Fuller, Margaret (Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)
Margaret Fuller 1810-1850
(Full name Sarah Margaret Fuller) American essayist, critic, travel writer, translator, and poet.
For additional information on Fuller's life and career, see .
Fuller was a distinguished literary and social critic and pioneering feminist. As a founding editor of the Transcendentalist journal the Dial and a contributor to other influential periodicals, she was instrumental in introducing European art and literature to the United States. In addition, her Woman in the Nineteenth Century (1855) is an important early American feminist treatise.
Fuller was the first of nine children born to a lawyer and his wife. She received an extensive private education and became active in intellectual circles made up of Harvard and Cambridge students and faculty, later forming longstanding personal and professional relationships within the Transcendentalist movement, including friendships with Amos Bronson Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Horace Greeley, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. She participated in various liberal educational and social experiments, including Alcott's progressive Temple School and the Fruitlands and Brook Farm communal living experiments. Fuller's efforts to involve women in the country's intellectual life included a series of "Conversations" between 1939 and 1842, lectures on history, art, literature, and culture during which Fuller encouraged questions, discussion, and independent thought. Contemporary records, including the letters and diaries of the women who participated, attest to Fuller's brilliance as a speaker. Fuller worked closely with Emerson in developing editorial policy for the Dial magazine and served as its unpaid editor for its first two years of publication; the Dial failed within a year after Emerson assumed the editorship in 1842. After publishing literary criticism, social commentary, and travel essays in Greeley's New York Daily Tribune, Fuller obtained the post of literary editor of that journal in late 1844. Traveling to Europe in 1846, Fuller sent back firsthand accounts of the Risorgimento, the Italian liberal independence movement, to the Tribune, thus becoming one of the United States' first foreign correspondents. Fuller met and may have married Giovanni Ossoli in 1847; she was returning to the United States in 1850 with Ossoli and their son when her ship sank within sight of shore. Her body was never recovered.
Fuller is best remembered for Woman in the Nineteenth Century, an acute assessment of the personal, social, professional, and political status of American women. Highly controversial in its time, particularly in calling for all professions to be open to women, this treatise was often condemned on religious grounds: Fuller's argument for equality between the sexes was held to controvert divine intent. Her travel essays and social commentary, first published periodically, were gathered and published in Papers on Literature and Art (1846), Summer on the Lakes, in 1843 (1844), and several posthumous collections. These works included vibrant landscape descriptions, discussion of the living conditions of Native American tribes, investigation into the treatment of incarcerated women, and feminist commentary. The dispatches that Fuller submitted from Europe to Greeley's New York Daily Tribune during the Risorgimento are generally acclaimed to contain some of her finest written work; in these firsthand accounts of the Italian fight for independence, Fuller demonstrated facility with vivid, terse, and profoundly moving reportage.
Most assessments of Fuller's writing note that with the exception of her foreign correspondence from Italy, her literary style is overly ornate, allusive, and convoluted. Fuller's contemporaries reacted as much to her forceful personality as to her literary accomplishments, and commented more on her character and conversation than on her published works. Meaningful evaluation of her life and works was impeded when William Henry Channing, James Freeman Clark, and Ralph Waldo Emerson produced a heavily edited volume of posthumous Memoirs, seriously misrepresenting Fuller, revising passages from her letters and diaries as well as from works written for publication. Her reputation suffered further when Hawthorne based his portrayal of the alluring but strident and manipulative Zenobia in The Blithedate Romance on Fuller. The distortions of the more famous male associates who outlived Fuller colored popular impression of her for many decades. More balanced evaluation began in 1927 when Vernon Louis Parrington offered an evaluation of her written works in his Main Currents in American Thought. Since the late 1970s, scholarship and reinvestigation by primarily feminist critics has resulted in far more accurate estimation, acknowledging Fuller's contribution to the cultural life of nineteenth-century America and as a commentator on, and crusader to improve, the status of women.
