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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...
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- Critical Essays
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.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 78
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
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3758
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 admiration of art, for she has little artistic skill. Nothing is or can be less artistic than the book before us [Woman in the Nineteenth Century] which, properly speaking, is no book, but a long talk on matters and things in general, and men and women in particular. It has neither beginning, middle, nor end, and may be read backwards as well as forwards, and from the centre outwards each way, without affecting the continuity of the thought or the succession of ideas. We see no reason why it should stop where it does, or why the lady might not keep on talking in the same strain till doomsday, unless prevented by want of breath.
The title gives no clew to the character of the work; for it is no part of its design to sketch, as one would suppose, the condition of woman in the nineteenth century. Indeed, we do not know what is its design. We cannot make out what thesis or what theses it does or does not maintain. All is profoundly obscure, and thrown together in "glorious confusion." We can attempt no analysis of its contents. As talk, it is very well, and proves that the lady has great talkative powers, and that, in this respect at least, she is a genuine woman.
As we read along in the book, we keep constantly asking, What is the lady driving at? What does she want? But no answer comes: She does not know, herself, what she wants. She has an ugly feeling of uneasiness, mat matters do not go right with her; and she firmly believes that if she had—I know not what—all would go better. She is feverish, and turns from one side of the bed to the other, but finds no relief. The evil she finds, and which all her class find, is in her, in them, and is removed by no turning or change of posture, and can be. She and they are, no doubt, to be compassionated, to be tenderly nursed and borne with, as are all sick people. It is no use attempting to reason them out of their crotchets; but well people should take care not to heed what they say, and especially not to receive the ravings of their delirium as divine inspirations.
Seriously, Miss Fuller does not know what she wants, any more than does many a fine lady, whom silks, laces, shawls, dogs, parrots, balls, routs, jams, watering-places, and despair of lover or husband and friends have ceased to satisfy. She even confesses her inability to formula her complaint. She has a strange gnawing within, an indefinable craving for what she has not, does not know how to get, where to find,—a very unpleasant condition, no doubt, but not an uncommon one. Poor girl!/ hers is but the common lot of all her Protestant and infidel sisters, and brothers too; for her brothers are hardly less subject to the vapors than her sisters. They are all seeking they know not what, craving what they have not, find not,—now seizing on this bawble, now on that,—a bonnet, ribbon, shawl, cravat, coat, minister, sect, association; but all to no purpose. The craving remains; nothing satisfies; the aching heart nothing fills. Cook the vegetable oyster as they will, serve it up with what condiments, flanked by what sauces, they please, it is never the genuine oyster.
"O, give us something to love!" exclaim a bevy of dear, sweet, enchanting creatures. "Give us something to love; we were made to love"; and round they look with fond eyes and loving hearts, but as ever there is the gnawing, the aching void within. Love is the be-all, the cure-all, the end-all; but, alas, there is nothing to love; no one knows how to love; no one knows how to respond to the true, fond, loving heart. Try again,—again,—another,—another, and still another;—'t is vain. The heart is not met; is not filled; is emptier than ever. Surely there is some mistake. The Creator committed a blunder when he made the world, especially when he made man and woman. Man and woman, it is true, as says our authoress, are but "two halves of one thought"; but the right halves do not come together, or do not match. They get mismatched. Mrs. Jones has got my other half, and I have got Mrs. Peter Smith's,—or am cheated out of it altogether. All this is very provoking, no doubt. To be made capable of loving, to have this free, pure, rich heart, full to overflowing with love, containing a whole ocean of love, large as the Atlantic, nay, as the five oceans together, and warm enough to thaw out either pole, and no one I can love,—nobody but Jim Jones or Peter Smith,—'t is intolerable.
The terrible evil here set forth Miss Fuller thinks is confined exclusively to her own sex. Men have the advantage; with them it is not so bad. There she is wrong. There are those who have beards on their faces, as well as those who have none, who have these cravings, these hearts full of love, such as it is, and an aching void in these same full hearts, because there is no one for them to love. They cannot love Bridget or Sukey, and all but the Bridgets and Sukeys are—not for them. Men are not much more easily satisfied than women; and if women are forced to take to tea, scandal, philanthropy, evening-meetings, and smelling-bottles, men are forced to take to trade, infidelity, sometimes the pistol, and even to turn reformers, the most desperate resort of all. All this is sad enough, and really under all this is a grievous evil, of which no seriousminded man will make light. But what is the remedy?
Miss Fuller, so far as we collect her thought from her interminable prattle, seems to think this evil is to be remedied by having it understood that woman has an immortal soul, and by securing her free scope to develope herself. But what change this implies, or would introduce, Yankee as we are, we are unable to guess. Understand that woman has an immortal soul! Why, we are far beyond that already. Read our poets, listen to our philanthropists, abolitionists, Fourierists, Saint-Simonians, dietetic reformers, and other reformers of all sorts and sizes, of all manner of things in the universe, and some others, and you shall find that she is already a divinity, and adored as such. Who has not heard of the "divine Fanny," or not been eager to adore as she made his heart jump by her capers and pirouettes? Not her soul only, but woman's body, is held to be divine, divine from head to foot, and we go into ecstacy of devotion at sight of a "divine ankle." In our ordinary prosaic language, is not woman an "angel," "an angel of purity," of "loveliness," and "too holy for earth"? and they who scorn to bend the knee before their Maker, are they not ready to prostrate themselves at her feet, and kiss the very ground on which she stands?
"The more fools they. But this is not what we want. This is sickening, disgusting." And yet there are comparatively few women seriously offended at it, if they themselves are its object, even though offered by those they have good reasons for believing are double-distilled villains. But enough of this. There are evils, great evils, no doubt, to which both men and women are subject. Neither sex is what it should be, or finds always the fair weather and smooth sea the heart may crave; but we have yet to be convinced that woman's lot, compared with that of man's, is one of peculiar hardship. She is not always the victim, and examples of suffering virtue may be found amongst men as well as amongst women. No doubt, there are evils enough to redress, but we do not think the insane clamor for "woman's rights," for "woman's equality," "woman's liberation," and all this, will do much to redress them. Woman is no more deprived of her rights than man is of his, and no more enslaved. Woman as to her moral and spiritual nature has always been emancipated by Christianity, and placed as a human being on the same platform with man. She is treated, and always has been treated, by Christianity as having an immortal soul, and as personally accountable to her Maker. In this respect man has no claims, and is allowed no preëminence, over her; and what more can she ask?
In the distribution of the several spheres of social and domestic action, woman has assigned to her one sphere, and man another; both equally important, equally honorable. This therefore is no cause of complaint.—But who assigned her this sphere? Has she given her consent to be confined to it? Has she ever been consulted? her assent asked?—And what if not? Who assigned man his sphere? was his assent asked or obtained? Their appropriate spheres are allotted to man and woman by their Creator, and all they have to do is to submit, as quietly, and with as good a grace, as they can. Miss Fuller thinks it is man who has crowded woman one side, and refused her full scope for self-development; and although the sphere in which she moves may really be that most appropriate to her, yet man has no right to confine her to it, and forbid her to take another if she prefer it. She should be as free to decide her own destiny as man is his. All very plausible. But God, and not man, has assigned her the appropriate sphere; and, moreover, we must be ungallant enough to question Miss Fuller's leading doctrine of the perfect social and political equality of the sexes. She says man is not the head of the woman. We, on the authority of the Holy Ghost, say he is. The dominion was not given to woman, nor to man and woman conjointly, but to the man. Therefore the inspired Apostle, while he commands husbands to love and cherish their wives, commands wives to love and obey their husbands; and, even setting aside all considerations of divine inspiration, St. Paul's authority is, to say the least, equal to that of Miss Fuller.
