A Study of Class Politics in the Blithedale Romance

In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Blithedale Romance, poet and flâneur, Miles Coverdale, after having participated in the failed transcendental experiment of Blithedale Farm, reaches two conclusions: he is resigned to his privileged lifestyle, but he is also in love with Priscilla. How does Coverdale come to this understanding of himself? Why does he shift from his initial love of Zenobia, the highly-educated, upper-class feminist, to her sister, Priscilla, an uneducated, working-class woman? What does this reveal about Hawthorne? This paper will focus on a class reading of The Blithedale Romance as a way of answering these questions while utilizing the scholarship of T. Walter Herbert, Richard Francis and Allan and Barbara Lefcowitz as well as Hawthorne’s American Note-Books in order to explore the ambitions and limitations of class-relations in mid-nineteenth century America. Hawthorne places the bulk of the power in Priscilla’s hands at the end of the novel; additionally, Silas Foster operates as a silent laboring force throughout the romance. However, these novelistic choices can be perceived as an unintentional nod from the author toward the working-class as an underappreciated but highly resourceful group.

In October 1843, Nathaniel Hawthorne took a stroll to Walden Pond and recorded the experience in his journal. His descriptions linger on the pure blue sky and the changing leaves, the lush greens mixed in with the fire oranges and reds, noting that “these hues appeared to be thrown together without design; and yet there was perfect harmony between them…” (454). Across the lake there is a “hamlet of huts or shanties” inhabited by Irish people who have come to work on the railroad. Hawthorne spends an inordinate amount of time describing the scene: playful children who resemble “sunbeams,” women washing clothes, pots and pans hanging from doorways, floor mattresses, and the scent of tobacco. The houses are composed out of materials from nature: “against some of them earth is heaped up to the roof…and when grass has had time to sprout upon them, they will look like natural hillocks….” He associates the workers with the beauty of nature despite the presence of the developing railroad:

And yet, with all these homely items, the repose and sanctity of the old wood do not seem to be destroyed or profaned. It overshadows these poor people, and assimilates them somehow or other to the character of its natural inhabitants. Their presence did not shock me any more than if I had merely discovered a squirrel’s nest in a tree. To be sure it is a torment to see the great, high, ugly embankment of the railroad, which is here thrusting itself into the lake, or along its margin, in close vicinity to this picturesque little hamlet (456).

Hawthorne does not acknowledge the fact that this “picturesque” scene would not exist without the railroad, or that only women and children are present (it is reasonable to assume the men are busy performing hard labor). Although his treatment of the working-class is typically condescending[1] for the time period, the important takeaway is the manner in which he romanticizes physical labor. This moment was recorded not too long after Hawthorne left Brook Farm to live in Concord with his new wife, Sophia, where he spent his time writing, chopping wood, and cultivating a garden. The Irish workers living and toiling in nature did not shock him because he had already grown accustomed to their presence, had already tried to live like them in a tamer sense while at Brook Farm. But, how did he come to value the working-class?

Hawthorne grew up during a time when there was a lot of economic and class uncertainties. Bloodlines were beginning to mean less and less; material wealth could be obtained by individuals who weren’t well-connected in the higher social classes. Hawthorne’s Puritan ancestors, once well-respected, found themselves on the wrong side of history, and had fallen from their high position in New England; his father had to seek employment in the shipping industry to support his family. Hawthorne’s mother, Elizabeth Manning, suffered from delusions of grandeur in the sense that she stubbornly maintained the Hathorne name still held significant value. Even after her husband died of yellow fever and she was forced to move her family back into the Manning household, she continued to maintain this false belief of nobility in her children, much to the frustration of the Mannings, who were, in fact, supporting them. T. Walter Herbert[2] notes one such example of Elizabeth’s class delusions in which

She proudly told and retold the story of an occasion on which his uncle Simon Forrester offered him a ten-dollar bill, which the lad disdainfully refused on the ground that Forrester was not “nearly enough related to have a right to bestow it.” Both Elizabeth and Nathaniel were vividly aware that Simon Forrester—before he got rich, married their aunt, and gave their father a job—had come to America from Ireland as a cabin boy in a vessel commanded by their grandfather. Elizabeth treasured the story of the rejected money because it exposed and spurned Forrester’s assumption that he could purchase social rank comparable to Nathaniel’s own (67).