Summer on the Lakes, in 1843 (travel essays) 1844
Woman in the Nineteenth Century (essay) 1845
Papers on Literature and Art (criticism) 1846
Woman in the Nineteenth Century and Kindred Papers Relating to the Sphere, Conditions, and Duties of Woman (essays) 1855
At Home and Abroad; or; Things and Thoughts in America and Europe (essays and letters) 1856
Life Without and Life Within (essays and poetry) 1860
The Writings of Margaret Fuller (essays, criticism, letters, poetry, memoirs) 1941
The Letters of Margaret Fuller. 6 vols. (letters) 1983-94
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SOURCE: A review of Woman in the Nineteenth Century, in Brownson's Quarterly Review Vol. 2, No. 2, April, 1845, pp. 249-57.
[An American clergyman, editor, and essayist, Brownson was a prolific writer whose work was centrally concerned with the quest for religious truth and belief in justice and political liberty. In the following review, he charges that Woman in the Nineteenth Century possesses neither style nor structure, and rejects on religious grounds Fuller's call for women's equality.]
MISS FULLER belongs to the class . . . of Transcendentalists, of which sect she is the chieftainess. She has a broader and richer nature man Mr. [Theodore] Parker, greater logical ability, and deeper poetic feeling; more boldness, sincerity, and frankness, and perhaps equal literary attainments. But at bottom they are brother and sister, children of the same father, belong to the same school, and in general harmonize in their views, aims, and tendencies. Their differences are, that he is more of the theologian, she more of the poet; he more of the German in his taste, she more of the Grecian; he the more popular in his style of writing, she the more brilliant and fascinating in her conversation. In the Saint-Simonian classification of the race, he would belong to the class of savans, she to that of artistes.
But Miss Fuller is an artiste only in her...
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SOURCE: A review of Woman in the Nineteenth Century, in The Christian Examiner and Religious Miscellany Vol. XXXVIII, No. 1, May, 1845, pp. 416-17.
[In the following review, the critic asserts that Woman in the Nineteenth Century lacks formal structure and rigorous analysis of a clearly stated thesis, but commends the intelligence and eloquence found throughout the book.]
On the whole, we have been disappointed in this book as we like to be disappointed. A woman here vindicates the cause of her own sex without a very large infusion of special pleading—an achievement not slightly meritorious, and deserving no small praise. We took up the volume,—we are willing to confess it candidly,—expecting to find in it a considerable amount of mannerism, affectation, eccentricity and pedantry. It gives us all the more pleasure therefore, to acknowledge that our suspicions were, to a great extent, unjust. The number of inverted sentences, outré ideas, far-fetched comparisons and foreign idioms, is more limited than we had feared. Of pedantry, indeed, perhaps there is not an entire absence. Classical characters, and references to mythological fables, are introduced with a frequency which the best taste would hardly sanction; but the error is often committed with a gracefulness and appositeness which partially redeem it. We just notice these faults the more readily, because we believe Miss...
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SOURCE: "The Siege of Rome," in William Wetmore Story and His Friends: From Letters, Diaries, and Recollections, Vol. 1, Houghton Mifflin & Co., 1903, pp. 93-163.
[James was an American novelist and short story writer valued for his psychological acuity and complex sense of artistic form. He also wrote literary criticism in which he developed his artistic ideals and applied them to the works of others. In the following excerpt, taken from a reminiscence of the period during which Fuller was living in Rome, James muses on Fuller's place in literary and intellectual history and in the personal histories of those who knew her.]
The unquestionably haunting Margaret-ghost, looking out from her quiet little upper chamber at her lamentable doom, would perhaps be never so much to be caught by us as on some such occasion as this. What comes up is the wonderment of why she may, to any such degree, be felt as haunting; together with other wonderments that brush us unless we give them the go-by. It is not for this latter end that we are thus engaged at all; so that, making the most of it, we ask ourselves how, possibly, in our own luminous age, she would have affected us on the stage of the "world," or as a candidate, if so we may put it, for the cosmopolite crown. It matters only for the amusement of evocation—since she left nothing behind her, her written utterance being naught; but to what would she...
