Hawthorn: Woman and Coverdale Essays

Submitted By amtheman44
Words: 3474
Pages: 14

Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Blithedale Romance presents the story of Miles Coverdale, Hollingsworth, Zenobia, and Priscilla. Throughout the novel Coverdale narrates his obsession with these characters. Through his observations and thoughts, feminist ideals and philosophies are clearly evident, demonstrating Hawthorne's own beliefs, as well as oppositions to the theory. Feminism, as defined in Miriam-Webster Online, is "the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes". Zenobia and Priscilla are the embodiment and antithesis (respectively) of the feminist model. Hawthorne based Coverdale on himself, expressing his own views on feminism philosophy through Coverdale. Coverdale's views and actions conflict throughout the novel, as does Zenobia's. Zenobia, though described as a feminist, wavers on her beliefs under Hollingsworth's persuasion. The Cult of True Womanhood was a prevalent belief in the nineteenth century, and its principles are the underlying current cutting through the entire work. The popular theory that feminist Margaret Fuller was a model for Zenobia impacts the entire story. Zenobia as a possible literary reincarnation of Fuller says much about the storyline and Hawthorne's views.
Nathaniel Hawthorne struggled his entire life against the Puritan heritage left to him. Ashamed of his ancestor's actions during the Salem Witchtrials, he publicly criticized the severe Puritan ethic system. However, due to his moral sensibilities, he did not have the "enthusiasm nor the fatuousness of Transcendental optimism", and therefore was unable to "break free from the Puritan mode of vision" set out for him (Howe 289). His moral beliefs impacted his views on human life, sexuality, and the established social system. In the nineteenth century, feminism was redefining all these- - and causing Hawthorne to evaluate his own opinions.
That Miles Coverdale was written as a "highly distorted self-portrait of Hawthorne" is a substantial theory in the literary world (Howe 290). In The Blithedale Romance, Coverdale expresses his beliefs and theories on women and feminism. Because Coverdale is seen as a parallel to Hawthorne shares these same ideals. On the surface Coverdale seems to support the feminist movement, and supports Zenobia's speeches and ideas.
"I should love dearly- for the next thousand years, at least- to have all government devolve into the hands of women. I hate to be ruled by my own sex; it excites my jealousy and wounds my pride. It is the iron sway of bodily force, which abases us, in our compelled submission. But, how sweet the free, generous courtesy with which I would kneel before a woman-ruler!" (Hawthorne 112)
Hollingsworth replies with his own speech on the role of woman, one that is ripe with masochistic masculine egotism.
"She [woman] is the most admirable handiwork of God, in her true place and character. Her place is at man's side. Her office, that of Sympathizer; the unreserved, unquestioning Believer; the Recognition, withheld in every other manner, but give, in pity, through woman's heart, lest man should utterly lose faith in himself; the Echo of God's own voice, pronouncing- 'It is well done!' all the separate action of woman is, and ever has been, and always shall be, false, foolish, vain, destructive of her own best and holiest qualities, void of every good effect, and productive of intolerable mischiefs! Man is wretched without woman; but woman is a monster- and, thank Heaven, an almost impossible and hitherto imaginary monster- without man, as her acknowledged principal!" (113-14)
Coverdale is outraged by this speech, believing it to "deprive the woman of her very soul", and termed Hollingsworth a "despot" for believing such thoughts (114-15).
Coverdale also frequently touts the intellectual superiority of women, and praises Zenobia's vitality. Zenobia is portrayed as lively, outspoken, and very intelligent- very different from the nineteenth century idea of a lady.