“How Cold an Arcadia Was This”: Transcendentalist Communes in The Blithedale Romance and "Transcendental Wild Oats"

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Date
2016-03-19
Authors
Michael, Shellie Melnick
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Middle Tennessee State University
Abstract
This dissertation examines Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Blithedale Romance (1852) and Louisa May Alcott’s “Transcendental Wild Oats” (1873) with a two-fold purpose. The first is to put these texts into conversation with one another to highlight commonalities as well as provide insights into each. Both Hawthorne’s novel and Alcott’s short story are works of fiction set at Transcendentalist communes based on places that actually existed and at which each writer lived: Brook Farm and Fruitlands, respectively. This dissertation considers how the two writers portray attempts to live by
Transcendentalist precepts at the fictionalized communities. To explore The Blithedale Romance and “Transcendental Wild Oats,” this dissertation establishes and applies a framework for analyzing any texts about utopian communities, whether historical and fictional, or whether that fiction is speculative or real-world. The analytical framework involves looking at sets of conflicts or dichotomies that utopian texts tend to confront; the second purpose of this dissertation is to illustrate the application of this methodology. The recurring tensions explored here are those between thought and action, between the individual and society, and between men and women—three binaries that overlap with tensions within Transcendentalism or were of interest to Transcendentalists. The methodology provides a way to examine how two works of real-world utopian fiction, The Blithedale Romance and "Transcendental Wild Oats,” handle these tensions in depicting life at Transcendentalist communes. Applying this methodology also puts these
two texts into conversation with other works of fiction about real-world utopias as well as other works by Hawthorne and Alcott.
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Keywords
Louisa May Alcott, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Transcendentalism, Utopian studies
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