The Woman Named Zenobia
In Hawthorne’s story The Blithedale Romance, we are introduced to the character Zenobia.Zenobia is a wealthy woman who considers herself to be a feminist.She is always preaching her view of the woman’s role in society.She is a woman who feels and speaks very passionately about the feminist’s place in the world.This all seems to change as soon as Zenobia falls in love with Hollingsworth.After Zenobia begins spending more and more time with this man we start to see her position as a powerful and independent woman disappear more and more. Zenobia starts to fall behind Hollingsworth, he begins to control this feminist, and soon even all her opinions about feminism are nothing.Zenobia becomes, in this story the woman that she has been trying to do away with; she takes on the role of the woman behind the man.
The trouble started in Zenobia’s life when Priscilla is sent to Blithedale to live with her.Priscilla also falls in love with Hollingsworth.This is where the reader starts to see Zenobia’s feminist point of view start to
diminish. Zenobia in this book is picking a man over her sister, the first no-no in feminism.Zenobia is cruel to Priscilla.She tries to embarrass her so that she will look good in Hollinsworth’s eyes. She even turns Priscilla over to Westervelt, whom Moody was trying to keep Priscilla away from in the first place.Zenobia does all of this just so Hollingsworth will love her.
The reader begins to see the fall of Zenobia’s feministic character more from the way she is with Hollingsworth.Hawthorne uses irony to portray Zenobia’s character.The way she portrays herself in society and the way she acts toward Hollingsworth are the most ironic characteristics.In the public society, she portrays herself as an independent feminist.She comes across to the reader, at first, as a bit proud maybe even snobby.She seems to act like she is equal to if not better than any man, and at times she acts better than any person. She takes pride in being a woman and is very vocal on her opinion that women are equal with men.
As the story continues and we see Zenobia with Hollingsworth, we see that she is not so independent anymore. She is starting to become less and less her own
person and now is becoming the woman behind Hollingsworth. For example, in the chapter “Eliot’s Pulpit,” were Coverdale is saying that he wouldn’t mind being ruled by a woman. Hollingsworth disagrees with him here. Hollingsworth says, “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………The heart of true womanhood knows where its own sphere is, and never seeks to stay beyond it”(Hawthorne, 101-02). After such a statement the reader would expect Zenobia to jump up with outrage and speak back at Hollingsworth with her feministic views, but she does not.
Zenobia responds, “Let man be but manly and godlike, and woman is only too ready to become to him what you say” (Hawthorne, 102)!Here she is basically telling Hollingsworth that he is an exceptional man and that she would be his slave, even though she was so vocal before about not being any man’s slave. It’s ironic that she will preach one thing, but surrender her views for the love of a man. She obviously is not true in what she says about feminism.Zenobia could not possibly believe what she is
preaching about women being equal to men if she is not living it herself.
Zenobia continues on this way, living for Hollingsworth. Everything she does is for him. Zenobia is supposed to inherit her uncle’s fortune, but when she does she intends on giving it all to Hollingsworth because she loves him so much. Although she finds out at the Masquerade that all along she has been used by Hollingsworth.She was indeed his servant; she was indeed the woman behind the man.When Hollingsworth tells Zenobia that he is in love with Priscilla, Zenobia realizes that she had been used for her money.She had turned her back on everything she believed in and everything she stood for to be with Hollingsworth. She was living proof of a woman controlled by man.
At this point Zenobia turns on Hollingsworth: “You have embodied yourself in a project. You are a better masquerader then the witches and gipsies yonder: for your disguise is a self-deception………Then, because Coverdale could not be quite your slave, you threw him ruthlessly away. And you took me into your plan as long as there was
hope of my being available, and now fling me aside again, a broken too!” (Hawthorne, 179). This is where Zenobia
realizes what was happening all along, that she was Hollingsworth’s slave, and she was being used. She is no feminist. A feminist doesn’t preach equality for woman and then live a life as the woman behind the man. She starts to see that her life is all out of place and she can’t seem to fix it.
The reader also sees some more irony here.Zenobia was using Priscilla and treating her badly all along just to make herself look and feel better.Now we see that Hollingsworth was using Zenobia all along and she just got a taste of her own medicine. This whole time Zenobia has been trying to beat Priscilla, and Priscilla won.Now Zenobia is beginning to realize how Priscilla must have felt.
The reader has seen Zenobia’s character go from a strong independent woman, to the woman behind the man, and now to the woman who is all alone and a stranger even to herself.She abandoned all of her views, her opinions, and her life just for love.Now not only has she lost herself, she has lost love.This broken woman becomes
even weaker to the audience when the reader discovers that she has killed herself.Zenobia obviously was a very
confused woman so that it had to come to that point. I, the reader, feel that there is something to be learned from Zenobia’s story.A woman should never give up everything just for a man because in the end all we give up or lose is ourselves.
1) Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Blithedale Romance. London:
Orion Publishing Group, 1964