The Blithedale Romance

Contemporary and modern criticism

Following its publication, "The Blithedale Romance" was received with little enthusiasm by contemporary critics. As one reviewer claims, the preface which is merely a disclaimer of sorts, "is by no means the least important part of it".[5] In fact, to many reviews this simple, non-fictional disclaimer seems to be the most important part of the book. Many reviews refer to the preface of the novel and express skepticism in regard to Hawthorne's plea contained therein for the reader not to take the characters and occurrences of the novel as representative of real-life people and events. They claim that there is simply too much correlation between fiction and nonfiction. One reviewer states "so vividly does [Hawthorne] present to us the scheme at Brook Farm, to which some of our acquaintance were parties, so sharply and accurately does he portray some incidents of life there, that we are irresistibly impelled to fix the real names of men and women to the characters of his book".[6] As such they read into what Hawthorne writes about characters that have associated real-life figures.

However, other reviews, while stating that there is correlation between the fiction of the novel and reality, these correlations should not lead to association of fiction and non-fiction. One review states "we can recognize in the personages of his Romance individual traits of several real characters who were [at Brook Farm], but no one has his or her whole counterpart in one who was actually a member of the community. There was no actual Zenobia, Hollingsworth, or Priscilla there, and no such catastrophe as described ever occurred there".[7]

A great deal of modern criticism centers around the relation between fiction and non-fiction as well. Critics believe that when viewed as representative of Hawthorne's own life and beliefs, "The Blithedale Romance" provides insight into the mind of the author. According to critics, the novel can be seen as a reflection of the religious conflict Hawthorne faced throughout his life. Irving Howe summarizes this religious conflict, stating, "Throughout his life Hawthorne was caught up in what we would call a crisis of religious belief. His acute moral sense had been largely detached from the traditional context of orthodox faith, but it had found little else in which to thrive".[8] Although Hawthorne did not agree with Puritan dogmas, Transcendentalists often associated morality with observance of these dogmas. The novel presents an ironic contradiction between the perception of morality and actual morality, such as the "Utopian" Blithedale filled with sin and far less than "moral" individuals. Critics claim, therefore that Blithedale is an attempt by Hawthorne to represent morality as independent from faith.[9]

In a broader sense, critics have long argued that the majority of the people, places, and events of "The Blithedale Romance" can be traced back to Hawthorne's observations and experiences over his lifetime.[10] The most obvious of these correlations between fiction and reality being the similarities between Blithedale and Brook Farms, an actual experimental community in the 19th century of which Hawthorne was a part. In addition, the character of Coverdale is often associated with Hawthorne himself. However, according to critics this self-portrait is "a highly and mocking self-portrait, as if Hawthorne were trying to isolate and thereby exorcise everything within him that impedes full participation in life".[11] Critics have also argued for less obvious connections such as the connection between Zenobia and Margaret Fuller, a contemporary of Hawthorne.[12]

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