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.
Reviews of this book:
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, Booklist
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, Washington PostBrook Farm
removes the mist and moonshine that hitherto has obscured America's most famous utopian experiment. This engaging history restores the full texture of this fascinating incarnation of American idealism.
--Philip F. Gura, William S. Newman Distinguished Professor of American Literature and Culture, University of North Carolina
There is a clear need for a study of Brook Farm that offers a humanistic perspective on the utopian experiment. This book fills that gap. In this comprehensive history, Sterling Delano sheds fascinating light on the values and attitudes of leading Transcendentalists.
--Steven Mintz, co-editor of The Boisterous Sea of Liberty
Transcendentalism is one of the most famous movements in American history, but astonishingly there has never been a modern history of one of its most significant chapters, the commune at Brook Farm. At long last, Sterling Delano has filled that gap very ably indeed.
--Lawrence Buell, author of Literary Transcendentalism
Going beyond the usual sunny pictures of Brook Farm, Delano tells the full story of what Nathaniel Hawthorne termed 'the inner truth and spirit of the whole affair.' This is the book on Brook Farm, essential reading for anyone interested in utopian studies and the Transcendentalists.
--Joel Myerson, Carolina Distinguished Professor of American Literature, Emeritus, University of South Carolina, and editor of Transcendentalism: A Reader
and The Later Lectures of Ralph Waldo Emerson