The Blithedale Romance

The Blithedale Romance Summary and Analysis of Chapters 19 - 24


Chapter 19

Coverdale is stung by Zenobia’s lowering of the shades, and that she does not seem to know the purity of his intentions. She should have selected him for the holder of her secrets, not Hollingsworth. He might still have to judge, and to deliver punishment, but he would do it out of love.

He glimpses an astral light in her room across the way, and chides himself for being silly – he ought to go over there and pay his respects. After all, they were friends.

He arrives and she greets him with a face of smiling scorn, laughing that he seems to take such an interest in her affairs. He realizes they actually have no real intimacy between them, and things are very different from their first meeting. He looks at her jewels and costly garments and the cold, bright flower in her hair. He asks her if she ever was a part of Blithedale, and she scoffs that those ideas have their time and place but “it must be a very circumscribed mind that can find room fro no others” (164).

The brightness of the room is dazzling; the furniture is sumptuous and sets off Zenobia’s proud figure. She appears powerful and stunningly beautiful.

Coverdale asks if she has given up Blithedale, to which she replies that she has not but that there are other worlds as good or better.

To provoke her, as he is now annoyed, he mentions Hollingsworth’s singular vision. She becomes flushed and he thinks he has succeeded in revealing her true feelings. She hotly defends Hollingsworth’s greatness, as a great man often has the inspiration of only one idea.

Despite her scorn of him, Coverdale admires her fidelity to the man. He asks Zenobia if Priscilla is there, and remarks that it is dangerous for the young woman to be near a man like Hollingsworth. With a low voice, Zenobia calls for Priscilla.

Chapter 20

Coverdale compares Pricilla to a leaf, “floating on the dark current of events” (168). She enters, and her beauty strikes him, which he has not noticed before. She is dressed in gauzy fabric. Zenobia asks what he thinks of her and he says she is marvelous. Zenobia wonders why he never fell in love with her, and suggests it may be class. Coverdale asks if Hollingsworth has seen Priscilla in that dress, and Zenobia becomes annoyed that he always mentions that man.

Coverdale replies that he has a duty, which Zenobia says in disgust is often an excuse for bigotry, self-conceit, inappropriate curiosity, etc.

Coverdale asks Priscilla if she is going to go back to Blithedale and she replies softly that she will if they take her there, as she has no free will. She says Hollingsworth made her come here.

Zenobia announces that they have another engagement and must leave; Coverdale then demands to know where they are going. Irritated, Zenobia says it is not his place to ask.

Westervelt enters, and Coverdale feels the customary unease and distaste steal over him. He asks Priscilla where she is going and she shrugs that she does not know. Westervelt offers an arm to Priscilla, then one to Zenobia, who spurns it.

Chapter 21

Being no one’s confidant, Coverdale decides to find new scenes. He remembers Old Moodie and considers he might talk to him of his former friends. He finds a saloon he knows the man frequents and settles in to see if he shows up.

While waiting, he reflects on how alcohol is good for humans, and can make the cold world look warmer. He praises the paintings on the wall, which are still lifes of food that look very real. There are many people in the bar, all of whom have upstanding behavior.

Finally Moodie enters, and although he is pale and quiet at first, he consents to a drink with Coverdale in a private room. The drink relaxes him, and Coverdale encourages him to tell stories of his life. Moodie consents, and tells the story of Fauntleroy.

Chapter 22

Many years ago a wealthy man named Fauntleroy had a wife and young daughter, but his life was empty and he committed a crime to feel alive. He was exiled and lost his family, and lived in an old ruin of a house in a New England town. He never did anything illegal again but lived a colorless existence.

He married again and had another daughter, but his wife died and he was left alone with the child. The daughter, Priscilla, was tremulous, shy, and a waif. The only thing that sustained her was hearing stories of her older, half-sister.

Neighbors said strange things of Priscilla, connecting her to the supernatural. It was believed she had the second sight and gifts of prophecy. One day they saw a handsome, well-dressed man enter their house to speak with Priscilla and Moodie. Rumors sprung up around him as well, suggesting he was a wizard.

As for the other daughter, she grew up in affluence and wanted for nothing, save a mother’s hand to curb her wild ways. Some said she had a secret marriage to an “unprincipled” young man. Her reputation was not damaged, though, as “the sphere of ordinary womanhood was felt to be narrower than her development required” (190).

One day, Fauntleroy, now called “Moodie," was visited by Zenobia, who had a message saying he wanted to see her. He was impressed by her beauty but did not tell her who he was. He only asked her to be good to a young woman named Priscilla.

After she left he wondered if it was right to let her have all his fortune and not give any to Priscilla, but he knew it would not be good for the latter.

Chapter 23

Coverdale wanders about, ruminating on what he has heard. He spends many hours thinking about the three people –Priscilla, Hollingsworth, Zenobia –who loom so large in his life.

He stays away from Blithedale, his hands losing their coarseness. He begins to think of Blithedale as another life, and allows himself to joke about it with outsiders. He does not wander far, though, staying in town.

One night he attends a Lyceum-Hall performance of the Veiled Lady. The crowd gathers and seats themselves. Coverdale notices Hollingsworth before him and whispers dramatically in his ear, asking where he left Zenobia. He says sadly that he left her at Blithedale.

People near Coverdale talk of mesmerism and strange, romantic stories. Coverdale scoffs at them, and thinks, “we have fallen on an evil age!” (199.)

The audience grows impatient. A man comes out, dressed in Oriental clothing; it is Westervelt, whom Coverdale recognizes. After being asked, Hollingsworth says he does not know who the man is.