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SOURCE: "Conversations and The Dial," in Margaret Fuller: From Transcendentalism to Revolution, Delacorte Press/Seymour Lawrence, 1978, pp. 139-62.
[In the following excerpt, Blanchard discusses the series of "Conversations," paid seminars combining elements of entertainment, instruction, and intellectual development for women which Fuller conducted in Boston beginning in 1838. Blanchard also examines Fuller's development and editorship of the Transcendentalist journal the Dial.]
[Margaret Fuller's] conversation, Emerson said simply, was the most entertaining in America. And it may very well have been during one of the bookstore discussions that someone suggested that the most entertaining conversation in America might be worth paying for. In an era earnestly bent on self-culture, when almost anyone who wanted to give a speech on free will, cold baths, or the bumps on the human head could fill a lecture hall, the idea was not farfetched. In fact, [Bronson] Alcott had already begun to augment his income by holding conversations in private homes in the suburbs. (Being Alcott's, they were not so much conversations as monologues on a single, never-exhausted subject, punctuated occasionally by approving noises from his audience.) Elizabeth Peabody too had held conversational teaching sessions in the homes of friends. To be paid for doing what she liked best to do while living where she liked best to...
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SOURCE: "Genesis, Form, Tone." In Margaret Fuller's "Woman in the Nineteenth Century": A Literary Study of Form and Content, Of Sources and Influence, " Greenwood Press, 1980, pp. 128-45.
The first impression a reader may get from a hasty perusal of Margaret Fuller's Woman in the Nineteenth Century is one of effusiveness and formlessness. Containing a display of erudition that is impressive, it is prolix, as was the work of many transcendentalists and other writers of the past century. In the April 1845 issue of his Quarterly Review, Orestes Brownson observed that Woman has "neither beginning, middle, nor end, and may be read backwards as well as forwards." In his satire, Brownson expressed aspects of the organic living quality of the work, but he did not discern its form. In the midst of its verbosity, it is still possible to see more of a pattern in Woman than has been maintained. Its basic structure is that of the sermon, which is appropriate, because Woman's message is hortatory. Its complexity and apparent lack of form are due to its dual nature. Within the sermon framework, Woman partakes of the major characteristics of transcendental literary art. But before analyzing Woman as a literary work from the standpoint of form, tone, and use of rhetorical devices, it is necessary to examine its genesis. If a study can be made of its...
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SOURCE: "'That Tidiness We Always Look for in Woman': Fuller's Summer on the Lakes and Romantic Aesthetics," in Studies in the American Renaissance, 1987, pp. 247-64.
[In the following essay, Adams proposes that when assessed by Romantic literary aesthetics, Fuller's seemingly aimless travel narrative possesses an identifiable structure.]
From its publication, critics have been disturbed by the apparent disunity, randomness, and padding of Margaret Fuller's Summer on the Lakes, in 1843. Even the favorable reviewers stressed its heterogeneous nature. In describing the book as "a remarkable assemblage of sketches," Edgar Allan Poe echoed James Freeman Clarke, who had earlier called it "a portfolio of sketches." Caleb Stetson was bothered by the inclusion in it of "things connected by no apparent link of association with the objects which seem to fill her eye and mind. . . . Tales also unexpectedly appear—such, for instance, as the German story of the 'Seeress of Prevorst'—which have no connexion with the scenes she visited, except the accidental fact that they occurred in the course of her reading or were called up from the depths of her memory by some mysterious association." Orestes Brownson was hardest on the book and on Fuller herself, whom he described as "a heathen priestess, though of what god or goddess we will not pretend to say." Brownson was upset not only by the...
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SOURCE: "Freeing the 'Prisoned Queen': The Development of Margaret Fuller's Poetry," in Studies in the American Renaissance, 1992, pp. 137-75.
