A delayed letter comes regarding Priscilla, implying that she has recently escaped an onerous or perilous situation. There is still uncertainty about her, although she is welcome in the community.
While Priscilla seems to love Zenobia, there is not much requital. She also cares for Hollingsworth a great deal and talks freely with him. Her wan complexion perks up, and her bloom is conspicuous.
She brings the convalescing Coverdale a night-cap she knitted. While he looks at her he sees that she looks like someone he knows. As she hands him a letter, he tells her she looks like Margaret Fuller, and then is surprised to see that the letter is from that woman. This disturbs Priscilla.
While recovering Coverdale reads a great deal, particular Fourier, whose theories on cooperatives he shares with Hollingsworth. That man is hostile to Fourier’s ideas, claiming he has committed some sin. Coverdale wonders if his mind is not fit to receive such ideas, and realizes Hollingsworth never really cared for the community’s purpose but merely liked its isolation and estrangement. His philanthropic endeavor put him in bondage, and he could not spare emotional attachment for anything or anyone else. He may even have been going mad, as he always talked about getting money to build an edifice with intent of reforming criminals. Coverdale laments that Hollingsworth’s spirit haunts a yet-unbuilt edifice rather than one full of memories already. He starts to feel like the man only took care of him when he was sick to proselytize to him.
On May Day, Priscilla and Zenobia frolic together. Coverdale notices Zenobia gave Priscilla a weed for her hair.
Zenobia comes over to talk about Priscilla with Coverdale, mentioning that she finds the girl’s wildness singular. When Coverdale says women are happier than men, she chides him, saying women only have one task assigned by fate and men have many.
Priscilla sits before Hollingsworth, and he leads her back to them.
Coverdale’s health is improved, and he feels as if “I crept out of a life of old conventionalisms, on my hands and knees, as it were, and gained admittance into the freer region that lay beyond. In this respect, it was like death.” He feels like another man, and in the sunshine thinks his compatriots have realized some of Fourier’s ideals.
There are new people in the community, some young, some old, and some boarders. It is a “society such as has seldom met together; nor, perhaps, could it reasonably be expected to hold together long.” The bond seems negative, not positive, and they never follow their written constitution. In terms of clothing, they look rather like beggars, and have a clerical or scholarly air.
They do well enough at the yeoman life, but their neighbors mock them and tell slanderous rumors. This, Coverdale assumes, is due to envy.
He sees them as spiritualizing labor, but comes to believe that the yeoman and the scholar can never be one.
Zenobia teases Coverdale about this, and says he is fated to be Silas Foster. Hollingsworth comments that he no longer makes verses either. Zenobia asks Hollingsworth about himself, but does not laugh, as she never does with him.
Coverdale thinks that Hollingsworth is making disciples out of Priscilla and Zenobia.
Coverdale states that it is probably not advisable to look too exclusively into individual men and women. He now sees that he did Hollingsworth wrong by probing into his character too much, but at the time the man and Zenobia and Priscilla were a problem he could not solve. He loves Hollingsworth but finds in him “a stern and dreadful peculiarity” (70), common in a person who has a single focus, an idol to which they sacrifice themselves.
He comments that young girls often come into the orbits of men like these, and fancy themselves in love.
Priscilla has grown very pretty, and is now always bubbly and effervescent. She is like all young girls in their freeness, in their ever-shifting revelries and pursuits. She plays pranks and perpetrates mischief more than anyone else in the community, and occasionally meets with mishaps. Everyone loves her, though, and laughs at her. Coverdale finds her delicate like an instrument.
One day he asks her what is the use of frolicking about so much, and being so merry. He asks if she has nothing dismal to think about. She gives him an unintelligible look. He says he would rather look backwards than forward, as it is unknown. She laughs that he makes her sad by talking about the past, and runs off to sit by Hollingsworth.
Zenobia stares at them, and calls Priscilla over to tell her something. She tells the younger girl that she needs a duenna with experience of life, and she shall be that to her. Priscilla is a bit perturbed, and asks twice if Zenobia is mad at her; Zenobia jokes that she will beat her in her room.
Coverdale notes that Hollingsworth is not unconscious of Zenobia’s charms but he enjoys Priscilla’s sympathy with his purposes more.
Coverdale sees that Zenobia needs no help of his, but feels some interest in her and her noble traits.
The community gossips that Zenobia and Hollingsworth are lovers. There is a walk they always go on, and a spot where it is assumed they might build a cottage for themselves (as the members are able to build their own space if they wish).
When Coverdale says something to Hollingsworth about building a cottage in a removed spot, he replies that his edifice must be out in the open. Coverdale is confused.
One day Hollingsworth and Coverdale see a stranger approaching. This is not odd, as many people come to gawk at the glorious people “as poetical as Arcadians” (81). It is an elderly man, dressed decently but shabbily, with a patch on his left eye. Coverdale recognizes him as Mr. Moodie, of whom he tells Hollingsworth is a bit furtive like a rat.
The visitor joins them and breaks bread. Coverdale asks him if he remembers giving him a little purse, which it is revealed Priscilla actually made. Coverdale sees Moodie as forlorn and bleak.
Moodie asks after his Priscilla, saying he would not know his little girl with a bloom now. He says he came to ask about her, but will now creep back to town knowing that she is well. Hollingsworth briskly says he must come see her.
Enigmatically, Moodie asks if a call ever came for Priscilla. The men say no. Moodie then says there is a lady here at Blithedale that he knew when she was younger and guesses that she has grown very fine. He asks if she is kind to his Priscilla, and the men say yes. He asks if they are like gentlewoman and maidservant, a question that Coverdale finds odd; Hollingsworth says they are more like older and younger sister.
