Richard Derus's Reviews > The Blithedale Romance

The Blithedale Romance by Nathaniel Hawthorne
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Dec 25, 2011

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Rating: 3.25* of five

I read this as part of the RL book circle's festivities. I can't really say I enjoyed it, though I admired it. I thiink I learned a lot from it...for example, there is no new idea anywhere under the sun. Hawthorne (really? no touchstone for Hawthorne?!) wrote of such familiar characters to any modern reader, the creepy pseudo-spiritual control freak, the conflicted feminist, the wishy-washy eternal follower, that it really feels like the book could have been written yesterday.

In the author's preface to the book, he is even very careful to state that he is NOT modeling the characters in the book, nor the community that they inhabit, after his own experiences and the people he knew while living in a Utopian community much like the fictional Blithedale of the title. He goes so far as to say he hopes other specific members of Brook Farm, the real-life communiity Hawthorne lived in during 1841-1842, will write the definitive books about it. Ha. He's already done it. And I venture to say, though without any personal experience to back it up, the definitive history of many another Utopia.

I find the American aversion to all things Socialist very curious. Hawthorne defends himself against as-yet-unleveled accusations of beig an apologist for Socialism in choosing to write about Brook Farm at all. It existed from 1841-1847, and it had as little impact on American culture as the other "Socialist" Utopias before it and after it did. What precisely does America's vast majority fear? The possibility that others could be helped in some way? What is this reactionary terror of social justice about?

Well, it seems that Hawthorne wondered the same thing. He put it inside the struggles of the characters to get their needs met. Conformism is rewarded for flirting with radical thought and then returning to it by gaining a lot of money, access to a comfortable life, and an aura of sanctity that is almost palpable. Americans fear the alternative...shunning and criticism and poverty...so they see the radical and just readjustment of society's power (aka money) as a threat instead of a basic benefit. Hawthorne isn't on board with this, it becomes obvious, though he plays by the rules of his time. It's an interesting thought experiment to imagine what a Hawthorne born in 1904 would have done with this story.

I don't think I'd recommend the book to anyone not already accustomed to nineteenth-century writing. It's not the equal of The Scarlet Letter, so it doesn't transcend its era as effortlessly. But for the initiate, this is some excellent storytelling.
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Started Reading
December 24, 2009 – Finished Reading
December 25, 2011 – Shelved

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message 1: by Donna (new)

Donna "...wrote of such familiar characters to any modern reader, the creepy pseudo-spiritual control freak, the conflicted feminist, the wishy-washy eternal follower, that it really feels like the book could have been written yesterday."
This book fascinated me--I think for the above reason. And the end haunted me. I even had to draw something about it to get it out of my system. I never do that.


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