The Blithedale Romance

The Blithedale Romance Study Guide

The Blithedale Romance is Nathaniel Hawthorne’s third novel, one that is sometimes overlooked by readers but is nonetheless considered one of his most critically important works. Hawthorne wrote the novel in 1851 while staying at Horace Mann’s house in West Newton, Massachusetts, and published it in 1852.

It is the only one of Hawthorne’s novels to have a first-person narrator. Coverdale’s narration has a dreamlike quality to it, leading many to label the work as a romance.

One of the notable aspects of the novel is that it is based off of Hawthorne’s own short-lived experience at Brook Farm, where he spent a few months in 1841 (see Additional Content). Many of the characters were based on real people, although they were not perfect likenesses. Scholars continually probe the intersection between fiction and nonfiction, attempting to ascertain what is based on Hawthorne’s time at Brook Farm versus what was embellished or invented by the author.

Contemporary critics were not sure that it measured up to The Scarlet Letter (1850), with some focusing on its tragic nature and the plot being unrealistic. Other critics disliked the characters, while still others wanted Brook Farm treated more objectively. Many thought it had a fatal flaw of “the disjunction between its apparent polemical purpose, an exploration of the Brook Farm experiment, and its actual theatrical focus on performance” (Wright). Other critics praised the novel, including George Eliot, and modern critics tend to favor more than some of Hawthorne’s other works.