2016 Reading Challenge:Book 8

A book that you started but didn’t finish: The Blithedale Romance by Nathaniel Hawthorne.


Obviously, this was a book that I picked up at one time and for one reason or another never got around to finishing. In this case, I actually really enjoyed the first thirty pages that I read but I had an obligation to read some other things and before I knew it, a few years had gone by. Since I enjoyed the beginning, I made it a priority and added it to my reading challenge this year.

Hawthorne is one of my favorite authors and I have made an effort to read through as many of his written works as I can over the last several years. I have taught The Scarlet Letter many times and I also really enjoyed The House of Seven Gables, so I believed that The Blithedale Romance deserved my attention as well. I picked it up and started reading several years ago and made it about thirty pages in before something or other came up and I had to put it down and move on to something else.

I only bring this up because my reading of the novel was a little disjointed which probably accounts for the fractured experience I had in understanding/enjoying it. I bet if you read this straight through, your experience would be much different than mine and probably a lot better. That being said, I did enjoy the story as a whole but it seemed a bit fragmented to me and I will explain why.

The setting of this story is what stands out the most about it—unlike a lot of Hawthorne’s other works, our narrator travels to a very modern utopian setting. We are brought to a farm/commune in the beginning of the story. This setting gives the story a very modern feel and had I been reading consecutively/paying closer attention, I could offer up all sorts of insightful comments on the themes of gender, philosophy, and religion that Hawthorne discusses through a very modern lens as opposed to most of his other works. However, since my reading was rather disjointed these parts got a bit lost in the shuffle as I tried to sort out plot points. And to be honest, once I got a bit further into the story it dragged a bit in the middle.

So, we have a very modern beginning, a dragging middle, and then brace yourself for a great shift to a totally dramatic Hawthornian ending. The man sure loves his drama! So forgive me if my unique experience caused my interpretation to be skewed, but it certainly felt like almost three different books in one short setting, which can be quite unsettling to a reader. The plot, so far as I can piece it together, serves for most of the book to critique the utopian ideologies of those living on the farm and culminates in a full-fledged tragic love triangle (why I cannot say—this didn’t really strike me as a romance until up at the end and then I had to wonder, is the tragic outcome supposed to caution the reader on idealism? I’m still not sure how to feel about it).

One thing I did absolutely love about this novel were the passages in which Hawthorne describes the natural setting. He is often out walking on the farm/through the woods and he delightfully describes the flowers, weather, trees, etc. in such beautiful detail that it makes one want to go out for a stroll. It was the perfect backdrop for this reader who is getting cabin fever and wants to go out to smell the roses!


About alycemsustko

Reader, writer, catmom extraordinaire
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