While Priscilla and Hollingsworth are adorned in simple clothes, Zenobia is radiant like an Oriental princess. Coverdale feels as if he has intruded on a scene of strong emotion or passion and that he ought to leave, but Zenobia says he can stay. Coverdale equates Hollingsworth to a Puritan magistrate, Zenobia to a sorceress, and Priscilla to a pale victim.
Zenobia tells Hollingsworth it is hard for her that her judge, jury, and executioner should all be wrapped up in Coverdale. He is certain some crisis has just come and gone, wondering if all of their secrets were laid bare. He can tell Hollingsworth and Zenobia are friends no longer, and they engage a few more allusive, pointed word.
Zenobia announces that she knows that she is actually poor and that her life is not what she thought. She asks if he loves Priscilla, and he says he does now. Zenobia scoffs that they ought to ask who has mortally offended God more –she is a foolish, passionate woman with all the vices of her sex, but he is a cold, heartless monster. Hollingsworth seems shocked by the vitriol in her voice. She spits out that all he cares about is himself, that he threw Coverdale away, and that he would now make a sacrifice of Priscilla. The pale Hollingsworth demurs, and asks Priscilla to come with him.
Coverdale watches with bated breath, but the young girl complies. Before she leaves she falls at Zenobia’s feet, at which the latter says she is kneeling to a dethroned princess. Priscilla cries out that they are sisters. Zenobia kisses her and says they are, but Priscilla once stood before her goals and she resented her. Finally Zenobia orders her to go with Hollingsworth and live.
Coverdale knew that Priscilla’s love for her sister could not match that of her dedication to Hollingsworth.
After they leave, the cold and imperious Zenobia breaks down, convulsively sobbing.
Coverdale watches Zenobia cry, wondering if she has forgotten him, or if he is supposed to be her priest. Finally she sits up, deathlike in her pallor. She laughs that Coverdale is turning this into a ballad, but that this is a woman’s doom. She continues, saying, “the whole universe, her own sex and yours, and Providence, and Destiny, to boot, make common cause against the woman who swerves one hair’s breath out of the beaten track” (224). Coverdale tries to disagree.
Zenobia laments that Hollingsworth threw away a woman who could have served him better than Priscilla with her “blind, instinctive love” (224) could. It was not his fault, though, as she should have known he would never want her broken, useless heart. She says she will leave Blithedale and hopes Coverdale will give him a message. A moment later she changes her mind and says she has none. Taking the flower out of her hair, she says she is weary of this place and that it was a foolish dream. Her hand is cold when Coverdale touches it.
Her plan is to go into a nunnery, and she says farewell and walks away. Her spirit seems to hang over the place. Coverdale flings himself down on the ground. He falls asleep and has strange, tragic dreams before he wakes.
Coverdale rushes to Hollingsworth’s window and asks if he has seen Zenobia, to which he replies he has not since he left. Silas Foster hears this and gruffly asks what is going on, and something in Coverdale’s voice alerts him to the gravity of the situation. Coverdale shows them a handkerchief he came upon, and Foster bursts out that he thinks she has drowned herself. He thinks she has too much sense to do that, and enjoyed life too well.
They head out into the night, heading down to the river, where they find a shoe that belonged to Zenobia. Coverdale still has that shoe today, he adds.
The river is dark, opaque, and inscrutable in its secrets. They get into a boat and glide down the murky stream. Coverdale imagines her body with her face upward, gliding under them. Hollingsworth pokes the stream with his pole until he finally hits something. Zenobia’s flowing garments and hair reveal themselves.
The men pull the body up and Coverdale is shocked at the agonies of death present in her form. He notices her hands bent in a penitential gesture, but one of struggle and doubt. Foster says Hollingsworth wounded her by her heart (with the pole), and the man starts.
Coverdale wonders if Zenobia saw pictures of drowned women in graceful poses and was inspired by them.
The men bring the body back and leave her with a few old women.
While Coverdale wishes Zenobia would be laid at the foot of Eliot’s pulpit, she is buried on the gently sloping hillside according to Hollingsworth’s wishes. It is a simple ceremony. Moodie is there with Priscilla on his arm, Hollingsworth and Coverdale walking together.
Coverdale talks to Westervelt, who also is in attendance. Westervelt is scornful of Zenobia’s decision to kill herself, but Coverdale says that it seems as if Zenobia had reason to in her mind, as she had lost everything –prosperity and love. Westervelt disagrees, saying her mind was chive and she would have been a fine actress and had a fine life. He thinks it absurd that because love failed her life was over.
Coverdale hates the man and tells him he saw him as Zenobia’s evil fate, but secretly agreed with him that it is unfortunate Zenobia threw herself away for love.
Looking at Priscilla, he sees that she is sad, but that her heart only has room for one predominating passion.
Coverdale visits Hollingsworth and Priscilla some time later, and sees the man melancholy. He spitefully asks about his reform efforts, but Hollingsworth says he can only be concerned with his own fate as a murderer.
Coverdale believes Philanthropy is a perilous thing for the individual, as it takes all his passion and focus.
