Margaret Fuller, a critic, essayist, and foreign correspondent associated with the Transcendentalists, is now considered to have been among the most brilliant and important literary figures of her day, though, ironically, not one of the best writers. She was the oldest of six children, who, because her father was disappointed that she was not a boy, was given a rigorous private education. She could read Latin fluently by the age of six and eventually developed a lifelong interest in German, English, and emergent American literature.
After he father died she turned to teaching to help support the family. At first she taught school in Providence while working on a biography of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. In 1838 she returned to the Boston area, where she gave language lessons and, on the strength of her broad learning, effective conversation, and radical opinions, became a member of the Transcendental Club. In fact, her remarkable gift for discussing literature and ideas enabled her to organize “conversations” for women and men. Her talents for literary criticism became officially recognized when she became editor of the Transcendental journal The Dial from 1840 to 1842. During this period she became friends with Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and others, all of whom were impressed with her powerful mind and strong ego.
Following her successful and rigorous editorship of The Dial (she sent rejection notices to Henry David Thoreau, among others), she took a tour of Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, and New York during the summer of 1843. Her experience led to her first book, Summer on the Lake, in 1843, ostensibly a travel book, in which she records her impressions and inner responses to the countryside. She describes the Midwest in idyllic pastoral terms, and sometimes, as when she encounters Niagara Falls, registers moments of sublimity. Her descriptions of forests, lakes, and prairies, usually viewed through the lens of literary and classical allusions, are richly suggestive. She also hints at a growing...
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