Miss Fuller would have all offices, professions, callings, pursuits thrown open to woman as to man; and seems to think that the lost Eden will not be recovered till the petticoat carries it over the breeches. She is quite sure the ancient heathens understood this matter better than we do. They had a juster appreciation of the dignity of woman. Their principal divinities were goddesses, and women ministered in the fane, and gave the responses of the oracles. She is greatly taken with Isis, Sita, Egyptian Sphinx, Ceres, Proserpine. Would she recall these ancient heathen deities, their ancient worship, filled with obscene rites and frightful orgies? Would she restore the Isiac worship? revive that of Syrian Astarte? reestablish the old custom which prevailed at Babylon; according to which every woman, on a certain festival, must prostitute herself to the first comer in honor of the goddess? readopt the old Phænician method of obtaining marriage portions for dowerless daughters? have carried again in public procession certain pleasant images which Roman dames were eager to crown with wreaths of flowers? or reproduce the wild Bacchantes with loosened tresses and loosened robes, and lascivious satyrs? These and far worse obtained in the worship of those female divinities, and where woman served the fane, and gave the responses of the gods. Has it never occurred to our learned and philosophic lady to ask, if there was not some relation of cause and effect between the part women took in these ancient religions, and these filthy rites and shameful practices?
We ask not this last question because we would imply that women are less pure, or more easily corrupted, than men. We are not likely to fall into the common herd of libellers of women, and sneerers at female virtue. We have lived too long, or been too fortunate in our acquaintances, to think lightly of woman's worth, or woman's virtues. We remember too vividly the many kind offices we have received from her hand, the firmness with which she has clung to us in adversity, when all the world had deserted us, and also the aid which her rapid intuitions and far-glancing sense has afforded us in our mental and moral progress, if we have made any, to be in danger of this. It has been our good fortune to have experienced all woman's tenderness, all her sympathy when we were in sorrow and destitution, her joy when the world brightened to us, her generous self-forgetfulness and self-sacrifices for the beloved of her heart, and the sweet and gentle companionship in intellectual pursuits and in moral duties which seems to double man's power and to make virtue thrice more amiable; and we do not feel, that, so long as we retain our memory, we can be in danger of speaking lightly of woman, or of doing her injustice. But though we say all this; and could say much more, we still say the two sexes cannot mingle in certain spheres, and on the terms Miss Fuller proposes, without the mutual corruption of both. The fault is not woman's more than man's, perhaps not so much; but the fact is no less certain. While we live in the flesh, restraint and mortification are our law,—whether for men, or for women. The things which look to us so enchanting, which even are not bad within certain limits, the glowing pictures of our innocent imaginations, the bright ideals of our youth,—alas! human nature is rotten, trust it not. They who imposed the restraints against which Miss Fuller protests, who separated the sphere of the sexes, and assigned to each as far as possible a separate line of duty, if they were men, must have known all too well what they were about. They may have been men who had lost their innocency; but if so, they had gained—experience.
The first mistake which Miss Fuller commits is the mistake committed by all reformers,—from him who undertook in the Garden to reform God's commandment to our first parents, down to the author of the "Orphic Sayings,"—mat the true moral and social state is to be introduced and secured by the free, full, and harmonious development of human nature. This mistake is committed everywhere. Go where we will, out of the Catholic world, we meet it. We find it with Deists and Atheists, with German Rationalists and American Transcendentalists, in the fanciful theories of Gall and Spurzheim, in the dreams of Charles Fourier and Saint-Simon. It is the settled doctrine, and only settled doctrine, of modern philosophy, and apparently the fixed creed of the whole Protestant and infidel worlds,—exception to be made, perhaps, in favor of the Puseyites, and the few remnants of the old Calvinistic sects. It is embraced and hotly defended by hundreds and thousands who have no suspicion of its direct and glaring hostility to experience and revelation. Nothing can be falser or more dangerous than this delusion. Nature does not suffice. Nature cannot be trusted. Away with your wretched cant about "faith in man, in man's nature," his "lofty capacities," "glorious affinities," and "Godlike tendencies." Nature, we repeat, is rotten; trust it not. The fairest, sweetest, purest, dearest affections nature ever knows lead us most wofully astray, and will do so, if not restrained, whatever your moral codes or social arrangements. There is no such thing as a harmonious development of nature. Cultivate nature as you will, observe the nicest balance between all its tendencies, and, before you know it, before you can dream of it, one rascally passion has suddenly gained the mastery, and all is confusion and anarchy within. Nature is cursed. For six thousand years you have cultivated it, and it has yielded you only briers and thorns; cultivate it as you will for six thousand years to come, and it will yield you nothing else. "He that soweth to the flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption."
Another mistake, not less fatal, is also committed by our reformers. They see there are evils, that men and women suffer, and suffer horribly. Their sympathies are awakened, and they seek if relief cannot be found. All this is well, commendable even. But they assume that relief is to come here, and the good eraved, but found not, is to be realized in this world, in this probationary life. "The highest ideal man can form of his own powers," says Miss Fuller, "that he is destined to attain." And this ideal is to be attained here. But Eden, the terrestrial paradise, is lost, never to be regained. Man forfeited it, and has been driven forth from it, never to repose again in its fragrant bowers, or beneath its refreshing shades. The earth is cursed; do what you will, rebel as you please, the curse is irrevocable. This world is a prison-house, and escape you cannot till death sets you free. The sooner you come to this conclusion, the better for you, the better for all. This life is and must be a discipline, a probation, a warfare. You must stand on your guard, always in arms, sleepless, and fight, fight for your life, with enemies from all quarters, and of all sorts and sizes, till you are called home to enjoy the victory and the triumph.
We know this is an unpalatable truth to our zealous philanthropists, and we know the scorn and derision with which they will treat it. But the realization of a heaven on earth is not the end for which the Gospel was given us. Our Maker has not abandoned us; far from it. He has prepared something far better for us than a terrestrial paradise. He has prepared heaven and its eternal beatitude for us. But we can enjoy that here only through faith and hope. It is ours here only by promise. It is set before us as a glorious prize, as an exceeding rich reward; but it is not to be gained without the dust and heat of the race; nor will it be bestowed till the race is run, till the battle is fought, till the victory is won. Consolations we may have, consolations which the world knows not, cannot give, cannot take away. Angels will minister unto us and revive our fainting strength; but happiness, the full freedom and joy of the soul, are tasted not till the songs and harps of angels welcome us home to our Father's house.
True wisdom consists in fixing our eyes on this heavenly reward, and throwing off all that we may win it. We must count the sufferings of this present life not worthy to be compared with the glory hereafter to be revealed, we must despise the joys of this life, and trample the world under our feet. Beati pauperes spiritu. We must despise riches and honors, we must joy in poverty and destitution, and count all things as mere dross for the sake of Chist. This is the law imposed upon us, and no reforms which come not from obedience to this law will avail us aught. Here the struggle, the warfare; there the triumph, the joy.
But we have no room to proceed. As much as we dislike Miss Fuller's book, as pernicious as we regard the doctrines or notions it contains, as utterly as we are forced to condemn the whole race of modern, reformers,—all who are seeking to recover the lost Eden on earth, from the harmonious development of nature alone,—we can still believe, without difficulty, that she may be a pure-minded woman, honestly and earnestly struggling to obtain a greater good for suffering humanity. Taking her starting-point, we should arrive at her conclusion. Believing a terrestrial paradise possible, we should strive for it; believing the free, full, and harmonious development of human nature the means and condition of obtaining it, we should protest against whatever restrains nature in woman as well as in man. We believe Miss Fuller wholly in the wrong, but we see no occasion for the kind of animadversions on her or her book, which we have noticed in some newspaper criticisms. She has done or said nothing which should be regarded as a sin by her Protestant brethren. In our remarks we have designed nothing personal against her. We are able, we trust, to distinguish between persons and doctrines. For persons, however, far gone they may be in error, or even in sin, we trust we have the charity our holy religion commands, and which the recollection of our own errors and sins, equal to any we may have to deplore in others, requires us to exercise. But for erroneous doctrines we have no charity, no tolerance. Error is never harmless, and in no instance to be countenanced.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 837
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 Fuller might easily be rid of them, and would gain greatly by the change. We observe that exactly in proportion as she becomes thoroughly in earnest, her style becomes straightforward and natural. An honest thinker, who occasionally wields the good Anglo-Saxon phrase so energetically, and with so much directness as she, ought to abandon at once all seeking after the novel, the strange and the startling. Like the class of writers to which she belongs, much read in the authors of another nation, and much delighted with them, she sometimes puts herself under a yoke, while she longs above all things to be free; adopts a constrained air, while particularly ambitious of unrestraint; and while aiming at a healthful exercise of the faculties, falls into a habit of thought that is morbid, inharmonious, without symmetry, and so, of course, unattractive, if not disgusting. Moreover,—to finish cleanly this ungrateful work of censure,—the book lacks method sadly, and should have been relieved to the reader by the kindly intervention, here and there, of a sectional or capital division. It is rather a collection of clever sayings and bright intimations, than a logical treatise, or a profound examination of the subject it discusses.
