Her hair, which was dark, glossy, and of singular abundance, was put up rather soberly and primly—without curls, or other ornament, except a single flower. It was an exotic of rare beauty, and as fresh as if the hothouse gardener had just clipt it from the stem. That flower has struck deep root into my memory. I can both see it and smell it, at this moment.
Hawthorne is very clear in his symbolic associations: this flower IS Zenobia. Its beauty, its rareness, its exoticism, its sensuality, its wildness, and its hold on Coverdale's imagination are all indelibly embodiments of those very same characteristics of Zenobia. Coverdale cannot help but comment on the flower multiple times throughout the text, and as this narrative is taking place many years after its events, it is telling how much he is absorbed with it, and, with Zenobia.
But it was fortunate for us, on that wintry eve of our untried life, to enjoy the warm and radiant luxury of a somewhat too abundant fire. If it served no other purpose, it made the men look so full of youth, warm blood, and hope, and the women—such of them, at least, as were anywise convertible by its magic—so very beautiful, that I would cheerfully have spent my last dollar to prolong the blaze.
Coverdale is quite taken with this fire, commenting on its warmth and luster; he especially marvels at how it makes everyone seem younger and more attractive than they really are. This is a telling statement, as it also applies to larger aspects of the novel. The excitement of the Blithedale experiment also creates a glow that renders the participants more compelling than they actually are. Many characters are appealing on the outside but are more damaged on the inside. Both characters and the entire Blithedale experiment seem like they are one thing, but are actually another. Coverdale himself is at least unconsciously aware of the problematic nature of the fire, using the qualifier "too" before calling it abundant.
Then, also, as anybody could observe, the freedom of her deportment (though, to some tastes, it might commend itself as the utmost perfection of manner in a youthful widow or a blooming matron) was not exactly maiden-like. What girl had ever laughed as Zenobia did? What girl had ever spoken in her mellow tones? Her unconstrained and inevitable manifestation, I said often to myself, was that of a woman to whom wedlock had thrown wide the gates of mystery.
This passage is the most conspicuous in the narrative thus far in regards to Coverdale's obsession with Zenobia as well as his speculative nature. He wonders if she was married, and then admits he thinks she is not a virgin anymore since she seems like she knows the secrets of wedlock. Coverdale's language is always rather erotic when it comes to Zenobia, and here his actual thoughts bear that out. Furthermore, Coverdale is quite taken with his own ruminations, and runs with them throughout the novel. Readers even begin to assume Zenobia was married to, or had sex with, Westervelt, without having any real evidence of either.
...he had taught his benevolence to pour its warm tide exclusively through one channel; so that there was nothing to spare for other great manifestations of love to man, nor scarcely for the nutriment of individual attachments, unless they could minister in some way to the terrible egotism which he mistook for an angel of God.
Gruff and single-minded Hollingsworth is a magnet for men and women, but while he realizes his influence on them, cannot devote any of himself to them. He is obsessed with his philanthropic endeavors, and uses both Priscilla and Zenobia (depending on who has the money at the time) to try to achieve his ends, abandoning Coverdale when he will not help. Hollingsworth's disinterest in the Blithedale experiment is a hint at its eventual demise. Also of note is the association of Hollingsworth with religion: he is the grim Puritan, fervent in his orations on lofty subjects but incapable of sustaining human relationships.
He and Zenobia and Priscilla—both for their own sakes and as connected with him—were separated from the rest of the Community, to my imagination, and stood forth as the indices of a problem which it was my business to solve.
Coverdale is a fascinating narrator because his preoccupations are simultaneously known to him - he admits that he is interested in his friends, and wants to figure them out - and also unknown, for he does not quite see how unhealthy he actually is. He spends the entire narrative watching, guessing, analyzing, judging, scolding, and provoking. He is an outsider looking in. It is no wonder that neither Zenobia nor Priscilla fall in love with him, though he handsomer and more established than Hollingsworth; he is not an admirer of them, but rather their judge and jury, as Zenobia claims. We realize we cannot truly trust Coverdale because he does not know himself.
Girls are incomparably wilder and more effervescent than boys, more untamable and regardless of rule and limit, with an ever-shifting variety, breaking continually into new modes of fun, yet with a harmonious propriety through all. Their steps, their voices, appear free as the wind, but keep consonance with a strain of music inaudible to us. Young men and boys, on the other hand, play, according to recognized law, old, traditionary games, permitting no caprioles of fancy, but with scope enough for the outbreak of savage instincts. For, young or old, in play or in earnest, man is prone to be a brute.
While it is easy to overlook questions and concerns of gender in light of all the other mysterious and compelling narrative strains, this is still a pervasive component of the text. Zenobia is one sort of woman, Priscilla another. Zenobia advocates for women's rights but quails from these views due to her love for Hollingsworth. Coverdale prides himself on being progressive but still retains undeveloped, and occasionally provincial, ideas. Here he goes on a tangent about he perceives to be the essential nature of girls and boys, without understanding how these stereotypes are socially constructed. His observations are also perfectly in line with the way he wants to view men and women.
This hermitage was my one exclusive possession while I counted myself a brother of the socialists. It symbolized my individuality, and aided me in keeping it inviolate.
While Zenobia is associated with her exotic flowers and Priscilla with her little purses, Coverdale is associated with his hermitage, an isolated, elevated place from which he can look out and watch others. This is perfectly manifested in the hotel room from which he can look out at the boarding house across the way. Coverdale is by nature a lonely, voyeuristic man, and it is thus crucial to his character for him to have a place such as this to carry out his ruminations and observations.
All these things were so perfectly imitated, that you seemed to have the genuine article before you, and yet with an indescribable, ideal charm; it took away the grossness from what was fleshiest and fattest, and thus helped the life of man, even in its earthliest relations, to appear rich and noble, as well as warm, cheerful, and substantial.
The tavern paintings Coverdale sees fit to remark upon are a false version of reality. Everything is more appealing, healthy, and immortal. This is reminiscent of the fire that makes the Blithedale residents look like more attractive versions of themselves, and makes their entire experiment seem nobler and more vivid. They are idealized works, not the real thing, just as Blithedale is just a dream, just an ideal.
"How very cold!" I exclaimed, holding it between both my own, with the vain idea of warming it. "What can be the reason? It is really deathlike!"
Hawthorne is a master of foreshadowing, which, to be fair, makes sense since this is a retrospective narrative and Coverdale already knows what is going to happen. However, it bears some analysis, since Coverdale is so conspicuously alluding to Zenobia's imminent death. He could be embellishing this for the narrative (which would not be surprising), he could be covering his tracks with this entire scene because he was actually the one who murdered her, or it really is a fantastical occurrence. Coverdale is not easily believed, of course, especially as the entire second half of the book is a fanciful dream-narrative.
I - I myself - was in love - with - Priscilla!
This statement has long perplexed critics. It does not make much sense, as Coverdale rarely exhibits any prurient or romantic interest in Priscilla, save a few comments on her beauty and wildness. This statement may be a way to cover up a crime, such as the murder of Zenobia, or is perhaps a way to legitimate his fascination with the trio. It may be a way to bring some poetry back to his writing, especially since his career as a poet failed. It could be a way to work through his guilt about Priscilla's fate. Ultimately, though, it is a curious statement to end the narrative, and one that necessitates contemplation.
The Blithedale Romance Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Blithedale Romance is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.