The Professor (Westervelt) speaks of psychological phenomena, a new era for the world. The Veiled Lady comes out, moving gracefully and freely. He claims her veil has been dipped in “the fluid medium of spirits” (201). He suggests the crowd try to disconcert her; they attempt to do this by yelling, but she remains motionless and collected.

As he is talking, she rises, apparently without his consent. Coverdale notices Hollingsworth on the platform. He looks to the Veiled Lady and announces she is safe, and she must come with him.

Priscilla, the Veiled Lady, throws off the veil and looks startled at those around her. Coverdale says, “the true heart-throb of a woman’s affection was too powerful for the jugglery that had hitherto environed her” (203). She runs to Hollingsworth with a scream, and “was safe forever” (203).

Chapter 24

On a brisk fall day Coverdale heads to Blithedale. He feels both wild exhilaration and nervousness, as there is a sense of foreboding in the air. Sometimes he had laughed at how much he was interested in the three of his friends, but could not help guessing about them and their occupations.

He begins to catch glimpses of the farm, thinking of it as his home and perhaps even his grave. The scene is quiet, and he wonders if an evil thing has happened or is about to happen.

The only living creatures around are animals, quick and skittish. He comes upon his hermitage and sits in it to rest. The landscape and buildings are quiet; not even the barn dog is there.

He leaves the hermitage and walks further; he finally hears voices and moves closer to investigate. He finds a group of Blithedale residents, all dressed in strange costumes. There is an Indian chief, Diana, a Jim Crow Negro, shepherds, fairies, and more. Only Silas Foster is not dressed up, and looks at the crowd with derision. The group dances and plays music, all engaged in passionate revelry.

Coverdale cannot resist a laugh, and the group espies him and begins to tease him and call him over. Someone calls out to Zenobia (who is unseen) that Coverdale is there. Coverdale runs away, stumbling on a bunch of sticks cut for firewood.

Another voice calls to him from Eliot’s pulpit –it is Zenobia, laughing that he welcome but should have come a half hour before. He sees Hollingsworth and Priscilla at his feet.


This set of chapters features incredible revelations (albeit ones that have been hinted at for some time now): Priscilla is the Veiled Lady; Priscilla and Zenobia are sisters; Hollingsworth chooses Priscilla over Zenobia; Westervelt’s role as manipulative mesmerist is made clear. Coverdale also reveals himself as an unreliable narrator, and the tone of the work shifts markedly into one that is more fragmented and dreamlike.

Coverdale is one of critics’ favorite topics, and with good reason. He is a voyeur, looking out panoptically, part of the action to an extent but more a watcher and a commenter. His preoccupation with his friends is unhealthy; he is jealous and embittered by their triangle and thus we cannot totally trust his observations. Kelley Griffith Jr. writes, “the narrator is biased, unreliable, unlikeable, and he distorts his characters” and that he has “a highly sensitive, ironical, intelligent, though disturbed mind”. His narrative is reminiscent of those of postmodern writers in that it is like an interior monologue. The dream is the primary device Hawthorne uses to give form to the novel. While the first half of the novel moves logically, the second half starting from Coverdale’s removal to the city is dreamlike, with “chaotic ordering of events and [a] refusal to fructify many of the crucial developments in the first half.” Griffith notes three types of dreams –the utopian dream of the Blithedalers; the dream created by imagination and memory; and the dream one has when sleeping. Coverdale has the second two quite often, and threads the first part of his narrative with references to daydreams and dreams. Hawthorne also “equates Coverdale’s fits of imagination with a dream state”; the meeting with Westervelt can come under scrutiny. Coverdale’s dreams cannot be trusted, especially as they intrude on his daily life.

There is certainly a shift in the second part of the novel, which Griffith calls “literally a different story” and “a voyage through chaos – mental chaos”. Coverdale falls into the same stupefied state as the pigs he marvels at on his way out; his total lack of surprise at seeing his friends in the boarding house across the way is also consistent with a dream rather than reality. His sluggish, languid existence is dreamlike to say the least, and we cannot fully trust what he is recounting. The episode with Moodie-as-Fauntleroy is also suspicious. Griffith writes, “the saloon contains art works which either idealize reality or overemphasize it”. Moodie’s story is told while drunk, and Coverdale admits to some artistic license. Coverdale’s return to Blithedale is also dreamlike and hellish, a phantasmagoria of strange creatures and interludes. Overall, Coverdale works his friends and their situations up in his imagination and “brings in his own guilt resulting from his moral obligation to them (he leaves them to their fate at the end of the first half).”

John Harmon McElroy and Edward L. McDonald agree, writing in their article that the coincidences in the second half of the novel defy rationality. Coverdale knew Zenobia had an apartment in the city, yet he marvels that he manages to look right into it from his hotel. Anther “coincidence” is that he happens to be at the Lyceum hall where Hollingsworth is. There are many questions about Coverdale’s role in passing along information, such as Moodie’s plan to take the money from Zenobia and give it to Priscilla. The authors also find it odd that Coverdale has such a somber attitude about visiting Blithedale again when he is there ostensibly to visit friends.

Finally, mesmerism was something that Hawthorne despised, and its ridiculousness and dangerousness are revealed in the chapter with Priscilla-as-the-Veiled-Lady. Westervelt, with consent from Moodie, brought her into it against her will, and it seems likely that Zenobia and Hollingsworth helped push her back into it. Hollingsworth then becomes her savior, but it is likely that that happens because he knows he can use her fortune (now that it has been taken from Zenobia) to build his visionary edifice.