Coverdale remarks that Blithedale also indulged in leisure activities, such as drama, reading poetry, and creating tableaux vivants. One evening Zenobia proclaims that she is weary of this, as their true selves show through too much. She decides to tell a story to the group, which Coverdale repeats in his narrative.
Entitled “The Silvery Veil”, it is about the Veiled Lady, who had attained much fame. A group of young men were talking about her, sharing stories and rumors and their ideas about what was under the veil. One young man named Theodore proclaimed he saw her, and the others shouted him down. A wager was set regarding Theodore solving the mystery of the Veiled Lady.
That evening Theodore went to an exhibition of the Veiled Lady and hid behind the screen. He observed the strange, spectral figure floating and flitting about the room. Once they were alone, the Veiled Lady called him forth. Surprised, Theodore announced his intention to find out her truth. She softly told him what his options were: to leave and never think of her again; to not lift the veil but win her love and loyalty; or to lift the veil and have her be his evil fate.
Theodore thought he would be trapped in an eternal relationship with an ugly woman, and chose to lift the veil. The Veiled Lady was sad at this, but consented to let him lift her veil. Theodore glimpsed the most beautiful, sweet face, but she vanished immediately.
In another place, a young maiden appeared amongst a group of visionaries. She became close to another woman there. That lady met a man in an Oriental robe who warned her that the young maiden was her deadliest foe, and that she must take this veil, throw it over the young maiden, and cry out, “Arise, Magician, here is the Veiled Lady” and he would take her. The lady did this, and the Magician came and took the girl as his slave forever.
When Zenobia concludes her story, she throws a bit of gauze on Priscilla for affect, surprising everyone and making Priscilla uncomfortable.
On Sundays those of Blithedale take their rest and do what they wish. Hollingsworth, Priscilla, Zenobia, and Coverdale frequent a place they call Eliot’s Pulpit – a rock outcrop with a shallow cave and a tree canopy, with a built-in pulpit that Hollingsworth occasionally discourses from.
Since she met with Westervelt, Zenobia’s mood varies wildly. One evening at Eliot’s Pulpit she lashes out at Coverdale about women. She proclaims that society throttles them and limits them. Coverdale thinks to himself that women might be superior intellectually but don’t often rise up because they are not natural reformers. Aloud, he tells her that he would rather be ruled by women than men, because other men excite his jealousy and hurt his pride. Zenobia scoffs that he would not want to be ruled by an unsightly sixty-year old. Coverdale tries to appease her by saying he wishes women were religious leaders.
Priscilla says she does not agree with this, and Zenobia cries out that she is the type of woman that man has spent centuries making. Hollingsworth tells Priscilla both are wrong, and Zenobia becomes angry and asks if he despises women. He replies that he does not, but that man “is a wretch without woman; but woman is a monster –and, thank Heaven, an almost impossible hitherto imagined monster –without man, as her acknowledged principal!” he adds that the heart of true womanhood knows its place.
Coverdale is surprised to see Zenobia humbled and tearful. He also comes to see that these two women are in the palm of Hollingsworth’s hand, but care nothing for him.
As they leave, Priscilla seems incredibly happy. Zenobia and Hollingsworth walk away, and Coverdale espies her take his hand and press it to her chest in a passion. Even though Priscilla does not see this, her spirits droop, and Coverdale asks if she is okay. He then presses more, asking if she really thinks Zenobia is her friend and saying how interesting it is that the other two found each other.
Imperiously, Priscilla orders him away and says she wants to be alone. Coverdale finds this attractive.
He wonders how Zenobia presents herself to Hollingsworth –unattached and unfettered?
The Community begins to form permanent plans, such as where they will live and build. Coverdale waxes poetic to Hollingsworth about future generations admiring them, but Hollingsworth will have none of it.
When Coverdale wonders about the first births and deaths there, and proposes a cemetery, Hollingsworth becomes annoyed. Coverdale starts to realize how little Hollingsworth cares for the community and how his goal is to obtain the very land they are on for his own reform purposes. He wonders if the man is using Zenobia’s money.
He confronts him, and they argue. Hollingsworth claims he sees things as they are in terms of the defects. He then tries to recruit Coverdale, who assiduously resists. From this moment on, the two are estranged, their relationship now full of tension and grief.
Coverdale decides he will take leave of the Community for a few days. Silas Foster is gruffly irritated, wondering if he will return. Truthfully, Coverdale feels as if the luster of Blithedale has dimmed; he is not on good terms with his former friends, and the whole Community has felt the effect of his break with Hollingsworth. Coverdale thus wants to travel elsewhere and get away from the bedlam of the Community. He thinks he has lost touch with the actual world since they only discuss how the world ought to be.
On his way out he asks Zenobia if he should promote any intention of hers to deliver a lecture on women’s rights, to which she sadly says they have none. She looks at him and tells him she has a sense that a phase of their lives is finished. She once thought he could be a confidant but thought he was too young to be a Father Confessor and was not a girlish friend. Now, she says, if she had a confidant it would have to be an angel or a madman. He also bids farewell to Priscilla, whom he calls a little prophetess, and asks if she senses anything foreboding, or a major change. She does not.
He passes mutely by Hollingsworth, but actually goes to say farewell to the pigs outside. He marvels at their comfortable indolence and their deep sleep amid their own weight. He is sad when Silas Foster comments that they will eat them soon.
Coverdale stays a bit away from his former apartments in a hotel. He feels like a traveler coming home from foreign lands to something familiar. Blithedale seems distant in time and space. He remembers how much he likes the thick, crowded nature of cities and the tumult of the streets, but is reluctant to throw himself in it headlong.