As a result, Hawthorne was conditioned to depend on his name for economic status. Additionally, he was not properly socialized by Elizabeth, who found it more agreeable to spend most of her time within the walls of the Manning household. His college education was paid for by his Manning relatives who were concerned about his future prospects and were disappointed when he failed to take advantage of the opportunities they had provided for him. As Herbert notes, Hawthorne was in a difficult spot socially and economically like many other young men who “faced manifold ironies arising from cross-pressures between money making and claims of status grounded in family relation: how to despise a Simon Forrester while attempting to become one?” Herbert argues that the best way for Hawthorne to create an identity independent of social and economic pressures was to change his name: “Hawthorne’s artistic self was in that respect self-made; it was formed over against the expectations of those who sought to assume the place of his father, and it engaged him in a professional domain with which they had virtually no experience.”

This route to a self-made, artistic self was riddled with difficulty. Hawthorne shut himself up in his mother’s household for over a decade and developed the reputation of an idler. His intense devotion to becoming a successful writer and his undeveloped social skills were mistakenly perceived by the community as mere selfishness and laziness. Hawthorne’s personal situation was complicated by the overall economic situation of the country. The middle-class was beginning to define itself against the laboring classes while at the same time, the laboring classes, as David Roediger[3] points out, were trying to define themselves against slave labor. The yeoman was being replaced by the wage worker who faced 12 hour work days and deplorable working conditions. Staunch reform groups materialized during the 1820s and 30s; the Panic of 1837 also left people economically devastated. As a young man, Hawthorne would have been swept up in all of this social and economic turmoil. His marriage to Sophia and his success as a writer didn’t come until his late 30s, an age when most men would have been established. As Herbert states:

Instead of welcoming the contest among democratic equals, young Hawthorne yearns for a seclusion that is both girlish and aristocratic. If he can’t remain pinned to his mother’s apron, then he wishes he were wealthy enough to be excused from the effort to support himself. The prospect of becoming a writer is tainted by the inevitable entanglement with the market place and the likelihood of poverty (71).

In short, Hawthorne was frightened of poverty; he was not attracted to the idea of selling his labor for money. He fell outside of nobility because his name was only wealthy in abstract terms and he fell outside of the middle-class because he was unable to make use of the social and business skills he failed to learn in college. The only commodity he had was his writing ability, and this also left him in an uncertain spot because he had not written The Scarlet Letter yet. There has been a lot of speculation as to why Hawthorne participated in Brook Farm. He was conservative in nature and was not keen on the reform movement[4]. However, all of the reasons above may have been why Brook Farm[5] looked like an attractive prospect. Not only would it be a safe community for him and Sophia to live, it kept them from having to resort to a working-class life.

Sophia was also afraid of being reduced to poverty. In addition to economic issues, the cult of domesticity was beginning to take shape in households across the country. Many women who found themselves with well-connected names could find financial security by marrying men who had obtained wealth, but were not of the “nobility” and wanted to connect themselves to a name[6]. Sophia’s economic fears can be traced back to childhood. She recounts a time when she was tormented by a “beggar girl” who lived outside of her comfortable homestead. This child mocked her by asking her to curtsy; while Sophia stood at her window, the girl shouted up to her that she was going to “maul her.” The beggar girl represents female imprisonment for Sophia, but Herbert also asserts that “as her years unfolded, Sophia had a good reason to dread the prospect of collapsing, with all her education and sensibilities, into poverty” (45). The couple shared this fear, albeit for different gendered reasons.

Although Hawthorne did not stay at Brook Farm for long, the most important lesson he learned was the value of labor. His journal entries show that he was optimistic about getting his hands dirty. And he did work very hard on the farm, to the point where he was unable to pursue his writing. This is the reason he left. What started out as a safe place to experiment with physical labor that was not exploitative turned into an unattractive daily existence of physical toil. Hawthorne learned that work was actually very hard work and it required all the hours in a day, not just a few. He went from being enthusiastic about milking cows and chopping hay to dreading the idea of shoveling one more scoop of manure. Brook Farm taught him to appreciate the labor of the working-class. After leaving Brook Farm, he makes a list of what looks like ideas for stories, or overall impressions or snippets. One of these says: “it seems a greater pity that an accomplished worker with the hand should perish prematurely, than a person of great intellect; because intellectual arts may be cultivated in the next world, but not physical ones” (345). A few pages later, he asks, “what is the price of a day’s labor in Lapland, where the sun never sets for six months?” (353). In a journal full of nature descriptions, these little questions and observations appear, which shows that the working-class was on Hawthorne’s mind.

