The Blithedale Romance is a work of fiction based on Hawthorne's recollections of Brook Farm, a short-lived agricultural and educational commune where Hawthorne lived from April to November 1841. The commune, an attempt at an intellectual utopian society, brought together many famous Transcendentalists such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Margaret Fuller. In the novel's preface, Hawthorne describes his memories of this temporary home as "essentially a daydream, and yet a fact" which he employs as "an available foothold between fiction and reality." His feelings of affectionate scepticism toward the commune are reflected not only in the novel, but also in his journal entries and in the numerous letters he wrote from Brook Farm to Sophia Peabody, his future wife.
Hawthorne's claim that the novel's characters are "entirely fictitious" has been widely questioned. The character of Zenobia, for example, is said to have been modelled upon Margaret Fuller, an acquaintance of Hawthorne and a frequent guest at Brook Farm. The circumstances of Zenobia's death, however, were not inspired by the shipwreck that ended Fuller's life but by the suicide of a certain Miss Martha Hunt, a refined but melancholy young woman who drowned herself in a river on the morning of July 9, 1845. Hawthorne helped to search for the body that night, and later recorded the incident at considerable length in his journal. Suggested prototypes for Hollingsworth include Bronson Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Horace Mann, while the narrator is often supposed to be Hawthorne himself.