Whether Miss Fuller's ethical code would correspond precisely with our own, we should be able to declare with more confidence if she had made it perfectly clear to us what that code is. The same may be said of her standard of manners. But of the general spirit of the essay we can, and we must, speak with sincere and hearty approbation. There is a noble and stirring eloquence in many of the passages, that no susceptible person can fail to be affected by. Great, lustrous thoughts break out from the pages, finely uttered. The pervading sentiment is humane, gentle, sympathetic. Miss Fuller says in one place, "I wish woman to live, first, for God's sake;" and she seems to be possessed by the reverential, devout feeling indicated by this remark. She casts a deserved contempt on the miserable trifling so often exhibited by men in their conversation and deportment with women, a custom that depreciates and openly insults their character. For our own part, we have often wondered at their patient toleration of the indignity, implied so palpably in this sort of bearing. Mean topics and flippant discourse are perpetually introduced in society for their entertainment, as if they were capable of comprehending nothing else. She urges in respectful terms their rights, both in property, and, as mothers, to their children, suggesting some worthy thoughts for law-makers. She would have woman respectably employed. She would elevate the purposes of their lives, and by dignifying their position and character, restore the ancient chivalrous respect paid them by every manly heart. Her notions do not seem ultra nor extravagant. She does not ask that woman may be thrust into man's sphere, but that she may have a right and honorable sphere of her own, whether as sister, daughter, mother, or "old maid." And, for ourselves, we admire the noble appeals, near the close of the work, in which she rebukes vice, and entreats for it a wise but prompt consideration. She has discussed a delicate topic delicately and fearlessly; without prudish folly, without timidity, as a true woman should. No tongue will dare to cavil at her. She is too evidently above all small criticism in this quarter, far up out of its reach. What she has said needed to be said, and, if the age has any necessity, needs, we firmly believe, to be repeated, felt and acted upon. The "nineteenth century" has a mission to woman, as well as she to the nineteenth century.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 930
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 have corresponded, have "rhymed," under categories actually known to us? Would she, in other words, with her appetite for ideas and her genius for conversation, have struck us but as a somewhat formidable bore, one of the worst kind, a culture-seeker without a sense of proportion, or, on the contrary, have affected us as a really attaching, a possibly picturesque New England Corinne?
Such speculations are, however, perhaps too idle; the facts of the appearance of this singular woman, who would, though conceit was imputed to her, doubtless have been surprised to know mat talk may be still, after more than half a century, made about her—the facts have in themselves quite sufficient colour, and the fact in particular of her having achieved, so unaided and so ungraced, a sharp identity. This identity was that of the talker, the moral improvisatrice, or at least had been in her Boston days, when, young herself, she had been as a sparkling fountain to other thirsty young. In the Rome of many waters there were doubtless fountains that quenched, collectively, any individual gush; so that it would have been, naturally, for her plentiful life, her active courage and company, that the little set of friends with whom we are concerned valued her. She had bitten deeply into Rome, or, rather, been, like so many others, by the wolf of the Capitol, incurably bitten; she met the whole case with New England arts that show even yet, at our distance, as honest and touching; there might be ways for her of being vivid that were not as the ways of Boston. Otherwise what she would mainly prompt us to interest in might be precisely the beautiful moral complexion of the little circle of her interlocutors. That is ever half the interest of any celebrated thing— taking Margaret's mind for celebrated: the story it has to tell us of those for whom it flourished and whose measure and reflection it necessarily more or less gives. Let us hasten to add, without too many words, that Mme. Ossoli's circle represented, after all, a small stage, and that there were those on its edges to whom she was not pleasing. This was the case with Lowell and, discoverably, with Hawthorne; the legend of whose having had her in his eye for the figure of Zenobia, while writing The Blithedale Romance, surely never held water. She inspired Mrs Browning, on the other hand, with sympathy and admiration, and the latter, writing of her in 1852, after the so lamentable end of her returnvoyage, with her husband and child, to America—the wreck of the vessel, the loss of father, mother and small son in sight of shore—says that "her death shook me to the very roots of my heart. The comfort is," Mrs Browning then adds, "that she lost little in the world—the change could not be loss to her. She had suffered, and was likely to suffer still more." She had previously to this, in December 1849, spoken of her, in a letter to Miss Mitford, as having "taken us by surprise at Florence, retiring from the Roman world with a husband and child above a year old. Nobody had even suspected a word of this underplot, and her American friends stood in mute astonishment before this apparition of them here. The husband is a Roman marquis appearing amiable and gentlemanly, and having fought well, they say, at the siege, but with no pretension to cope with his wife on any ground appertaining to the intellect." The "underplot" was precisely another of the personal facts by which the lady could interest—the fact, that is, that her marriage should be an underplot, and mat her husband, much decaduto, should make explanation difficult. These things, let alone the final catastrophe, in short, were not talk, but life, and life dealing with the somewhat angular Boston sibyl on its own free lines. All of which, the free lines overscoring the unlikely material, is doubtless partly why the Margaret-ghost, as I have ventured to call it, still unmistakably walks the old passages.
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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 live seemed far too easy to Margaret, whose Fuller ancestry led her to regard this life as a series of ordeals set by the Lord to purify the soul. But several of her woman friends promised among mem to form the solid core of a group: the Peabody sisters, Anna Barker, Eliza Farrar, Sophia Ripley, Sarah Clarke, Caroline Sturgis, and her sister Ellen Hooper. It would not be difficult to find eleven more to make up a group of twenty, and if each paid $20 for a series of ten conversations (a high fee for those days) she could support herself this way for several months. Elizabeth generously offered the use of the bookstore as a meeting place.
Men were excluded not out of any lack of interest on their part or false sense of propriety on Margaret's, but because her purpose in the Conversations had to do with changing the status of women. She did not want primarily to entertain or instruct (though she hoped to do both), but to alter the image women had of themselves. This was the purpose she had half-realized in her evening classes and in her classes in Providence, and it was this that had made the idea of opening a school in Cincinnati briefly attractive. In spite of the liberal rhetoric about universal equality, and in spite of scattered gestures that were being made toward higher education for women, individual women found it difficult to believe that their minds were equal to men's. She herself was not free from self-doubt, in spite of the brave show she made. Her own education had been reversed in the middle, and her intellectual self-assurance drew heavily on her experience as a young child; her social experience whenever she stepped out of her own circle, and sometimes even within it, demonstrated to her in a thousand little ways that insofar as she was bright she was not quite a whole woman. She wanted to help women overcome the double educational and social handicap by forcing them to fully engage their minds in an atmosphere that was as free as possible from censure. Women were taught a great many subjects in school, but they were not really expected to remember them. Except in a few academies, they were not required to reproduce what they had learned in examinations as men were; nor, except for teachers, were they required to do so in vocational life. Margaret hoped to induce them to systemize their thought and express themselves boldly as they had never been asked to before. She hoped to sharpen their thinking habits, but beyond that, and more important, she hoped to bring them to an understanding that their inadequacies were not innate, but were the result of superficial education and the attitude of self-deprecation instilled by social custom. If she could do this much, a small revolution might begin in Boston. And if such a plan failed in Boston, she told Sophia Ripley, it could not succeed anywhere in America.