Moodie goes near the farmhouse with them. Through a window he sees Priscilla pull Zenobia across the room. Zenobia looks haughty, and Moodie sighs.
Coverdale decides to take a long walk through the woods, which is something he likes to do to get away from routine and community. He walks slowly.
Suddenly someone addresses him as “friend” and asks to have a word with him, which irks him immeasurably. Coverdale rebukes the man, but he just salutes him sarcastically and asks if he is one of the Aesthetic or ecstatic at the farm.
He is young, tall, and handsome, but somewhat rude and indecorous. He is carelessly but fashionably dressed and has a gold chain across his vest.
Coverdale is a little ashamed of his rudeness and apologizes. The man says he met no offense and asks after Zenobia. Coverdale mentions her true name (for Zenobia was not it) and says that if he wants to find her he knows where to go. The man says he wants to see her in private and asks if Coverdale knows her habits and could tell him where she might walk. Anticipating Zenobia’s mockery, Coverdale assents to the man’s request and tells him.
The man then describes Hollingsworth and asks if he knows him. His behavior makes Coverdale a little wary, and he thinks the man’s face like a removable mask.
Then the man asks after young Priscilla, a delicate creature of New England as he calls her. Coverdale demurs, and asks his name. The man hands him a card with “Professor Westervelt” on it. Westervelt puts on spectacles that render him unrecognizable.
After he leaves, Coverdale wishes he had stayed longer because he may have found out more about his friends. He stays out near the woods where Zenobia may meet her companion.
Coverdale describes his leafy hidden cave up in a tree that he likes to spend time in. He likes to make verses there and smoke a cigar, and he saw it as “my one exclusive possession, while I counted myself a brother of the socialists. It symbolized my individuality” (99). It was an observatory for earthly matters.
Today he watches Priscilla at the farmhouse from afar. He sees a bird nearby and gives it a message for Priscilla: Zenobia will not be her friend for long, and Hollingsworth is too self-interested.
He hears the laugh of Professor Westervelt and is struck by how the man represents the cold skepticism that can quash their noble experiment. He sees him walking below with Zenobia, who seems passionate with anger and scorn. He wonders about the familiarity between the two.
Westervelt for his part looks cold and derisive towards her. Coverdale wonders if in her youth Zenobia fell into an indiscretion.
He tries to hear their conversation but can only pick up small parts, which he later says he is not sure about. Westervelt asks Zenobia why she does not fling off the girl, and Zenobia says she is a poor girl who can do no good or harm. She hears something and then moans in duress. The rest is hushed. Coverdale vows to tell no mortal of what he saw and heard.
In this next set of chapters, Hawthorne proffers more questions and a few answers. We find out that Priscilla is Moodie’s daughter, but that is all; we do not know his relationship with Zenobia, or anything else about Priscilla’s past. We find out Hollingsworth’s true purpose in being at Blithedale. We meet Westervelt, a dapper but insidious and mysterious young man whom Coverdale assumes has an indiscreet relationship with Zenobia. And we are left wondering at the relationships springing up between Hollingsworth, Zenobia, and Priscilla. While it is hinted that Zenobia and Hollingsworth are involved, Priscilla’s role complicates it.
In terms of Priscilla, she is a much more enigmatic character than commonly assumed. Critics tend to focus on Hawthorne’s “dark ladies” – Hester, Zenobia – and their various mysteries, and pay less attention to the virginal young woman that also populate his pages. Priscilla is certainly described in ways that indicate purity, as in her paleness, quietness, and slight stature, but Hawthorne complicates this by associating her with wildness and by placing clues about her probably less-than-moral past.
Coverdale continues to act the part of the voyeur. He has his “hermitage,” a lofty hideout where he can sit alone and watch those perambulating below. Hawthorne always associates Coverdale with these sorts of spaces; later in the novel his room at the hotel is a perfect, 19th century version of Rear Window in which he can spy on those in the boardinghouse across the way. He also articulates his growing obsession, commenting that he knows it is perhaps better not to pry into people’s characters too much, lest you find something you never should have seen, but that he could not help it. He is also apt to refer to his three friends as a problem he cannot solve, indicating just how concerned he is with them. It is probably during this time in the narrative that the three of them begin to be suspicious of Coverdale and his interest in them, although the actual break is never officially known.
Some readers may wonder about Charles Fourier and his place within the novel. The French social theorist wrote of an alternative social organization based on independent cooperative units, with each unit containing 1620 individuals who took care of each others needs from the material to the social to the sexual. It was assumed that Brook Farm incorporated some of Fourier’s principles, although it was not the case when Hawthorne participated. As Annette Kolodny writes in her annotations to the novel, Hollingsworth grows angry in his discussion about Fourier with Coverdale because the theorist “proposed satisfying, rather than repressing, individuals’ instinctive and selfish needs, including the sexual. Only when gratified, Fourier argued, would self-interest and instinctual desires cease to disrupt and distort human relations; a unrepressed society, in his view, fostered harmony and cooperation.” Most characters in Blithedale are nowhere near this progressive perspective; Zenobia is the only one who would espouse this degree of comfort with sexual freedom. Coverdale maintains the position of judge, while Hollingsworth’s singular focus on his philanthropic endeavors precludes him from fully engaging with these sorts of complications.
Another real-world personage to note briefly is Margaret Fuller, a contemporary of Hawthorne’s. Fuller, a women’s rights activist and writer, is usually associated with Zenobia, but Hawthorne playfully confuses his readers by suggesting Priscilla’s resemblance to her.