Cover image for Brook Farm : the dark side of utopia
Brook Farm : the dark side of utopia
Delano, Sterling F., 1942-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Cambridge, Mass. : Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, [2004]

Physical Description:
xvii, 428 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HX656.B8 D45 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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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.

Author Notes

Sterling F. Delano is Professor of English at Villanova University.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

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 workers' rights. George Ripley, a Unitarian minister who felt constrained by traditional religion and was enamored of the budding transcendentalist movement, started the farm, where all the residents were expected to join equally in manual labor and intellectual pursuits. Days of laboring in the fields began with classical music and ended with dramatic plays. Supporters included Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Margaret Fuller. Despite considerable enthusiasm for the project, it failed after six years, primarily due to financial stress. But industrialism, a smallpox scare, and a lawsuit filed by Hawthorne contributed to its demise. 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 Copyright 2004 Booklist

Library Journal Review

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 (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Illustrationsp. ix
Prefacep. xi
Prologuep. 1
1 "Fermenting and Effervescing"p. 14
2 Beginningsp. 39
3 Organizationp. 60
4 The Seeds of Fourierismp. 76
5 The Winds of Changep. 108
6 Reorganizationp. 135
7 The Second Dispensationp. 156
8 From Association to Phalanxp. 184
9 The Harbingerp. 217
10 "Our Severest Crisis"p. 242
11 Firep. 254
12 Beginning of the Endp. 269
13 Back to Bostonp. 284
14 "Done with Brook Farm"p. 302
Epiloguep. 311
Notesp. 331
Acknowledgmentsp. 415
Indexp. 418