Once Brook Farm was behind him, he settled in Concord and continued to write in his journal, but this is a different Hawthorne. Now, we are presented with a man who has found a balance between physical work and the intellectual work of composing literary texts. We are presented with a man who is still very much interested in transcendental ideals, who attempts to learn German, who dines with Emerson on a regular basis, converses with Margaret Fuller; we are also presented with a man who admires Henry David Thoreau so much that he buys a canoe from him (built by Thoreau himself) even though Hawthorne has never paddled one before. His description of Thoreau is equally as glowing:

He is a keen and delicate observer of nature,—a genuine observer,—which, I suspect, is almost as rare a character as even an original poet; and Nature, in return for his love, seems to adopt him as her especial child, and shows him secrets which few others are allowed to witness. He is familiar with beast, fish, fowl, and reptile, and has strange stories to tell of adventures and friendly passages with these lower brethren of mortality…I find him a healthy and wholesome man to know (403-404).

His admiration for Thoreau appears to lie within the fact that he sees him as a well-balanced man. He is the perfect example of transcendental ideals, the perfect marriage of physical strength and intellectual astuteness. It is through this lens that Hawthorne comes to appreciate the relationship between work and intellect. It is in this sense that he comes to value the physical work aspect of the working-class. We find him at Walden Pond a year later romanticizing but also valuing the Irish railroad workers. This is the sentiment he brings with him to The Blithedale Romance.

When Hawthorne reflects on his time at Brook Farm in his journal, he makes special note of the harsh physical work. He confesses that

The real Me was never an associate of the community; there has been a spectral Appearance there, sounding the horn at daybreak, and milking the cows, and hoeing the potatoes, and raking hay, toiling in the sun, and doing me the honor to assume my name. But this spectre was never myself. Nevertheless, it is somewhat remarkable that my hands have, during this past summer, grown very brown and rough, insomuch that many people persist in believing that I, after all, was the aforesaid spectral horn-sounder, cow-milker, potato-hoer, and hay-raker. But such people do not know a reality from a shadow (299-300).

The term “spectre” is used frequently in this passage in typical Hawthornian fashion, but in reality, Brook Farm employed real farmers at the core of their socialist experiment. If he felt like he had not done any of the work, he is partly right. He mentions two men who did the bulk of the work, a man named William Allen and another man named Orange. These were the men who made up the silent engine of the farm, who were educated in husbandry. These were the men who sounded the morning horn, who taught Hawthorne and others how to milk cows, hoe potatoes and chop hay. This is not to undervalue the work that Hawthorne did at Brook Farm. He was an eager learner and performed his duties quite well; he came a long way from the boy who was permitted to stay home from school for an entire year due to a foot injury and was allowed to neglect his schoolwork. But he was not the head yeoman.

Miles Coverdale makes a similar observation about Blithedale Farm when he returns to find it abandoned by saying that “either there was no such place as Blithedale, nor ever had been, nor any brotherhood of thoughtful laborers, like what I seemed to recollect there…It had all been nothing but dream-work and enchantment” (206). He recants this reaction when he discovers the community members engaged in a masquerade party in the woods. He finds everyone costumed except for Silas Foster[7] “who leaned against a tree near by, in his customary blue frock, and smoking a short pipe” who “did more to disenchant the scene, with his look of shrewd, acrid, Yankee observation, than twenty witches and necromancers could have done in the way of rendering it weird and fantastic” (210). Silas Foster resembles Orange in Hawthorne’s journal, who watches the masquerade from afar at Brook Farm: “a thick-set, sturdy figure, enjoying the fun well enough, yet rather laughing with a perception of its nonsensicalness than at all entering into the spirit of the thing” (319).

