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.