The Conversations were very popular and continued for four years, with two series a year, one beginning in November and the other in March. Twenty-five women joined the first series, and in subsequent series the number rose to thirty-five or more, although all the members were never there at one time. The Memoirs list about forty women who participated at one time or another. Some, like Jane Tuckerman, were former students. Others were friends who had to travel some distance: Lidian Emerson, Sarah Alden Ripley, Almira Barlow, and Elizabeth Hoar. Lydia Maria Child came, and her fellow abolitionist Louisa Loring. But the list itself as given in the Memoirs, with its frequent omission of the women's Christian names and its allusions to their male relations, suggests how strongly these women were overshadowed by fathers, husbands, and fiancés. There are Shaws, Russells, Higginsons, Lees—all daughters and wives of the mercantile Boston aristocracy. Mrs. George Bancroft attended; Mrs. Theodore Parker; Maria White (the fiancée of James Russell Lowell); Mrs. Josiah Quincy; Mrs. Charles Newcomb (his mother, not his wife); Marianne Jackson (sister-in-law of Oliver Wendell Holmes); and Mary Channing, who, as Higginson explains, was Dr. Channing's only daughter. Most of those who were married or engaged had been singled out by their men because, among other reasons, their intelligence made them very satisfactory attendant spirits. Having the money and leisure to attend the Conversations, they also had very good cause.
The topics were deliberately broad, so as to allow everyone to participate without special preparation. One series was devoted to "Education," under which they discussed "Culture," "Ignorance," "Vanity," "Prudence," "Patience," and "Health." Another was on the Fine Arts. But Margaret's favorite topic, often repeated, was Greek Mythology, or rather the universal themes of will, reason, understanding, love, beauty, and so on, as objectified by the Greeks and other cultures. This may seem to be a more specialized subject than the others, but even women customarily received the rudiments of a "classical" education, and Margaret told them they need know only what they had learned from Homer and the fine arts.
The Conversations were usually held on Saturdays at 11:00 A.M. The members would sit in a semicircle and Margaret would stand in front of them, dressed in one of the full-sleeved, long-waisted gowns of the period, sometimes with a bowl of yellow chrysanthemums on the table beside her. Around her neck she wore a lorgnette, which she raised from time to time in order to see the people in the back of the room. At the beginning of the session she would give an introductory statement on the subject of the day, and then she would ask for comments. If none were forthcoming, she would ask for written statements to be read at the beginning of the next session. But apparently this seldom happened; the response of the group was enthusiastic, and she usually had no more to do than guide the conversation once it was under way. Even among this group she did not entirely escape the old criticism that she was too domineering, but it was limited to a few. The majority would have agreed with the description of one of the sessions written by a member to a friend:
Christmas made a holiday for Miss Fuller's class, but it met on Saturday, at noon. As I sat there, my heart overflowed with joy at the sight of the bright circle, and I longed to have you by my side, for I know not where to look for so much character, culture, and so much love of truth and beauty, in any other circle of women and girls. The names and faces would not mean so much to you as to me, who have seen more of the lives, of which they are a sign. Margaret, beautifully dressed (don't despise that, for it made a fine picture,) presided with more dignity and grace than I had thought possible. The subject was Beauty. Each had written her definition, and Margaret began with reading her own. This called forth questions, comments, and illustrations, on all sides. The style and manner, of course, in this age, are different, but the question, the high point from which it was considered, and the earnestness and simplicity of the discussion, as well as the gifts and graces of the speakers, gave it the charm of a Platonic dialogue. There was no pretension or pedantry in a word that was said. The tone of remark and question was simple as that of children in a school class; and, I believe, every one was gratified.
The main defect of the plan seems to have been that since the subjects were so general (general enough to be thought grandiose by the critical), the women were not in fact called upon to reproduce what they had learned, or at least not what they had formally studied. But they were obliged to formulate opinions on subjects which they had been led to believe they could have no opinions about. Margaret demanded that they "lay aside the shelter of vague generalities, the art of coterie criticism, and the 'delicate disdains' of good society," and be "willing that others should think their sayings crude, shallow, or tasteless." It was only by acquiring the courage to do so, she told them, that they could "attain the real health and vigor, which need no aid from rouge or candlelight, to brave the light of the world."
There are no accurate records of any of the sessions, although Elizabeth Peabody wrote some general summaries from memory. The one attempt made to record the Conversations on the spot was a failure, although in justice to the writer, Caroline Dall, it must be said that the series itself was a failure. In 1841 Margaret decided to include men in the discussion and she gave a Monday evening series open to all. The men present included Emerson, Alcott, Ripley, Hedge, Clarke, Jones Very, William Wetmore Story, Messrs. Mack of Belmont and Shaw of Boston, and Charles Stearns Wheeler, the only one of the group who could claim to be a Greek scholar. But the spontaneity of the other series was missing. The women were intimidated by the very presence of men and lapsed into deferential silence, except for a few brave spirits like Elizabeth Peabody and Caroline Sturgis. The men picked up the abandoned discussion and made off with it wherever they chose, the worst offender probably being Bronson Alcott. Margaret's attempts to round them all up again were only momentarily successful. Emerson seems to have made himself deliberately obtuse, as he sometimes did, making his idealism seem more rigid than it actually was and pronouncing his opinions with a finality that left no room for compromise. Afterward, trying to be contrite in a letter to Margaret, he succeeded only in being petulant:
The young people wished to know what possessed me to tease you with so much prose, and becloud the fine conversation? I could only answer that it was not an acute fit of Monday evening, but was chronic and constitutional with me, and I asked them in my turn when they had heard me talk anything else? . . . You, instead of wondering at my cloistered and unfriendly manners, should defend me if possible from friendship, from ambition, from my own weakness which would lead me to variety, which is the dissipation of thought. You and those others who are dear to me should be so rightly my friends as never to suffer me for a moment to attempt the game of wits and fashionists, no nor even that of those you call Friends. . . .
The following year the Conversations reverted to the original plan and were as successful as ever, in the way Margaret had intended. To discover that they actually were able to think and speak for themselves on subjects outside their "sphere" had an intoxicating effect on many of the women, unlike anything they had ever experienced. Much of this overflowed into a feeling for Margaret herself which was close to adulation, especially among the young. Mrs. Dall herself, then in her teens, was an example:
Our last talk, and we were all dull. For my part, Bacchus does not inspire me, and I was sad because it was the last time that I should see Margaret. She does not love me; I could not venture to follow her into her own home, and I love her so much! Her life hangs on a thread. Her face is full of the marks of pain. Young as I am, I feel old when I look at her.
This kind of uncritical devotion was widespread, not only among the girls in the Conversations but among Margaret's other students. "Had she been a man," Elizabeth Hoar once told Emerson, "any one of those fine girls of sixteen, who surrounded her here, would have married her; they were all in love with her, she understood them so well." Emerson says some of the girls complained that "she quite reduced them to satellites" with her "burly masculine existence"; yet women all over Boston "were eager to lay their beauty, their grace, the hospitalities of sumptuous homes, and their costly gifts, at her feet." She was all the more idolized by her teen-age students because they had convinced themselves that she was doomed to an early grave. (This is not as preposterous as it seems. People died all the time of ailments that seemed no worse than migraine headache, and Margaret herself did not believe she would reach old age.) Nor was the feeling Margaret inspired limited to the very young. Elizabeth Peabody, herself no melting sixteen-year-old, wrote of the Conversations: "It is sometimes said, that women never are so lovely and enchanting in the company of their own sex, merely, but it requires the other to draw them out. Certain it is that Margaret never appears, when I see her, either so brilliant and deep in thought, or so desirous to please, or so modest, or so heart-touching, as in this very party." She was brilliant in any group, but when she was with other women she discarded the mask she more or less consciously assumed in everyday life and actually became that warmer, less cerebral person she would have liked to be all the time.
The object of such adulation was bound to provoke criticism, even if she were not engaged in a radical enterprise. But the most memorable shot against Margaret, as against Bronson Alcott, came from England. Harriet Martineau had not said all she had to say about America in her earlier book. Miss Martineau's Autobiography, published long after Margaret's death, added to the distortions and half-truths clustered about her memory:
The difference between us was that while she was living and moving in an ideal world, talking in private and discoursing in public about the most fanciful and shallow conceits which the transcendentalists of Boston took for philosophy, she looked down upon persons who acted instead of talking finely, and devoted their fortunes, their peace, their repose, and their very lives to the preservation of the principles of the republic. While Margaret Fuller and her adult pupils sat "gorgeously dressed," talking about Mars and Venus, Plato and Gö the, and fancying themselves the elect of the earth in intellect and refinement, the liberties of the republic were running out as fast as they could go, at a breach which another sort of elect persons were devoting themselves to repair; and my complaint against the "gorgeous" pedants was that they regarded their preservers as hewers of wood and drawers of water, and their work as a less vital one than the pedantic orations which were spoiling a set of well-meaning women in a pitiable way.
