Miles Coverdale's complex emotional posture at the close of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Blithedale Romance (1852) embodies the plight of post-heroic life in the 1850s: a decade in which the self-proclaimed "children" of America's revolutionary founders wrestled with the lingering contamination introduced into public life by the invidious nexus of slavery and the Mexican War. America, as Theodore Parker fiercely proclaimed in 1846, had become "a dead nation corrupting beside its golden tomb." Hawthorne's third novel in three years-a feverish rate of production-portrays a cultural climate obsessed with its secret and shameful wounds. The prophylactic zone of Blithedale farm, in fact, hosts a variety of spiritual and physical contagions, perfectly suited to Coverdale's epidemiological imagination and reflected in the moody volatility of his story. Each of the book's central characters responds to what its narrator terms the "diseased action" of the heart, forming a collective portrait of social and moral pathology that no utopian dream can effectively check. Zenobia's eloquent delirium at the book's conclusion, and Miles Coverdale's enigmatic malaise, capture in distinct and poignant ways the painful conjunction of majesty and futility to which the post-heroic condition ultimately leads.
- 2005 by The Regents of the University of California