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Book cover of Brook Farm: The Dark Side of Utopia

Brook Farm: The Dark Side of Utopia

by Sterling F. Delano

Publisher: Harvard University Press
Pages: 448
Hardcover
ISBN: 9780674011601






Available to Buy

Overview of Brook Farm: The Dark Side of Utopia

Life at Brook Farm resembled an Arcadian adventure, in which the days began with the choir singing Mozart and Haydn and ended with drama and dancing. But how accurate is this image? In the first comprehensive examination of the famous utopian community in West Roxbury, Massachusetts, Sterling Delano reveals a surprisingly grim side to paradise as the Brook Farmers faced relentless financial pressures, a declining faith in their leaders, and smoldering class antagonisms.

Delano weaves through this remarkable story the voices of the Brook Farmers themselves, including their founder, George Ripley. Ripley founded Brook Farm in 1841 as an agrarian and pastoral society that would "insure a more natural union between intellectual and manual labor," yet he was surprisingly unprepared to lead it. Three years after its founding, Brook Farm was transformed into an industrial Phalanx. Longtime members departed, and key supporters withdrew. A smallpox scare, a financial lawsuit filed by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and a devastating fire all contributed to the community's ultimate demise. Despite its failure, however, the Brook Farmers recalled only its positive aspects, including the opportunities there for women and its progressive educational program.

In his wonderfully evocative account, Delano gives us a more complete picture than ever before of Brook Farm, and vividly chronicles the spirit of the Transcendental age.

Synopsis of Brook Farm: The Dark Side of Utopia

Life at Brook Farm resembled an Arcadian adventure, in which the days began with the choir singing Mozart and Haydn and ended with drama and dancing. But how accurate is this image? In the first comprehensive examination of the famous utopian community in West Roxbury, Massachusetts, Sterling Delano reveals a surprisingly grim side to paradise as the Brook Farmers faced relentless financial pressures, a declining faith in their leaders, and smoldering class antagonisms.

Delano weaves through this remarkable story the voices of the Brook Farmers themselves, including their founder, George Ripley. Ripley founded Brook Farm in 1841 as an agrarian and pastoral society that would "insure a more natural union between intellectual and manual labor," yet he was surprisingly unprepared to lead it. Three years after its founding, Brook Farm was transformed into an industrial Phalanx. Longtime members departed, and key supporters withdrew. A smallpox scare, a financial lawsuit filed by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and a devastating fire all contributed to the community's ultimate demise. Despite its failure, however, the Brook Farmers recalled only its positive aspects, including the opportunities there for women and its progressive educational program.

In his wonderfully evocative account, Delano gives us a more complete picture than ever before of Brook Farm, and vividly chronicles the spirit of the Transcendental age.

Luise van Keuren - Utopian Studies

Its ample documentation, notes, and authoritative sources will, in fact, appeal to the scholar, while its language, style and generally chronological development make the book accessible to a general audience seeking a history of the West Roxbury, Massachusetts, experiment…Delano explains that he intends to be "corrective" and "revisionary" and is particularly effective in clarifying Brook Farm's relationship to the transcendentalists, who were not wholly in support of the community as some accounts would have it…The book is notably successful in placing Brook Farm in the spirit of the era, relating it to the flood of intentional communities appearing during that period…Delano conjures up a sense of this vital, ambitious time in all its high-mindedness and sometimes misguided ventures…The story…is presented here with effective detail and breadth.

About the Author, Sterling F. Delano

Sterling F. Delano is Professor of American Literature, Emeritus, at Villanova University.

Reviews of Brook Farm: The Dark Side of Utopia

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Editorials

Bloomsbury Review

Brook Farm was founded by George Ripley in 1841 in West Roxbury, Massachusetts. It was conceived as an agrarian and pastoral utopia. The experimental project imploded shortly thereafter, as a result of a little mischief-maker called human nature, and has remained ever after a cultural, historical, and philosophical curiosity. In this informative new book, author Sterling F. Delano, a professor of English at Villanova University, documents the dark side of paradise, as the Brookians fall prey to the worst of their own personalities.
— John A. Murray

Booklist

Brook Farm is one of America's most famous utopian experiments. Located on a 200-acre dairy farm in Roxbury, Massachusetts, it was founded in 1841, a time of social ferment for women's rights, abolition, and worker's rights...Days of laboring in the fields began with classical music and ended with dramatic plays. Supporters included Nathanial Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Margaret Fuller. Despite enthusiasm for the project, it failed after six years, primarily due to financial stress...Drawing on correspondence, documents, journals, and newspaper accounts, Delano also highlights the personal and class tensions that doomed the experiment. This is a compelling look at the history of progressive social movements in America and the failure of one of the best-known experiments.
— Vanessa Bush

Philadelphia Inquirer

Excellent éxpose (albeit a century and a half late) of the most famous American utopian experiment, made famous by the Transcendentalists and Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Blithedale Romance.
— Carlin Romano

The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

This is a thorough, thoughtful, and immensely readable work deserving a careful reading from students and scholars in all areas of American history, literature, and culture.
— Sam Worley

Utopian Studies

Its ample documentation, notes, and authoritative sources will, in fact, appeal to the scholar, while its language, style and generally chronological development make the book accessible to a general audience seeking a history of the West Roxbury, Massachusetts, experiment?Delano explains that he intends to be "corrective" and "revisionary" and is particularly effective in clarifying Brook Farm's relationship to the transcendentalists, who were not wholly in support of the community as some accounts would have it?The book is notably successful in placing Brook Farm in the spirit of the era, relating it to the flood of intentional communities appearing during that period?Delano conjures up a sense of this vital, ambitious time in all its high-mindedness and sometimes misguided ventures?The story?is presented here with effective detail and breadth.
— Luise van Keuren

Washington Post

In his copiously researched, briskly narrated chronicle of Brook Farm's life and times, Sterling Delano capably recaptures the exuberant mood of possibility surrounding the utopian community's founding and brief but celebrated career.
— Chris Lehmann

Library Journal

Brook Farm was founded as an agricultural commune in Massachusetts in 1841, its members sharing a Transcendental social view and seeing their community as a union between intellectual and manual labor. Closed in 1847, the community was remembered as a positive experience by those associated with it. Delano (English, Villanova Univ.), however, presents another, less positive view. From the start, Brook Farm suffered from serious financial problems, including heavy debt. Its founder, George Ripley, and other community leaders lacked managerial experience and made poor decisions. In an effort to save the community, they aligned themselves with the American followers of French social scientist Charles Fourier, who advocated establishing industrial communes. This failed to resolve Brook Farm's financial problems and created tensions among longtime community members and the artisans brought in to operate the new industries. The lack of funds, legal problems (including a lawsuit by Nathaniel Hawthorne), and the destruction by fire of several buildings finally brought the dissolution of the community. This excellent example of revisionist history is based on the operating records of Brook Farm and other original sources. It makes a fine complement to Richard Francis's theoretical study of the community in Transcendental Utopias: Individual and Community at Brook Farm, Fruitlands and Walden. Recommended for academic and large public libraries.-Stephen L. Hupp, West Virginia Univ. Lib., Parkersburg Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

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