Miss Martineau had no firsthand knowledge of the Conversations, having left the country four years before they were begun; but clearly Margaret's letter about Alcott had rankled, although the two women were still corresponding affectionately during the 1840s. The remark about "gorgeousness" is traced by Higginson to a comment by one of Margaret's admirers that she "used to come to the conversations very well dressed, and altogether looked sumptuously." Since Margaret's income hardly allowed her to buy anything more sumptuous than calico and bombazine, her reputation for dressing well rested entirely on her knowing what to do with them. As for her "looking down" on activists, more than half the members of the Conversations were abolitionists, and Mrs. Child and Mrs. Loring were leaders of the movement. Margaret herself, though put off by the shrill rhetoric of the abolitionists and the violence many of them advocated, sympathized with the cause and in later years wrote effectively in its support. Miss Martineau was still unable to see the close relationship between Transcendentalism and abolitionism, and ironically, she was also blind to the contribution these discussions were making to the emancipation of her own sex. Beyond that, her comments are a typical illustration of the vituperative tone Margaret's critics assumed, and of the way her eccentricities could easily be fashioned into a one-dimensional, larger-than-life symbol of whatever bugaboo it was her detractors most hated and feared.
During the four years of the Conversations, Margaret supplemented her income by teaching private pupils, occasionally having one or two boarding with her. The remainder of her time she had intended to devote to her Goethe biography, but during the summer of 1839 another project took shape which was to shoulder her book aside and prevent her completing it. At a September meeting of the Transcendentalist Club the idea of a journal, which had first been proposed in 1835 by Henry Hedge, was revived. Since the "Divinity School Address" it had been almost impossible for members of the circle to publish except at their own expense, and Alcott pointed out to them the modest success a similar journal, The London Monthly Review, was enjoying in Britain. Why, Alcott wanted to know, could not New England have such a review? In fact Emerson had been trying to persuade Carlyle to edit a journal in America for some time, but Carlyle's evasiveness had at length crystallized into refusal. Unless one counted the Unitarian Christian Register, or Orestes Brownson's erratic Quarterly Review, the only literary journal in New England was the stolidly conservative North American Review ("the snore of the Muses," Emerson called it). The North American's editors, George Bancroft and Edward Everett, may well have lain awake nights ruing the day they had helped introduce German literature to America.
Everyone agreed that the journal was a fine idea, but of course no one wanted to edit it, Emerson—the obvious choice—least of all. Henry Hedge, who had suggested it five years before, then had no inkling of the distance some of his friends would put between themselves and the liberal church. Now among the most conservative of the group, he could not be considered as editor of a review which would espouse George Ripley's associationism, William Henry Channing's socialism, and what many believed to be Waldo Emerson's pantheism. The person chosen would have to be one whose sympathies were broad enough to include all these, whose convictions were strong without being narrow, and whose literary background was firm. None seemed better qualified than Margaret, and after careful thought she accepted on the condition that George Ripley take care of the business arrangements. It was hoped that enough subscriptions could be obtained to pay her $200 a year after the publisher received his share. They decided to call the journal the Dial, after a portion of Alcott's diaries.
Margaret's expectations of the Dial were realistic. She did not propose to establish a new standard of literary quality, but rather to bring a freshness of thought and style to the stale atmosphere of literary convention. It was important to shake off the Nay-saying strictures of the past, whether they were represented by the division between the elect and the damned, the lines between social classes, the hard rows of benches in the schoolroom, or the neat little enclosure of the heroic couplet. She realized that much of the writing would be rough, but all pioneering was rough; it would be up to those who came later to smooth the edges. A beginning had to be made if American literature, like American women, was to find its own identity. She expressed her limited hopes for the journal to W. H. Channing while she was preparing the first issue:
A perfectly free organ is to be offered for the expression of individual thought and character. There are no party measures to be curried, no particular standard to be set up. A fair calm tone, a recognition of universal principals will, I hope pervade the essays in every form. I hope there will neither be a spirit of dogmatism nor of compromise. That this periodical will not aim at leading public opinion, but at stimulating each man to think for himself, to think more deeply and more nobly by letting them [sic] see how some minds are kept alive by a wise self-trust. . . . I am sure we cannot show high culture. and I doubt about vigorous thought. But I hope we shall show free action as far as it goes and a high aim. It were much if a periodical could be kept open to accomplish no outward object, but merely to afford an avenue for what of free and calm thought might be originated among us by the wants of individual minds.
As for her own part in it, she expected mainly to "urge on the laggards and scold the lukewarm, and act Helen MacGregor to those who love compromise, by doing my little best to sink them in the waters of oblivion!!" The date for the first issue was tentatively set for April 1840. Emerson, Ripley, and Alcott could be depended on to write, and she asked Hedge, W. H. Charming, and James Freeman Clarke for contributions. Thoreau promised to send something and Emerson wrote to another of his protégés, William Ellery Charming (who had left Harvard and was living by himself in a hut in Illinois) asking for permission to publish some of his verses. Theodore Parker promised some of his workmanlike prose. Caroline Sturgis and her sister Ellen Hooper put the poems they had written in their journals at Margaret's disposal, with the prim condition that not even the other Transcendentalists be told who had written them. (Public anonymity was not an issue, since periodical articles usually were left unsigned.) Emerson selected passages from the journals of his dead brothers and verses written by his first wife, Ellen Tucker Emerson.
But by spring there was not nearly enough material for the 136 pages agreed on with the publisher. Margaret set about writing as much as she could herself, and her attempts to coax the more shy Transcendentalists out of their winter dens became a little desperate. Shyest of all was Henry Hedge:
Henry, I adjure you, in the name of all the Genii, Muses, Pegasus, Apollo, Pollio, Apollyon, ("and must I mention" ) to send me something good for this journal before the 1st May. All mortals, my friend, are slack and bare; they wait to see whether Hotspur wins, before they levy aid for as good a plan as ever was laid. I know you are plagued and it is hard to write, just so it is with me, for I also am a father. But you can help, and become a godfather! if you like, and let it be nobly, for if the first number justify not the magazine, it will not find justification; so write, my friend, write, and paint not for me fine plans on the clouds to be achieved at some future time, as others do who have had many years to be thinking of immortality.
I could make a number myself with the help Mr. E[merson] will give, but the Public, I trow, is too astute a donkey not to look sad at that.
Hedge, however, was appalled at the guise in which his own suggestion had returned to haunt him, and now flatly refused to have anything to do with the Dial, though he later relented enough to contribute to the second issue and one or two after that. James Freeman Clarke, newly married and living in Pennsylvania, also disappointed her for the first issue. Emerson sent two poems and the family selections he had promised, and wrote most of the introduction. Otherwise he kept aloof, content to let the Dial be stillborn rather than divert his attention from the preparation of his first book of Essays. He urged Margaret to take the same view of it, and not to run down her health, which was worse as it always was in winter. But she developed a stubborn affection for the Dial, or at least for the idea of the Dial, and she kept scribbling away, the old distaste for writing dragging at her pen. She told Channing,
I have myself a great deal written, but as I read it over scarce a word seems pertinent to the place or time. When I meet people I can adapt myself to them, but when I write it is into another world, not a better one perhaps, but one with very dissimilar habits of thought to this where I am domesticated. . . . What others can do, whether all that has been said is the mere restlessness of discontent, or there are thoughts really struggling for utterance will I think be tested now.
When the first issue at last appeared, Margaret was by far the largest contributor. Others, besides the Emerson family, were Parker, Ripley, John Sullivan Dwight, Christopher Cranch, H. D. Wilson, Alcott, Ward, Ellen Hooper, Sarah Clarke, and Thoreau, who sent the poem "Sympathy." The literary quality in this as in later issues was uneven, the most solid pieces being Parker's on "The Divine Presence in Nature and the Soul," Ripley's discussion of the writings of Brownson, and Margaret's own "Essay on Critics." The verse in the Dial, notwithstanding poems by Thoreau and Emerson, was always its weakest feature: American Transcendentalism, which had seemed to offer a fertile field for poetry, proved a veritable quagmire. But the prose was often good, sometimes memorable, and in its primary purpose of giving expression to the spirit of democratic idealism at its best, the Dial was a success. It was a rallying point for the young, as Emerson pointed out in defending it to Carlyle:
If the direction of these speculations is to be deplored, it is yet a fact for literary history, that all the bright boys and girls in New England, quite ignorant of each other, take the world so, and come and make confessions to fathers and mothers,—the boys that they do not wish to go into trade, the girls that they do not like morning calls and evening parties. They are all religious, but hate the churches: they reject all the ways of living of other men, but have none to offer in their stead. Perhaps, one of these days, a great Yankee shall come, who will easily do the unknown deed.
