him too closely. Had Coverdale been more indifferent to Hollingsworth, he might have been more objective in his assessments. As it is, Hollingsworth, Zenobia, and Priscilla stand apart from the rest of Blithedale and seem like a problem that Coverdale must fix. Although the three dominate Coverdale’s thoughts, he knows they don’t think much of him, which makes him feel lonely. Even though Coverdale loves Hollingsworth, he feels like there’s something about him that might ruin the happiness of anyone close to him. 
In his mind, Coverdale starts creating divisions among Blithedale residents: he separates himself from the other members who are themselves separate from Zenobia, Hollingsworth, and Priscilla. In a sense, Blithedale has already failed for Coverdale. Instead of bringing people together, he’s only broken them up into factions. Furthermore, Coverdale is becoming more and more obsessed with thinking about these three people than he is with the work he meant to do at Blithedale, namely producing better poetry. It’s interesting that Coverdale reflects on how his judgments of his friends might be clouded by the intensity of his feelings for them—this suggests that, even as he closely observes them and tries to discern their motives and characteristics, he might be utterly wrong. This calls attention, once again, to what an unreliable narrator he is.
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Anyone who is solely dedicated to one purpose, in fact, might bring about ruin. It’s better to avoid these people because they’re no longer capable of human emotions and will trample a person underfoot if that person can be helpful, using them and discarding them. They worship their ideal and fail to recognize when their initial benevolence transforms into egoism. Coverdale admits that he might be exaggerating, but his words illustrate Hollingsworth’s dangerous tendencies. For his own part, Coverdale is torn between love for his friend and repulsion for his single-mindedness. Furthermore, Coverdale feels it’s his duty to save Priscilla from thinking too much of Hollingsworth, as many young women might. Hollingsworth is affectionate with Priscilla, and Coverdale knows Zenobia would give anything for Hollingsworth to show her the same. Coverdale would like to protect Priscilla from the possible consequences of the situation.
Ironically, Coverdale accuses Hollingsworth of being too single-minded when it comes to his idea for prison reform while Coverdale himself is becoming increasingly single-minded in his study of Zenobia, Hollingsworth, and Priscilla. This implies that Coverdale’s obsession might have dangerous consequences, too—could he use and discard someone for his own gain, as he thinks Hollingsworth might? Coverdale starts seeing himself as a sort of savior, meant to rescue Priscilla from giving her heart to someone who doesn’t deserve it. In this way, his own initial benevolence (wanting to care for a mysterious young girl with a tragic past) turns into egoism (Coverdale is the only one who can save her) without Coverdale realizing it.
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Priscilla has become beautiful and energetic, always running and playing with other girls. As she settles in, Priscilla plays pranks on others, but they all love her and readily forgive all her mischief. Coverdale writes that Priscilla’s abundant happiness made him sad, and he worried that she’d use it all up too quickly. Sometimes he would try to convince her to be less happy so that her store of happiness would last longer. One day Coverdale asks Priscilla what she sees in the world to make her so happy. She says everyone is kind to her and she loves them. Coverdale asks if she has any bad memories and then says he’d rather look back than forward because he knows the friends of today likely won’t be there in the future. Priscilla says mentioning the past makes her sad, but it can’t repeat itself so she’s unafraid.
Coverdale has a deep interest in human nature and he wants to discover anything anyone is trying to keep hidden. In this passage, Coverdale is trying to get Priscilla to admit something about her past because he thinks this will help him understand her better, but also because he’s determined to discover all of her secrets. It’s noteworthy, though, that Coverdale doesn’t seem to be great at guessing people’s emotions or motivations. Just as he earlier (mistakenly) thought that Priscilla’s obsession with Zenobia might be due to Zenobia’s writings, here he implies that he believes that Priscilla’s past must be lovely for her to be so happy, which is clearly untrue. This paints Coverdale as somewhat silly: he spends all his time observing and contemplating the people around him, but he seems to have no insight at all.
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Hollingsworth tells Priscilla to stop running around for the night, so she contentedly sits at his feet on the porch. Coverdale wonders what Priscilla sees in Hollingsworth but enjoys the image of the two sitting together. Zenobia appears in the doorway and stares at them a moment before telling Priscilla to come with her. Priscilla worries that Zenobia is mad, but Zenobia explains that she intends to be Priscilla’s aunt and tell her all about propriety and social manners. Still worried, Priscilla goes inside with Zenobia, who smiles at Hollingsworth and Coverdale but looks vindictive as soon as she turns away. At the time, it amazed Coverdale that Hollingsworth would show so much affection to Priscilla without considering what it might do to her heart, which he might inadvertently crush. Coverdale has similar thoughts about Zenobia’s heart, but he ultimately trusts that she knows what she’s doing and risking. 
Zenobia is actively hiding the jealousy she feels about the kindness Hollingsworth shows Priscilla. Zenobia says she wants to teach Priscilla about propriety, which means she intends to tell Priscilla that there are certain rules she must abide by in her relationship with Hollingsworth or else people will think less of her. In this time period, women were not supposed to openly show affection to men they weren’t married to, so it would be considered a breach of etiquette and serious societal faux pas for Priscilla to spend so much time curling up at Hollingsworth’s feet. However, Blithedale is supposed to be a much less restrictive place where people can break these meaningless social rules without fear of judgment—and, in addition, Zenobia herself is in favor of freeing women from oppressive norms. Zenobia’s real aim, then, is to get Priscilla to back off from Hollingsworth because Zenobia wants to pursue him herself. This shows Zenobia’s selfishness; she’s willing to betray her values and ideals about women's equality to manipulate Priscilla out of taking the man Zenobia wants. It’s also worth noting that Coverdale is more worried about Priscilla than Zenobia; in light of how things unfold, this will be another example of Coverdale observing people closely and coming to the wrong conclusion.
Themes
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The gossips in Blithedale theorize that Hollingsworth and Zenobia are in love. They frequently take long walks alone together, with Hollingsworth talking about his projects and Zenobia hanging on his every word, the look in her eyes softer than usual. They frequently go to a slope that commands a gorgeous view of Blithedale and everyone believes they plan to build a cottage together there. Coverdale tries to find out if this is true by mentioning that he’d choose a different spot for a cottage, a little further back towards the trees for the benefit of the shade. Hollingsworth replies that his structure is supposed to be an example to the world, and so it must be out in the open. Coverdale doesn’t know what to make of this reply.
Zenobia talks about having to teach Priscilla about propriety, but Zenobia herself breaks some of society’s biggest social mores regarding unmarried men and women. It would be indecent for an unmarried man and woman to talk about building a house together before they’re even engaged, because it implies that they’d live in it together, which implies that they’re having a sexual relationship before marriage. This was a major sin in the 19th century, but the people in Blithedale don’t seem to be judging either Zenobia or Hollingsworth—they simply accept their romantic relationship, which highlights that most of the people in Blithedale are truly progressive. Nonetheless, it’s noteworthy that Zenobia—who is otherwise a strident advocate for female equality—doesn’t have much to say in their conversations. She seems to put her own interests and opinions aside in order to listen to Hollingsworth talk.
Themes
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Progressive vs. Traditional Gender Roles Theme Icon