Richard Francis[8] takes special note of this scene in The Blithedale Romance. He sees the masquerade as a magnification of the larger role-playing game at play in the community by saying that “Orange and Foster provide a reality index to the degree of masquerade around them” (61). But more importantly, he sees the masquerade as a way for this utopian community to abolish class differences, which was the initial goal of the experiment: “there is, in other words, a social agenda implicit in the occasion, one that meshes quite cleverly with the utopian ideals of Blithedale and indeed of Brook Farm: the attempt to unite laborer and student, to enable cooks and consumers to sit together at the table” (64). However, this is a moment that doesn’t last long in the real community or the imagined one:

We are participants in an ultimate masquerade: the criminal, sinner, impoverished wretch, Indian chief, goddess Diana, Bavarian broom-girl; the milker of cows and the teacher of philosophy. This masquerade is, so to speak, for real, not simply an extension and enlargement of the Ripleys’ summer holiday, a ‘Transcendental picnic’ that inevitably had to give way to the Roxbury poorhouse” (65).

Brook Farm fails precisely because of preconceived notions of privilege and class. On one end of the spectrum, the intellectual cliques who enjoy punning alienate and are alienated by the laborers who see them as merely ornamental and bourgeois. When the money began to run out, the poor children who were brought to the community to be educated had their scholarships revoked. Additionally, the experiment became less about combining labor and intellect and more about uplifting the lower classes. Conversely, there was no desire for the privileged to down-class to a life of labor. However, these complex social issues aren’t clearly represented in The Blithedale Romance. Instead, what makes it on the page is the fact that Silas Foster, standing alone in his everyday yeoman clothes, has been there all along, silently turning the screws.

The most significant example of this is the way in which Foster pops up out of nowhere randomly throughout the novel. He is most present at the beginning where he is given several nicknames: Stout Silas, Grim Silas, Sensible Silas and Gruff Silas. He exists completely without pretension; he is a sloppy eater and is only interested in discussing farm affairs. Upon first meeting him, Coverdale mentions the fact that he “came from foddering the cattle, in the barn, and from the field, where he had been ploughing, until the depth of the snow rendered it impossible to draw a furrow. He greeted us in pretty much the same tone as if he were speaking to his oxen…” (18). The few conversations that include Foster have to do with him giving advice about how to handle animals or grow crops and when he is not part of the scene, he is still present: “we heard the tap of his hammer, at intervals, for the rest of the evening” (32). He is also associated with the sound of the horn that Coverdale describes as “harsh, uproarious, inexorably drawn out, and as sleep-dispelling as if this hard-hearted old yeoman had got hold of the trump of doom” (39). Foster’s role on Blithedale Farm is not to partake in the experiment, but to see that the experiment is being run properly from an agricultural viewpoint. He is paid merely for his labor, and to make sure that the community members perform their bit of labor.

This distinction between Foster and the rest of the Blithedale members is an underlying problem because he is responsible for the real labor of the farm; he is the know-how. The other members, who have more than likely never been to a farm, rely on him for his guidance and advice. But, he is not accepted as a part of the transcendental experiment. He is the uncultivated worker. Zenobia makes him the butt of a joke that she directs at Coverdale as they begin to realize that farm work is not all fun and games. She teases him by saying that

“You will make your toilet for the day (still like this delightful Silas Foster) by rinsing your fingers and the front part of your face in a little tin-pan of water, at the door-step, and teasing your hair with a wooden pocket-comb, before a seven-by-nine-inch looking-glass. Your only pastime will be, to smoke some very vile tobacco in the black stump of a pipe!”

“Pray spare me!” cried I, “but the pipe is not Silas’s only mode of solacing himself with the weed.”

“Your literature,” continued Zenobia, apparently delighted with her description, “will be the Farmer’s Almanac; for, I observe, our friend Foster never gets so far as the newspaper” (67).

She continues in her obnoxious joke by telling Coverdale that he will snore horribly (like Foster) and his wife will have to wake him up just go to bed every night. On Sundays, he will have nothing to do but stand outside and watch his corn grow and commune with his oxen and pigs. She also says, “I have noticed, you begin to speak through your nose, and with a drawl. Pray, if you really did make any poetry to-day, let us hear it in that kind of utterance!” This joke is multi-layered. It is told by a woman from the privileged class who has never worked a day in her life to tease Coverdale who is offended when Hollingsworth admits that he doesn’t think much of him as a poet or as a worker. He and Zenobia tease Coverdale for being lazy while putting down Foster’s yeoman lifestyle. This might be mere lightheartedness, but it is bad news for a socialist community that proclaims to value the thinker as much as the worker.