The Dial was greeted with whoops and chortles by those already disposed to be its natural enemies. "It is, to us, humble uninitiated sinners, yet ignorant of the sublime 'mysteries,' one of the most transcendentically (we like big words) ridiculous publications," sneered the editor of the Boston Times. None of those who had worked to bring it about were satisfied with it, although their reasons were sometimes poles apart. The most frequent criticism was the most justified: it was ethereal, abstract, and precious. "Too much of a soul," growled Carlyle, while Alcott thought it did not have soul enough: "It is but a twilight 'Dial'," he wrote sadly to an English friend. Ripley thought it was "not prononcé enough"; instead of sporting "hoofs and horns," it was "gentle as any sucking dove." All the same, he noted happily, "the Philistines, who dare show out, are wrathy as fighting-cocks." Not surprisingly, its shortcomings were occasionally blamed on the fact that it had a woman editor. Carlyle's objections seem to have been at least partly on this score: "[The Dial] is all spirit-like, aeriform, aurora-borealis like. Will no angel body himself out of that; no stalwart Yankee man, with colour in the cheeks of him, and a coat on his back!" Theodore Parker, whose personal distrust of aggressively intellectual women did not interfere with his being Boston's most eloquent preacher on behalf of human equality, remarked that the chief thing wrong with the Dial was that it needed a beard. But the new journal was generally well received by the readers for whom it was meant.
Margaret was editor of the Dial for two years. Her editorial policy was set forth in her "Essay on Critics," in the first issue. She did not believe that a work of art should be measured against some ideal, inflexible standard, but thought that the critic should encourage talent as well as genius, while clearly distinguishing between them. She encouraged freshness and vitality in the Dial, even though the writing might be technically flawed. In this she differed from Emerson, who would have tightened up the literary quality even though it meant excluding more writers. The difference was probably more theoretical than actual, for the Dial changed little after Emerson took it over in 1842, and Margaret was firm in trying to bring her writers (including Emerson himself) up to the mark. She offended Alcott by discontinuing his "Orphic Sayings"—apothegms taken from his diaries which were much parodied in the establishment press. And she wounded Thoreau's pride by returning several of his pieces for revision.
Emerson and Parker continued to be the heaviest contributors after Margaret herself, Emerson assuming a large share of the writing after the first issue. Parker was very popular with the readers, and it is doubtful that the journal could have survived without him. Besides Margaret and the Sturgis sisters, women who ventured into print in the Dial included Elizabeth Peabody, Sarah Clarke, Lydia Maria Child, and a follower of Emerson's from Dorchester named Eliza Thayer Clapp.
The Dial soon absorbed nearly all of Margaret's working hours, and she was forced to set aside her Goethe biography, promising herself she would return to it when she had time. But the succeeding years offered no such opportunity, and all that remains of the book is a detailed outline of the early chapters and a collection of notes. For her Dial editing she never received a salary, since the journal barely supported itself. In 1814 its printers went bankrupt and refused to return the subscription list without payment for it. An arrangement was reached, and Elizabeth Peabody printed the Dial on her own press until it was placed with the company of James Munroe. But its financial position went from bad to worse, and in 1843 Emerson paid for the last few issues out of his own pocket.
As editor Margaret was largely spared the financial haggling over the journal, but she shouldered the responsibility for its contents. Contributors continued dilatory, and she made up the missing copy herself. She wrote more than half the October 1841 issue, her essays on "Lives of the Great Composers" and Bailey's "Festus" numbering eighty-five pages. Christmas of the same year found her racing the printer in order to finish the January issue: "I am in a state of extreme fatigue," she wrote her mother, who was in Canton. "This is the last week of the Dial, and as often happens, the copy did not hold out, and I have had to write in every gap of time. Marianne J., and Jane [two of her pupils] have been writing for me extracts etc., but I have barely scrambled through, and am now quite unfit to hold a pen." In July 1842, anxieties over her income, her family, and her health forced her to resign the editorship; Emerson carried it on for two more years.
Margaret's writing for the Dial varies widely in quality. This reflects partly the conditions of haste, fatigue, and pain under which it was produced, and partly her reluctance to write instead of talk. But these years were a valuable apprenticeship for her, and some of her Dial writing is as good as anything she did. She still lapses into sentimentality and digression, and she is clearly out of her depth in her discussions of art and music; her article on "The Great Composers," for example, suffers from the common Romantic fallacy of equating esthetic and moral excellence. Passionately loving the music of Beethoven, she concluded that he must have been an altogether admirable human being and elevated him to chief position in her own private pantheon. No more enlightened, for similar reasons, are her discussions of sculpture and painting, which are almost entirely concerned with the physiognomy of the models (noble brows and pure eyes lifted heavenward, etc.). Having very little technical knowledge of these subjects and a great deal about literature, she is at her best in the latter field. Her Dial essay on Goethe contributed significantly to an acceptance of the great German poet in this country, and her "Essay on Critics" signals the beginning of her development as one of America's first two literary critics worthy of the name, the other being Poe.
But Margaret's most important contribution to the Dial was published in the July 1843 issue under the ponderous title, "The Great Lawsuit: Man vs. Men. Woman vs. Women." This article, the most radical feminist document yet produced in America, brings together the liberal thought she had distilled from years of study and the bitter contradictions and disillusionment she had experienced, not only in her own life but in the lives of literally dozens of other women who had confided in her as in no one else. She wrote it while she was still conducting the Conversations, having constantly before her the contrast between the heady sense of freedom a few women could achieve for two hours once a week, and the carefully limited reality to which they went home afterward. Among the various benevolences to which the Unitarian and Transcendentalist movements had contributed—abolitionism, educational reform, the amelioration of conditions for the poor, the insane, and the criminal—feminism was the last to be recognized because it was the most fundamental of all. To radically change the status of their wives and daughters (especially their wives) was a challenge from which even the most dedicated Transcendentalists inwardly shrank, no matter how generously they maintained the justice of it on an intellectual plane. To face squarely the changes in domestic life which were implied by that equal education they so cheerfully promulgated was so difficult that they closed their eyes to it, as had Timothy Fuller when he set out to educate his small daughter. The male liberal would lend his books to the intellectual woman and invite her to his discussions; he would congratulate her on how accomplished she was, "for a woman." He would even accept her as editor of a journal for which he wrote. But she remained apart from the mainstream of society; she was seen as an anomaly. With rare exceptions men did not marry such women, because the vocation of wife excluded all others. (No better example of liberal male doublethink can be found man the exclusion of woman delegates from the 1840 World Anti-Slavery Convention, which would not have been possible without the efforts of women.)
In three years of existence (two of them admittedly under Margaret's direction) the Dial had touched on the "woman question" only once before, in an 1841 article by Sophia Ripley titled simply "Woman." But Mrs. Ripley had not led her men friends any further than they were already willing to go. After expressing with some force her complaint that a woman loses her individuality in marriage and becomes "an appendage . . . the upper nurse," she goes meekly back to her corner: a woman should be educated so that she will not lean on her husband, but will "attend on him as a watchful friend." Only then can she pursue her "high vocation of creator of a happy home." There was nothing here to alarm the menfolk, and at Brook Farm later that year Sophia Ripley stayed indoors, cooked, taught the children, and worked long hours in the laundry; it would not have occurred to her to go out in the fields and hoe corn.