Coverdale says he will say a few things about himself, though his narrative has mostly been focused on others. He never returned to Blithedale, and is now in middle age. He is a bachelor, and has a good amount of money. He is no longer a poet, but one of his little books made him financially secure.
He muses that he has no purpose, according to Hollingsworth, but that man had an excess of it, which ruined him morally.
Finally, Coverdale announces he has a secret: that he too was in love with Priscilla.
The novel comes to a close with the startling but not at all surprising death of Zenobia; the marriage of Hollingsworth and Priscilla; and Coverdale’s permanent absence from Blithedale. Coverdale’s obsession with his friends is clearly not over, as the mere construction of his narrative makes clear.
The first thing to address is Zenobia’s death, which has been substantially alluded to and foreshadowed. Coverdale cannot resist sowing the seeds of this coming event right before it happens, as when he mentions how cold her hands were. Ffrangcon Lewis discusses Zenobia’s death in the context of the ever-present theme of theatricality, concluding that “Coverdale comes to resemble a grotesque version of Professor Westervelt, the exhibitor of the veiled lady, as he paddles out three necromantic passes with his boat above the concealed body of the drowned Zenobia.” There is the same spiritual and sexual theater present in this moment; it is also the consummating event in the theatrical performance going on in Coverdale’s head. It is unknown how much Zenobia controlled the perception of the tragedy of her death; she certainly did sow seeds that could allude to her suicide, always wont to speak and act melodramatically. And as is made clear many times by her admirers, she was fit for the stage. Lewis notes, “Hawthorne’s grim satirical implication is that Hollingsworth’s and Coverdale’s sins are to be remembered in the sepulchral orisons of the dead Zenobia, and that Zenobia’s final gesture is indeed an eloquent piece of self-conscious self-dramatization.”
Both Zenobia and Priscilla warrant more analysis, as they are complicated characters that do not remain within the neat boundaries they may be assumed to inhabit. Allan and Barbara Lefcowitz call them both “chiaroscuric”, and in particular find Priscilla fascinating. They point to her little silk purses as emblematic of her secretiveness and covert sexuality, which contrast with the open, bold flower of Zenobia. Priscilla’s eyes are often closed, and she can hear things no one else can. At one point she clutches a letter to her bosom guiltily, tying her to Hawthorne’s Hester Prynne. The authors speculate that she may have even had a past as a prostitute. Moodie, as a morally bankrupt and impoverished man, sells her purses in a way that suggests he may pimp her body out as well. The veiled lady “may have been merely a safe Puritanical cover (or veil) for the sinister facts of Priscilla’s true past identity”. Allusions to her terrible, unsavory, and disreputable past are common; there were “contemporary associations between the seamstress profession and of the prostitute or fallen women” and “links between mesmerism and sexual exploitation.” This theory obviously can’t be definitively proven, but it is certainly wroth considering.
The authors also note that Zenobia and Priscilla do not actually seem that different from each other, identifying them as “the major and minor key of the same melody, or the manifest and latent content of the same dream” rather than just the “white” and “dark” lady. Both are associated with plants, albeit different ones. Both are secretive, both are involved with masks. Hawthorne seems sympathetic to both, but as the novel proceeds, Priscilla loses some of her nuance and mystique, “[becoming] increasingly ethereal, pallid, and passive, more the flimsy paradigm of some vague principle of floating good.” At the end of the novel she is merely Hollingsworth’s guardian, and the perhaps indirect and unfortunate cause of rendering him depressed, empty, and defeated.
Hollingsworth’s choice, then, is not because he loves Priscilla; indeed, the sexual attraction between him and Zenobia is quite palpable. He chooses her because of her money, which used to be Zenobia’s. His project to build the edifice truly did consume him and ruin lives in the process, as Coverdale often chides him.
As for Coverdale, he remains away from Blithedale, content with his bachelor lifestyle and creature comforts. He is a failed poet, and a failed utopian experimenter. He abandoned Blithedale, and abandoned Zenobia. His narrative reveals a man obsessive, less-than-circumspect, and perhaps complicit in the problematic events he narrates. Some critics propose that Coverdale was a lot more implicated in Zenobia’s death than he would like to share, or even remember. McElroy and McDonald suggest that he may have returned to Blithedale with certain expectations about Zenobia after ensuring that she did not get to be with Hollingsworth (the assumption being that he had made possible Moodie’s transference of money to Priscilla form Zenobia), but that when she spurned him again he murdered her. They write that perhaps “his mind refuses to remember what he did, though he half-suspects himself.” It is obvious that he is obsessed with her sexually, given his ruminations on her married and virginal state, and his allusions to being jealous of Hollingsworth. The position of her dead body suggests strangling, and there are other clues, such as her hands looking as if she struggled against Providence and her having referred to Coverdale as such earlier in the text. The writers conclude that “By strangling Zenobia, ‘Judge Coverdale’ meted out ‘justice’ to a ‘fallen’ woman who disdained his affection, and he also punished her lover, whose life is destroyed by guilt for her death.” This theory is certainly provocative and not commonly agreed upon, but it indicates just how rife with interpretations the novel is – how rich, how deep, how ambiguous and complex it is.