Nathaniel Hawthorne's Blithedale Romance dramatizes a self-conscious narrator's failure to withstand the rigors of an encounter with the "sympathetic sublime." Miles Coverdale is a poet of solipsistic tendencies whose interest in social experimentation derives more from his desire to forge genuine human relationships than from any great hope of "reclaiming the world" (although he does tend to conflate the two).
His account begins on the night before his departure for the country, at which time he expresses an eagerness to meet Zenobia, a prominent local figure about whom he has heard much, but never seen; and when the meeting occurs, he is not disappointed - in fact, he is overwhelmed. However, Coverdale's case is not destined to be a simple one of abject submission to a stronger personality, for, still reeling from Zenobia's first impact, he witnesses her absorption into a complicated relationship with the egotistical Hollingsworth and the self-abnegating Priscilla. On the threshold of his "awakening" to the world,
Coverdale collapses into a feverish state, requiring two weeks' convalescence, during which time the "knot of dreamers," formed before his eyes, tightens into an impenetrable object of fascination. The drive to demystify this trinity energizes the sluggish Coverdale, although each revelation leaves him equidistant from the noumenal "core" of the relationship, whilst moving the prying narrator into a closer alignment with his "enemy" - the impresario Westervelt.
Finally, Zenobia's suicide does Coverdale's work for him, untying the "knot" and bringing him face to face with the initial destabilizing force in isolation (though certainly not "in itself"). However, the poet's reason fails to reassert itself in this extremity, and Coverdale plunges into the vortex of attachments that have transfixed him for so long. He "turns the affair into a ballad," which ends in a ghostly "tableau vivant" - from which he is permanently excluded.
You can find Rose Curtin's initial impressions of the novel here, and I hope there's more on tap! (she has spoken of a TV tie-in!) I'm just glad that she seems not to have hated the book, which has been known to rub people the wrong way... I'll never forget that day, a few years ago, when I dropped in on my M.A. advisor and began ranting about Coverdale and Dashiell Hammett's detective-narrators. "Coverdale?" she exclaimed. "Whaddya want to write about that creep for?"