Margaret's article, on the other hand, is deeply, basically radical. Beginning with the premise that all souls are equal before God, and its application to Negroes and American Indians, she goes on to claim the same equality for women: "We would have every arbitrary barrier thrown down. We would have every path laid open to women as freely as to man." She asks for educational equality, but not for the same stultifying education that is available to men; rather she asks for new institutions of higher learning specifically for women, and run by women. She goes on to appeal for that vocational equality which follows from equal education, and for legal and political equality as well, including by implication the right to vote, though she stops short of advocating it in so many words. "The Great Lawsuit" suffers from a digressive style, and once Margaret betrays her own inner conflict about whether women can become first-rate artists: "More native to her is it to be the living model of the artist, than to set apart from herself any one form in objective reality, more native to inspire and receive the poem than to create it." But immediately she goes on to recognize the androgynous nature of the individual mind: "There is no wholly masculine man, no purely feminine woman. . . . Man partakes of the feminine in the Apollo, woman of the masculine as Minerva." She defends women's right to remain unmarried, if they choose, without social penalty. Above all, she would not have them defined by relationships to men:
A profound thinker has said "no married woman can represent the female world, for she belongs to her husband. The idea of woman must be represented by a virgin." But that is the very fault of marriage, and of the present relation between the sexes, that the woman does belong to the man, instead of forming a whole with him. Were it otherwise there would be no such limitation to the thought. Woman, self-centred, would never be absorbed by any relative; it would be only an experience to her as to man. It is a vulgar error that love, a love to woman is her whole existence. . . .
Deceptively gentle in tone, "Lawsuit" undermined even the most liberal assumptions of the day. It was a courageous statement, and it brought Margaret to the notice of a wider public, while it brought her Transcendentalist friends face to face with their own ideals.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6762
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 genesis from an early draft, then some insight may be obtained as to the way in which Fuller's ideas were developing and thus a clearer perception of her composition of Woman is possible.
Woman developed from "The Great Lawsuit—Man versus Men; Woman versus Women," which was published in the July 1843 issue of the Dial, a year after Fuller had relinquished its editorship to Emerson. In her preface to Woman, she explained that she had prepared her expanded version for publication in compliance with wishes expressed from many quarters. Then she discussed her change of title. She conceded that the meaning of the original title is puzzling—"it requires some thought to see what it means." Her preference, she told her readers, was to retain the first title in her enlargement, but she was dissuaded from doing so by friends. Although awkward, her early biographer Higginson explained, the original title was intended "to avert even the suspicion of awakening antagonism between the sexes." Nevertheless, this title does sound antagonistic because it suggests court action. But why is the title worded "man versus men" instead of "man versus woman," or vice versa, which is the usual order in the battle of the sexes? Fuller's intention was not to write a long history of woman's grievances against the tyranny of the male sex. Instead she keynoted the grievance of the individual man or woman whose aspirations were thwarted by the multitude, or by himself or herself, from becoming the developed soul he or she might become. She explained:
I meant by that title to intimate the fact that, while it is the destiny of Man, in the course of the ages, to ascertain and fulfil the law of his being, so that his life shall be seen, as a whole, to be that of an angel or messenger, the action of prejudices and passions which attend, in the day, the growth of the individual, is continually obstructing the holy work that is to make the earth a part of heaven. By Man I mean both man and woman; these are the two halves of one thought. I lay no special stress on the welfare of either. I believe that the development of the one cannot be effected without that of the other.
She developed this concept in Women by adding to "Lawsuit" her dual epigraphs. Then, by rephrasing them, she made them applicable to men as well. What she had to say applied to the men and women; her message was not ambivalent but hortatory, and its significance, again referring to her original title, was "great."
It appears at first glance that Woman is much longer than "Lawsuit," but a line-by-line examination of the content indicates that the number of words per page in "Lawsuit" is much greater than that in Woman. The first 130 pages of the 179-page text of Woman are a close adaptation of the 47 pages of "Lawsuit" In most instances, Fuller used a verbatim transcription of "The Great Lawsuit" in Woman. Occasionally she changed a few words to clarify or modify the meaning of a sentence, but she did very little polishing of her original text. For example, in the original essay she wrote, "Is it not enough, cries the sorrowful trader," and in her second version she changed sorrowful to irritated. In the original version she wrote, "But our doubt is whether the heart does consent with the head, or only acquiesces its decrees." In the second version, she changed acquiesces to obeys and then added to her sentence, "with a passiveness that precludes the exercise of its natural powers, or a repugnance that turns sweet qualities to bitter, or a doubt that lays waste the fair occasions of life." Another word changed to clarify meaning is incessant, which in Woman becomes frequent: "Shrink not from frequent error in this gradual, fragmentary state" (p. 19). She deleted a phrase or a sentence a few times, but mostly she developed and elaborated on points she had already made. In her discussion of property rights for widows, she said that the wife "inherits only a part of his fortune" and then inserted in her second version the phrase "often brought him by herself after "fortune." In her treatment of illustratious old maids—"No one thinks of Michael Angelo's Persican Sibyl, or St. Theresa, or Tasso's Leonora, or the Greek Electra, as an old maid"—she added, "more than of Michael Angelo or Canova as old bachelors," in order to give her sentence and idea balance. Sometimes she added discussions of writers whom she had not included before, such as Charles Fourier and Walter Savage Landor. Furthermore, she tended to add capital letters and italics for emphasis and occasionally corrected punctuation.
There are forty-nine pages of new material. The portion she added contains the most daring subject matter in the book because much of it was contemporary application of her diesis. Her new material contained some frank discussions of sex; an example of an incompatible marriage: "I have known mis man come to install himself in the chamber of a woman who loathed him, and say she should never take food without his company"; the double standard of morality: "Let Sir Charles Grandison preach to his own sex"; the notorious trial of Amelia Norman; a mother's sadness when she gives birth to a daughter; the father's kidnapping of his own children as a means of coercing his wife; problems of older women—a well-preserved woman at forty who is spoken of "upholstery-wise"; property rights for married women; and her idea mat ladies are responsible for rehabilitating prostitutes. More trenchant social criticism was used to supplement her earlier points: "Those who mink the physical circumstances of Woman would make a part in the affairs of national government unsuitable, are by no means those who think it impossible for negresses to endure field-work, even during pregnancy, or for sempstresses to go through their killing labors." Also included in her enlargement was her remark about letting women be sea captains. Although she added the ancient belief that a baby's body was inherited from his mother and his soul from his father, in general her new material contained less spiritual transcendentalism until the peroration. Therefore the most controversial writing in Woman was that which she added to "The Great Lawsuit" The importance of the earlier draft is mat it gave Fuller me courage to treat inflammatory subject matter. Because the reception of "The Great Lawsuit" was on me whole favorable among the Dial's small coterie of readers, she became more outspoken. One criticism she did receive about her earlier draft, as she herself explained, was mat she did not make her "meaning sufficiently clear." Consequently, she may have been guilty of repetition. And in order to make her meaning unmistakable, less of it is veiled in metaphor.
The residue of a trial from "The Great Lawsuit" remains. The thinking man or woman, who has not yet become the enlarged soul he or she would become, is admonished to perfect himself despite all obstructions. Once this extraordinary person frees himself from ordinary frailty, then this individual could become the king or queen she seeks to lead and to inspire his waiting adversaries.
The broadest structural framework of Woman reflects the sermon, which she mentioned both in her introduction—"sermons preached from the text"—and in her statement in the conclusion that she would retrace her design "as was done in old-fashioned sermons." Closely akin to the sermon is the oration, and Woman contains elements of both forms. Fuller began her work with the classic exordium in a vague way so her thesis is not clear for several pages. Using caution, Latin and German quotations, and preliminary conciliation, she did not introduce her propositio until the tenth page: woman needs her turn, and improvement of her lot would aid in the reformation of men, too. Then she stated her sermon topic: "Be ye perfect." Having established her thesis at last, she proceeded with partitio or analysis of her subject, which is done in a debate style by raising the popular arguments men used with which to oppose women's rights, and then rebutting them. She began with the conversational method of questions and answers characteristic of the speaker who wishes to dramatize a point. A husband asks:
"Is it not enough," cries the irritated trader, "that you have done all you could to break up the national union, and thus destroy the prosperity of our country, but now you must be trying to break up family union, to take my wife away from the cradle and the kitchen-hearth, to vote at polls, and preach from a pulpit? Of course, if she does such things, she cannot attend to those of her own sphere. She is happy enough as she is. She has more leisure than I have,—every means of improvement, every indulgence."
"Have you asked her whether she was satisfied with these indulgences?"
