One of the most notable things about Zenobia is that she always wears a beautiful exotic flower in her hair. These flowers represent the pride she has in herself and her actions. When Miles Coverdale first meets Zenobia in Blithedale, she’s wearing a real exotic flower that she got out of a nearby hothouse, and every day she wears a new one. At this time, Zenobia is very proud of herself and her accomplishments as a writer and women’s rights activist. These things give her pride because they help her stand out from the crowd as a strong, independent woman who lives life on her own terms. At this period, her flower—like she herself—is authentic, vibrant, and unique.
Every day that Zenobia is in Blithedale, living in total equality with the men and doing what she thinks is right, she wears a real flower. However, when Zenobia leaves Blithedale and brings Priscilla (the famed Veiled Lady and, as Zenobia later learns, her half-sister) back under the villainous Professor Westervelt’s control, she starts wearing a fake flower that’s been decked out with brilliant jewels. This transition from a real flower to a fake one indicates that Zenobia’s pride has become false. Zenobia feels compelled to return Priscilla to Westervelt so he can continue to exploit her for financial gain as the Veiled Lady, but she’s not at all proud of herself for doing it because it goes against her naturally kind and generous nature (and, besides, it’s throwing another woman to the wolves for selfish reasons, which contradicts her feminist values). As brilliant and bright as her new jeweled flower is, Zenobia is secretly ashamed of herself and she is only wearing a flower to keep up appearances.
In the end, after Hollingsworth chooses to marry Priscilla instead of her, Zenobia takes her fake flower off and tells Coverdale to give it to Priscilla. This is Zenobia’s way of saying that Priscilla is now the one who should be ashamed because she chose to leave with Hollingsworth even though it meant breaking her beloved half-sister’s heart. Without any pride in herself left (either genuine or false)—which is symbolized by the loss of her flower altogether—Zenobia loses her defining characteristic and commits suicide.
Zenobia’s Flowers Quotes in The Blithedale Romance
The most curious part of the matter was, that, long after my slight delirium had passed away—as long, indeed, as I continued to know this remarkable woman—her daily flower affected my imagination, though more slightly, yet in very much the same way. The reason must have been, that, whether intentionally on her part, or not, this favorite ornament was actually a subtile expression of Zenobia’s character.
Even her characteristic flower, though it seemed to be still there, had undergone a cold and bright transfiguration; it was a flower exquisitely imitated in jeweller’s work, and imparting the last touch that transformed Zenobia into a work of art.