And yet, Foster is the one who gives Coverdale the strongest dose of criticism when he announces his temporary leave of the farm:

“Well, but, Mr. Foster,” said I, “you must allow me to take a little breath.”

“Breath!” retorted the old yeoman. “Your lungs have the play of a pair of blacksmith’s bellows, already. What on earth do you want more? But go along! I understand business. We shall never see your face here again. Here ends the reformation of the world, so far as Miles Coverdale has a hand in it!”

“By no means,” I replied. “I am resolute to die in the last ditch, for the good of the cause.”

“Die in a ditch!” muttered gruff Silas, with genuine Yankee intolerance of any intermission of toil, except on Sunday, the Fourth of July, the autumnal Cattle-show, Thanksgiving, or the annual Fast. “Die in a ditch! I believe in my conscience you would, if there were no steadier means than your own labor to keep you out of it!” (138).

This exchange is fascinating because even though Foster mocks Coverdale, it is full of sharp honesty. He already knows the experiment has failed. It seems that he was waiting for the appropriate moment to announce it and Coverdale gave him the right opening. He also has no problem calling Coverdale on his nonsense, either. What’s even more noteworthy is that Coverdale has a snappy comeback, but he doesn’t say it out loud. He keeps it to himself whereas Foster is comfortable enough with his identity to speak his mind. Coverdale is not comfortable with his place in the world, which is the reason he came to Blithedale in the first place, but he hasn’t accepted this personal truth yet. He has to leave Blithedale to reclaim his identity. Foster, on the other hand, does not have the luxury of escapism. His lot in life is fixed.

Foster does not appear again until the end of the novel. It is assumed that he is still silently running the Blithedale Farm while Coverdale and the rest of the characters are living out the drama of the novel in Boston. He is only summoned again when Coverdale asks him to assist in searching for Zenobia’s body in the lake. But, this is how Silas Foster operates in The Blithedale Romance. He is an invisible force. He does not exist until his labor or his knowledge of labor is required. He appears only then, as the man who is expected to take charge, and he gladly accepts the role.

In Hawthorne’s journal, he also takes special note of a young girl who comes from Boston to take a short vacation at Brook Farm. His description of her is quite compelling:

She is very vivacious and smart, laughing and singing and talking all the time…she never walks but bounds and dances along, and this motion, in her diminutive person, does not give the idea of violence…She romps with the boys, runs races with them in the yard, and up and down the stairs, and is heard scolding laughingly at their rough play…she strings seed-berries of roses together, making a scarlet necklace of them, which she fastens about her throat. She gathers flowers of everlasting wear in her bonnet, arranging them with the skill of a dressmaker (327-328).

He doesn’t give this girl a name, but he says she is about seventeen and works as a seamstress to support her mother.  Hawthorne is so taken with her that he resolves that “she herself is an expression worth studying” (329). It would be safe to say that this girl was the inspiration for Priscilla, but it is interesting to note how differently he portrays her in The Blithedale Romance. The girl we see in his journals is an energetic transcendental woman, but the reader doesn’t encounter Priscilla this way until at least halfway through the novel.

The Blithedale Romance version of this girl has more of a Marxist[9] quality about her in the sense that her humanity is defined by her ability to produce commoditized objects. She is described as grey, fragile and overworked, and brought easily to tears. Why does Hawthorne portray Priscilla as a weak-minded girl rather than an energetic and independent force? It might be too easy of an answer to presume that the girl he came to know at Brook Farm would not lend herself to as much tension in a novelistic plot as a girl like Priscilla who could be easily manipulated. Hawthorne sets up Zenobia, Hollingsworth and Westervelt as political tropes: The Privileged Feminist, The Monomaniacal Reformer and The Mesmerist; he uses Priscilla as a disruptive force to expose their manipulative schemes. She represents the working-class girl with no agency and each of the above mentioned characters treat her that way. For example, Zenobia only sees her as “neither more nor less…than a seamstress from the city, and she has probably no more transcendental purpose than to do my miscellaneous sewing; for I suppose she will hardly expect to make my dresses” (33).