[Steele is an American educator and critic who here applies to Fuller's poetry biographical interpretations that he considers crucial to an understanding of her emotional and intellectual development. He divides Fuller's poetry into three chronological periods: an early period (1835-38) consisting primarily of occasional pieces and poems to a close friend; a middle period (1839-1843) that charts a spiritual crisis in Fuller's life; and a mature period in 1844, during which Fuller wrote nearly all of her notable poems. The following excerpt is taken from Steele's discussion of poems from this final period.]
We will probably never know the exact causes of Fuller's annus mirabilis—1844. In the space of a little over eight months, she finished her two most important books—Summer on the Lakes and Woman in the Nineteenth Century—and managed to write thirty-eight poems, most of which rank among her best compositions. Then, accepting a position as book reviewer with Horace Greeley's New-York Tribune, she moved to New York to embark on a new career as cultural arbiter and public reformer. It is all too easy to say that 1844 closed one chapter in Fuller's life because in 1845, in New York, she had finally arrived. As a...
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SOURCE:An introduction to The Woman and the Myth: Margaret Fuller's Life and Writings, revised edition, Northeastern University Press, 1994, pp. 3-15.
[In the following excerpt, Chevigny comments on the quality of Fuller's writing.]
[It] is appropriate to remark on the quality of Fuller's writing. While it can be argued that certain social prejudices blocked her contemporaries from perceiving some of its virtues, still many modern readers have difficulty with it. At the worst, they find the style overblown, the form rambling and repetitious, the tone self-indulgent or arrogant, and the whole effect unremittingly intense. Although such difficulties cannot be explained away, it is important to try to understand them. An occasionally purple style and a form that follows where whimsical thought may lead characterize much of the writing of an age which placed a premium on spontaneity and feeling. In Fuller's case, her need to feel (and/or convince others) that she was a woman while engaging in the intellectual pursuits of men may unconsciously have dictated a vehement and impulsive style rather than one more logical, cool, spare, and cerebral. The same instinct may have fed her tendency to digression; we often feel the insistent personal presence of the woman in these intimate asides. In a defense of the excesses of her life style, Fuller herself implies a related explanation of her writing style: "In an...
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SOURCE:An introduction to Woman in the Nineteenth Century and Other Writings by Margaret Fuller, edited by Donna Dickenson, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1994, pp. vii-xxix.
[In the following introduction to her edition of a collection of Fuller's writings, Dickenson surveys Fuller's life, thought, and works.]
'My dear Sir,' I exclaimed, 'if you'd not been afraid
Of Margaret Fuller's success, you'd have stayed
Your hand in her case and more justly have rated her.'
Here he murmured morosely, 'My God, how I hated her!'
[Amy Lowell, 'A Critical Fable']
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Myerson, Joel. Margaret Fuller: An Annotated Secondary Bibliography. New York: Burt Franklin & Co., 1977, 272 p.
Lists and annotates critical writings, as well as poems dedicated to Fuller, and stories, novels, and poems which feature characters thought to be based on her. Important manuscript collections by and about Fuller are also listed.
——. Margaret Fuller: A Descriptive Bibliography. Pitts-burgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1978, 163 p.
Extensive primary bibliography. Myerson provides analytical descriptions of Fuller's book-length publications and lists her known contributions to newspapers, magazines, and collections. The source features many photographs and reproductions of important editions.
Alcott, A. Branson. "Margaret Fuller." In his Concord Days, pp. 77-9. Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1888.
Appreciation of Fuller as a thinker and an advocate for women.
Berkson, Dorothy. "'Born and Bred in Different Nations': Margaret Fuller and Ralph Waldo Emerson." In Patrons and Protégées: Gender: Friendship, and Writing in Nineteenth-Century America, " edited by Shirley Marchalonis, pp. 3-30. New Brunswick: Rutgers University...
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