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Hawthorne's Aesthetics of 'Veiling' in The Blithedale Romance
In The Blithedale Romance, the four main characters, Miles Coverdale, Zenobia, Priscilla, and Hollingsworth set out for Blithedale, the utopian community modelled after Brook Farm ostensibly on a mission of reform and dedication. Every character from the first chapter wears his veil. Not only do the characters sham behind their names, they are also screened by the roles they assume in the “counterfeit Arcadia”. No one is what he appears to be. Nathaniel Hawthorne never lets us forget for long the deceptive quality of appearance and reality signalized by the dominant imagery of veil. In the first chapter of The Blithedale Romance, the veil, at first merely a piece of gauze hiding the features of Veiled Lady quickly becomes a metaphor for the mystery surrounding the identity of Moodie and Zenobia. As the tale progresses, it takes on the character of a snowstorm, Zenobia's hothouse flower, Westervelt's set of false teeth and pair of spectacles, a window curtain of Zenobia's boarding-house, Coverdale's “leafy retreat,” and the black water of a river at night hiding Zenobia's body. Hawthorne uses this romance to create the possibility of a new Eden but the Blithedalers enact another Fall from Eden. Through their selfishness and irresponsibility, Hawthorne reveals the impossibility of establishing a new Eden. They are fated to be, not the reformers of the world, but only members of the Hawthornean brotherhood of evil. The title Blithedale read as Happy Valley then is ironic; the happy valley turns out to be a fool's paradise. The most obvious thing a veil usually does is to cover, hide, or disguise. To wear a veil implies some limitation within the relationship with otherness, a permeable barrier that represents an awareness of distance. Trying to remain as objective author, Hawthorne insists upon the distance, that is, authorial stance by the means of his famous withdrawal or self-veiling. Veiling can be seen as a way of expressing an understanding of the distance between author and audience. Owing to “veil” imagery, Hawthorne achieves a remarkably ironic aesthetic distancing from the action of the novel. In The Blithedale Romance, one of Hawthorne's greatest accomplishments, the veiling finally contributes much to romance's most ambiguous and multi-leveled structure.
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