As Priscilla finds herself more comfortable with her surroundings, Coverdale grows more concerned for her. At this point, he is aware of the other characters’ attempts to manipulate her; he warns her that her friends today might not be her friends tomorrow. He tries to get her to think about her past, but does not succeed: “You made me sad, for a minute, by talking about the past. But the past never comes back again” (76). There are two ways to read this scene. The first is that it is foreshadowing; Priscilla’s past does come back to her full force at the end of the novel. But the second reading is an issue of class. Priscilla is a wage-worker. She has not been able to live her life before coming to Brook Farm. This is her one chance to enjoy herself[10]; she gets to frolic and play and enjoy the outdoors. There is no cause for her to think about her past, or to think about anything beyond the moment. All her life she has been trained to think about performing one task repeatedly; these restraints have been lifted from her. However, this class reading of Priscilla doesn’t explain why Hawthorne gives her power at the end or why he gives Coverdale the courage to admit that he loves her.

Hawthorne gives Priscilla power because he perceives her as having the most productive value[11] of all the characters. Throughout the entire novel she is the only one producing actual material objects (aside from Foster who is defined by his labor). She is skilled at making little purses:

She now produced, out of a work-bag that she had with her, some little wooden instruments, (what they were called, I never knew) and proceeded to knit, or net, an article which ultimately took the shape of a silk purse. As the work went on, I remembered to have seen just such purses, before. Indeed, I was the possessor of one. Their peculiar excellence, besides the great delicacy and beauty of the manufacture, lay in the almost impossibility that any uninitiated person should discover the aperture; although, to a practised touch, they would open as wide as charity or prodigality might wish. I wondered if it were not a symbol of Priscilla’s own mystery (35).

Allan and Barbara Lefcowitz[12] argue that the mystery of Priscilla’s purses might be connected to prostitution by saying that her “most symbolic analogue consists of her elaborately contrived silk purses. As small, closed objects with both aesthetic and utilitarian connotations, the purses encompass at least two symbolic possibilities: covert sexuality and concealed guilt” (266). They associate her working-class seamstress identity with that of a prostitute, but they also admit that

This, to state baldy and unequivocally that Priscilla was a prostitute would, of course, be a gross oversimplification of her final ontology. Yet there are a number of hints that Hawthorne either originally intended her to represent a fallen or exploited innocence which would eventually be redeemed through the utopian therapeutics of the Blithedale experiment…Certainly there is much to suggest a background of prostitution, and likewise to suggest that the whole mesmerism-clairvoyance-veiled lady trope may have been a safe Puritanical cover (or veil) for the sinister facts of Priscilla’s true identity (267-268).

The Lefcowitzes bring up an astute point about Priscilla’s exploited identity, but it would be worth the effort to take their arguments a step further by suggesting that she definitely is in fact a prostitute, not in sexual terms, but rather, in terms of labor and that her redemption occurs through the recovery of her inheritance.

The most significant moment of The Blithedale Romance is when Zenobia is stripped of her fortune. This is a swift turn in the novel. Hawthorne takes the financial power out of the hands of the privileged and gives it to the exploited. Priscilla, who has worked her entire young life away, whose identity is defined by the commodities she produces, is given reparations for her hard, grossly underpaid labor. Coverdale has witnessed the condescending, exploitative nature of the other characters; he loves Priscilla because, even though he feared for her throughout the novel, he admires her resourcefulness. This can be seen as a reflection of Hawthorne’s own feelings toward the working-class. It is worth noting that in his journal, the girl he observes supports her mother with her labor[13]. Hawthorne gives the reader a way to see Priscilla as an enduring force despite her unfortunate circumstances.

Coverdale leaves Blithedale in much the same manner Hawthorne leaves Brook Farm, but as the novel skips into the future, we find many differences between the two men. Hawthorne raises a family with Sophia and finds success as a writer. Coverdale, however, is still a bachelor and has given up writing poetry as a career. But, there is one thing that the two men have in common: through their utopian experiences, they have come to fully realize themselves. Just before his confession, Coverdale states that “I have been twice to Europe, and spent a year or two, rather agreeably, at each visit. Being well to do in the world, and having nobody but myself to care for, I live very much at my ease, and fare sumptuously every day” (246). This is a confession of a different kind. Coverdale has discovered what Silas Foster knew all along: that he is content with his identity. Coverdale now recognizes privilege, and like Hawthorne, he has learned to appreciate his position in life. He admits he loves Priscilla, but what he actually loves is a fully realized version of himself. This is not to say that class politics is adequately addressed in The Blithedale Romance or that this reading is an endorsement of self-satisfaction in an exploitative capitalistic society. It is merely a suggestion that perhaps The Blithedale Romance argues for social change that doesn’t begin with monomaniacal reform or the supernatural, but rather, with an honest perspective of selfhood.

