The Fate of the "True Woman" in The Blithedale Romance
The female characters in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Blithedale Romance, Zenobia and Priscilla, differ in their representations of womanhood. Zenobia begins as an independent character, whom later surrenders to Hollingsworth's control, whereas Priscilla is ever submissive to his desires. This determines how the male characters, Coverdale and Hollingsworth, view both women. Coverdale and Hollingsworth are first enamored by Zenobia's charm, but both fall for Priscilla's docility. Zenobia represents female independence and Priscilla embodies feminine subservience; the triumph of Priscilla casts the male vote in this novel unanimously for obedient women.
Hollingsworth describes the True Woman:
"She is the most admirable handiwork of God, in her true place and character. Her place is at man's side . . . 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 [sic]! . . . The heart of true womanhood knows where its own sphere is, and never seeks to stray beyond it!" (Hawthorne 122-3).
Zenobia falls short of Hollingsworth's definition of the True Woman. In the beginning of the novel, she is noted for being an intellectual, a writer. Such "separate action" as thinking and writing surely offends the True Womanhood. This betrayal reaches its pinnacle at Eliot's Pulpit, where she vows to speak "in behalf of woman's wider liberty" (Hawthorne 120). It is here that Hollingsworth describes the True Woman whom Zenobia is so very unlike.
Priscilla, however, is the epito...
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...sible ever to redeem them? (Hawthorne 124). However, by falling for Priscilla, a True Woman, he perpetuates the degradation of woman through the ideal of True Womanhood.
Zenobia's failure to submit fully to the ideal of True Woman condemns her to unhappiness. "Everything had failed her-prosperity, in the world's sense, for her opulence was gone-the heart's prosperity, in love" (Hawthorne 239). According to Coverdale, herself, and much of society, there was nothing left for her to do but die. Priscilla, although a True Woman, is also doomed to such a fate. Zenobia laments Priscilla's fate, "...you have a melancholy lot before you, sitting all alone in that wide, cheerless heart, where . . . the fire which you have kindled may soon go out" (Hawthorne 220). Therefore, it appears that a woman of this time, True or otherwise, was condemned to a life of misery.
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