On his first day he smokes and reads, and stares outside the window to the rear of a range of buildings. He can watch the inhabitants and get an impression of their true lives, which is much easier to do from the back of a building than from the front.
He remarks on the general sameness of the buildings and is frustrated he cannot easily separate out individuals, as he was able to do at Blithedale. He asks a waiter about the houses and then begins to examine them more closely himself.
He sees a young man in a dressing gown in one, a family in another, and a couple of housemaids in another. Eventually he sees a forlorn dove sitting alone in the rain; she flies away but does not come to his window.
Coverdale notices the dove again as he looks out his window. He remembers the dreams he had last night, where Hollingsworth and Zenobia shared a passionate kiss and Priscilla faded away.
In order to forget such scenes, he spends time looking at the boardinghouse across the way. The young man is gone and the children are playing. He sees a young woman in airy drapery, then sees another one who he is shocked to discover is actually Zenobia. He realizes the other must be Priscilla. The flower is in Zenobia’s hair, and he marvels at how she moves in such a beautiful fashion. To his surprise he also sees Westervelt in the apartment, noticing how he and Zenobia seem to have a mutual dislike of each other (although he wonders if this is his own fancy or prejudice).
Coverdale knows that Zenobia has maintained a place in town, and retired to it occasionally with Priscilla, but feels that it is a odd coincidence that the place he chose is right across from it and he is now looking at these Blithedale residents. He becomes uncomfortable and “began to long for a catastrophe” (157) to jolt everyone and let everything come to fruition.
He sees Priscilla dressed more elegantly and fancifully than usual, and that she has that common expression of seeming to be listening to something.
He looks at Westervelt and compares the man’s smile to that of the Devil; he also notes his “cat-like circumspection” (158), which at that moment led him to look across the way and see Coverdale. Embarrassed, he knows he cannot pull away so he keeps looking. Zenobia looks across and sends barbs of scorn. She then salutes and dismisses him with brief gesture, and lowers the shades pertly.
Theater, masks, stories, and art pervade the text. Despite the Community’s lofty purposes, and their stated goal to till the earth, they are mostly artists and intellectuals who derive more pleasure from their games and leisure activities. Zenobia’s story and Coverdale’s exit to the city mark a turning point in the novel, where the narrative becomes more dreamlike, fragmented, unreliable, and infused with the language of the spiritual and the dramatic.
Eliot’s Pulpit is a fascinating yet often overlooked component of the novel, one that is tied in with larger questions about the relationship between the past and the present. It is related to the Puritans, who were moral and convicted but at the same time hypocritical and deluded. Critic Byron Stay writes of Eliot’s Pulpit, explaining that the author “uses the wilderness setting…to represent Puritan strength in order to contrast the Blithedalers with their seventeenth-century counterparts.” The Pulpit “mirrors and distorts the self-perceptions of the characters” and shows how they have very flimsy identities. It is a “neutral territory” where the characters inability to embody early ideals becomes plain.
First, Stay explains who Eliot was: a Puritan apostle to the Indians and a writer, whom Hawthorne admired as a man with true character and a representative of “the survival of Puritan integrity in a world dominated by Puritan brutality.” The Blithedalers may think that they are like him, but Hawthorne makes it clear that they are not. They think they are beyond “Puritan frigidity” but they truly aren’t. Hollingsworth’s philanthropy is false, and overall the Blithedalers have much more in common with the nonsectarian founders of Massachusetts Bay than they do with the Pilgrims of Plymouth. Their vision is much more self-interested than spiritual. Stay writes that the characteristics of the rock itself are telling; “The jaggedness of the rock suggests the Puritan-like callousness which undergirds the Blithedale experiment and foreshadows its impending disintegration. It also points to the psychological fissures which threaten each character from within.” Since Coverdale only notices its softness, it is clear he cannot see the real truth behind appearances. If there is a focus on softness in the beginning, the shift to hardness later reveals the breakdowns each character is experiencing. The return to Eliot’s Pulpit at the end of the novel, in which Zenobia holds sway, alludes to the witch trials of Salem and failures of Puritanism. Stay concludes, “Against the backdrop of Eliot’s Pulpit, the utopians repeat Puritan history, but because they lack the Puritans’ sense of moral direction, they are ultimately reduced to playing out a parody of Puritan barbarism.” The characters’ disintegration is the “decline that Hawthorne saw in the character of the mid-century American.”
Leo B. Levy also looks at the novel in its historical context, noting how “the extinction of predominantly rural America at the moment of its proposed revival at Blithedale threatens all traditional ties and institutions.” Coverdale is between the old and the new, judging his friends according to traditional standards but aware of the changes imposing themselves on him as well. Both Coverdale and Hollingsworth embody “the sternness of the Puritan age”, while Coverdale is indicative of the ultimate failure of uniting urban culture with the country –he is “a new kind of individual” and “the displaced person”. Hawthorne is making his views (relatively) clear through Coverdale; the author “saw the value of an internal narrator whose integrity could be doubted precisely because he was so damaged by the conditions he describes as any of the other characters.”
Coverdale displays his voyeuristic tendencies to full effect here, obsessing over his friends across the way. His position at the window mirrors that of the hermitage. The vortex, the voyage into chaos that is Coverdale’s obsession, manifests strongly here.
Zenobia’s story of the Veiled Lady is important, as it foreshadows the revelation of Priscilla later in the novel, and is also a part of the general theme of veiling and masks in the novel. The Blithedalers love to dress up, play roles and act, and, less in a spirit of fun, mask their true intentions and identities. Everyone has a secret, and ambiguity reigns.