Publication Date

April 2018


Patricia Hill


College of Letters


English (United States)


In the spring of 1841, George Ripley, a former Unitarian minister, began his experiment, Brook Farm. The Transcendentalist utopia was intended to be an agricultural and educational institution in which its members would live and work together harmoniously. While the Brook Farmers were able to create a great deal of interest in their project, they were never able to draw the support of key members of the Unitarian and Transcendentalist communities. Ralph Waldo Emerson?s inability to support his friend?s experiment points to the contradiction between the Transcendentalist philosophy and Brook Farm?s structure. However, Emerson was willing to support his friend, Amos Bronson Alcott?s Transcendentalist community. Fruitlands was able to offer a life that was in line with Emerson?s philosophy. The project failed after only six months. Both of the communities were fictionalized in works by Louisa May Alcott and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Alcott?s short story based on her experience living at Fruitlands, Transcendental Wild Oats, satirizes her father?s community by pointing out the absurdity and senselessness of its denizens. Hawthorne?s Blithedale Romance is a slightly more veiled critique of Brook Farm, although there are clear parallels between community members in each. He was one of the first members of Brook Farm, but left the community within a year. Through his novel, Hawthorne?s opinions about Brook Farm become apparent?what drew him to the community was the prospect of being able to find inspiration for his writing through the manual labor. Both he and his narrator struggled with this. He also includes a critique of the experiments larger purpose of social reform. He consistently views the communities shift to Fourierism in a negative light. Within a few years of its start, Brook Farm shifted to a Fourierist system. This involved including a number of industries in the community?s operation in addition to its agriculture and school. Part of the reason for this change was to draw support from the growing Associationist movement in the United States. Unfortunately, they were unable to gain the financial support that they needed. As the community had struggled financially since its start, this was an unwelcome setback. Along with a number of ill-advised projects and investments, including the destruction of a nearly complete, uninsured building project, Brook Farm was unable to raise the funds needed to continue functioning. Brook Farm?s failure was not simply its financial mistakes. The community?s roots in Transcendental philosophy could not be reconciled with the Associationist direction it was moving in?it failed to draw the support it desperately needed from both the Transcendentalists and the Associationists. The viability of a Transcendentalist community is doubtful given the cases of Brook Farm and Fruitlands. This essay addresses the contradictions inherent to a Transcendentalist utopia through the lens of Brook Farm and the people associated with it.



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