Spring 2015

[1] Sophia Hawthorne was equally as guilty of privileged condescension. In The Production of Personal Life: Class, Gender, and the Psychological in Hawthorne’s Fiction, Joel Pfister notes of multiple incidences where Sophia attempts to “cultivate” her female servant, Mary O’Brien, who “does not accomplish much, because it tries her to sit still and stupefies her to be in a warm room at a long time” (185). O’Brien only lasted in the Hawthorne household for two years and her replacement, another Irish Catholic servant, only lasted a month. Sophia is happy when they are “able to afford ‘the luxury of an American and a Protestant maid.”

[2] Citations from Dearest Beloved: The Hawthornes and the Making of the Middle-Class Family.

[3] See “’Neither a Servant Nor a Master Am I’: Keywords in the Languages of White Labor Republicanism” from The Wages of Whiteness.

[4] In “Earth’s Holocaust” Hawthorne grapples with the rising monomaniacal nature of reform movements.

[5] Brook Farm was one of many socialist communes that sprang up during this time period. Others included Hopedale and Fruitlands, the latter which failed after only a year of operation and is the inspiration for Louisa May Alcott’s short story “Transcendental Wild Oats.” The main character, Abel Lamb, invests all of his finances into the experimental utopia only to end up bankrupt a year later. He resolved to starve before resorting to wage work whereas his wife, Hope, managed to find employment as a domestic servant. Alcott’s initial title for the short story, “A Chapter from an Unwritten Romance” was intended to be a play on The Blithedale Romance.

[6] Louisa May Alcott explores this issue in Little Women. After the March family finds themselves in genteel poverty, Aunt Josephine March, realizing that the only bit of status her nieces have left is the nobility of the March name, belabors the fact that financial security will only come to them if they “marry well.”

[7] In Alcott’s “Transcendental Wild Oats” she writes about a similar character named Moses White. He operates in the same spirit as Silas Foster, except she gives him a country accent. While the men on the farm spent most of their time discussing intellectual ideas, he “placidly plodded about, ‘chorin’ around,’ as he called it, looking like an old-time patriarch, with his silver hair and flowing beard, and saving the community from many a mishap by his thrift and Yankee shrewdness” (374).

[8] Citations from Transcendental Utopias: Individual and Community at Brook Farm, Fruitlands, and Walden.

[9] “…Labor is exterior to the worker, that is, it does not belong to his essence. Therefore, he does not confirm himself in his work, he denies himself, feels miserable instead of happy, deploys no free physical and intellectual energy, but mortifies his body and ruins his mind” (227). Taken from an excerpt of “On Alienated Labor.”

[10] Even in the midst of this new-found freedom, Priscilla is still tied to her labor in some sense. She continues to use her seamstress skills at Blithedale. In one instance, she makes a night cap for Coverdale. He says, “I never can think of wearing such an exquisitely wrought night-cap as this, unless it be in the day-time, when I sit up to receive company!” Priscilla replies by saying that “It is for use, not for beauty…I could have embroidered it and made it much prettier, if I pleased” (51).

[11] Throughout the novel, Priscilla is the only character who actually produces material goods. Although Zenobia does participate in some domestic labor, she is more interested in abstract, feminist pursuits. It is unclear if Hollingsworth ever broke a sweat at Blithedale, but it is without a doubt that he concentrated most of his time on his prison reform scheme. It is also evident that Coverdale fails to write poetry during his stay.

[12] Citations from “Some Rents in the Veil: New Light on Priscilla and Zenobia in The Blithedale Romance.

[13] This is an assumption on the part of the author that perhaps this is one of the aspects of the girl that made her “an expression worth studying.” Her ability to support her mother at seventeen is something that Hawthorne was never able to do. At seventeen, the Mannings were embarking on plans to send him to college in an attempt to make something out of him.