"No, but I know she is."
Fuller ended this dialogue by saying that liberating measures are proposed to ascertain truth. Objectively, she continued: "Without enrolling ourselves at once on either side, let us look upon the subject from the best point of view which to-day offers." She debated the issue with rebuttals that accelerated in strength until she concluded, "We would have every arbitrary barrier thrown down."
Then in a long digressio composed of sermon-style exemplar, she considered all that is known of woman, delineating her story in myth, folklore, the Bible, poetry, fiction, history, and in her own time. Beginning with an extensive analysis of the institution of marriage, she examined the life cycle of a woman. She sought women whose lives she found inspiring such as Queen Isabella of Castile, or Marina, the Indian woman who accompanied Cortez, but she evaluated the lives of other women, such as Queen Elizabeth and Mary Stuart, lauding their strengths and castigating their weaknesses. Interwoven in her examples is an attempt to buttress her argument with authority using the views of recognized authors to support her position. She conceded mat women have always had some power, but they want freedom from men to learn the secrets of the universe alone. Within her narrative in a form suggestive of the reprehensio is admonition to men, who refuse to grant women freedom and who call strong women "manly," and to women, who misuse what power they have. Scornfully she recognized that a coquette, a shrew, or a good cook could have lifelong sway.
Fuller inculcated within her discussion a realistic assessment of the options open to women in various societies, ancient and modern. Reasonably enough, since most women would marry, she spent a lot of time examining the institution of marriage. She contrasted idealized concepts of courtly love in which the lady served as inspiration with the reality of arranged marriages of convenience. It is no surprise that she advocated not only a marriage of love but a spiritual union of two souls on a common pilgrimage. She also discussed other options women have, such as women who write, women who are mothers, and women who do not marry, as well as the problems of women in middle and old age. She praised women abolitionists brave enough to speak on the platform but warned that they must work for measures not only favoring slaves but also for themselves. In her all-inclusive discussion of a woman's life cycle, she discussed the child toward the end of this section, lamenting the father who stunts his daughter's education for fear she will not find a husband. Again pointing out that a woman must work alone and use her special gifts of intuition, she mentioned a crisis at hand and prophesied a new Jerusalem, which the prophets Swedenborg, Fourier, and Goethe foretell. Then her sermon became more direct as she preached about the problems of prostitutes and polygamy and warned that men must be as pure as women. In an accelerating evocative vision of the future in which both men and women rule their passions by reason, she placed her hope with the young—"harbingers and leaders of a new era." Triumphantly she concluded her long narrative by proclaiming her expectation that a young "Exaltada" would serve as an "example and instruction for the rest."
The structural pattern of Woman next takes the sermon form of an applicatio in a departure from the main thrust of the argument and moves from the visionary future to the prosaic present. Fuller sighed over books recently published in which the chief point was to fit a wife "to please, or, at least, not to disturb a husband" (p. 158). She recognized the dilemmas women faced and completed this section by admonishing American women to use their moral power and not to let themselves be intimidated by aspersions on their modesty. Her application of her sermon, therefore, is mat women must act to save themselves.
From practical application of the sermon, the form of Woman soars back to the sublime world of the spirit. In a peroration, Fuller outlined the major points of her argument and of her vision of the harmonious world that an ideal relationship between men and women would bring. Then, like a minister ending a sermon, she addressed a prayer to God: "Thou, Lord of Day!" After a cold winter, she prophesied a distant day of glory. With a final hortatory admonition to cherish hope and act, she concluded with poetry that echoed the Bible: "Persist to ask, and it will come." With an allusion to her epigraphs, she envisioned—"So shalt thou see, what few have seen, / The palace home of King and Queen"—and thus gave structural and thematic wholeness to her work.
The structure of Woman does seem to fit loosely the sermon-oration form. What tends to obscure its pattern is Fuller's use of writing techniques derived from transcendentalism. According to precepts generally accepted by the transcendentalists, a work of literature grows out of experience and hence is organic. As Coleridge, a romantic, wrote: "The organic form is innate; it shapes, as it develops itself from within." And Keats, using a nature metaphor, explained that good poetry grew as naturally as the leaves on a tree. Emerson later used this concept, saying a poem is "a thought so passionate and alive that like the spirit of a plant or an animal it has an architecture of its own." The basic assumption of transcendental art is of the "superiority of the spirit to the letter." Art as inspiration meant that the word became one with the thing. Ultimately, the "transcendental theory of art is a theory of knowledge and religion as well." Hence transcendental expression must coalesce the seer and spectacle into one, an organic whole. Margaret Fuller, the observer, united the spectacle—her experience—with that of all other women into the final fusion of Woman in the Nineteenth Century.
As early as 1826 Sampson Reed published his "Observations on the Growth of the Mind," setting forth transcendental literary theory. He wrote: "Syllogistic reasoning is passing away," leaving nothing behind but a demonstration "of its own worthlessness." Both Julia Ward Howe and Arthur W. Brown pointed out that there was no systematic parallelism in Woman; however, Fuller did not intend that there should be. By not following a rigidly organized pattern of syllogistic reasoning, she was merely demonstrating that she had accepted the transcendentalist aesthetic theory that, as a member of the club, she had helped to shape. The movement of her treatise is not parallel but soaring and circular. Its dominant mode of composition is an unfolding from the subconscious in a form of spiraling thought patterns. One of her recurrent themes is an optimistic refrain that appears in a mood of confidence, disappears in a burst of admonition, and later reappears in a form of wavelike undulation characteristic of transcendental writing. Moreover, the polarities of optimistic expectation (symbolized by the epigraph, "The Earth waits for her Queen") and impatient anger (symbolized by, "Frailty, thy name is Woman") have an ebb and flow rhythm to them. She may begin in a lull with a mundane matter such as the problem of a poor widow whose husband has died leaving no will and accelerate in intensity to the sublime "ravishing harmony of the spheres," or start at the crest of the wave as it flows back to the sea. From practical application of her sermon, the thought patterns of Woman soar back to the world of the spirit. Instead of syllogistic reasoning, order comes from the authority that the certitude of intuition brings.
A characteristic of transcendental literature, which Woman reflects, is subjectivity—the individual as the center of the world. At times this method suggests a free association of ideas. One authority requires that another be included; one mythological figure suggests another. Ultimately the thought patterns lead from the conscious, to the subconscious mind, to the transcendental wellspring of truth, the divine intuition. Fuller used her own experience as representative of the experience of all women—that indeed the lot of woman is sad, that all women need and, in fact, should aspire to the same self-culture and fulfillment that she herself had desired. She began Woman by using the conventional "we" but she changed to "I" after only fifteen pages. Later she alternated between "we" and "I." She gave an account of her youthful education by her father under the guise of the persona, Miranda, as an example of an independent girl who was respected for being self-reliant. Fuller told this story by means of an imaginary conversation in which the "I" takes the role of the foil to Miranda's explanation of her youthful training in self-reliance, so unusual for a girl of that day. In her subjectivity there are times when she almost linked herself with the queen that the earth awaits. If not the queen directly, she associated herself in her description of Miranda with the woman of genius, possessor of the magnetic electrical element (intuition), who has a contribution to make to the world—"a strong electric nature, which repelled those who did not belong to her, and attracted those who did." At another time in the discussion of woman's power of intuition, she wrote: "Women who combine this organization with creative genius are very commonly unhappy at present. They see too much to act in conformity with those around them, and their quick impulses seem folly to those who do not discern the motives." By looking into her own soul, she saw reflected there the problems and the frustrated aspirations of other women: "but what concerns me now is, that my life be a beautiful, powerful, in a word, a complete life in its kind. Had I but one more moment to live I must wish the same." Starting from her own angle of vision, she unfolded her hopes to the world, and she concluded her treatise as a prophet:
I stand in the sunny noon of life. Objects no longer glitter in the dews of morning, neither are yet softened by the shadows of evening. Every spot is seen, every chasm revealed. Climbing the dusty hill, some fair effigies that once stood for symbols of human destiny have been broken; those I still have with me show defects in this broad light. Yet enough is left, even by experience, to point distinctly to the glories of that destiny; faint, but not to be mistaken streaks of the future day.
Thus her subjectivity became universal as she linked her own experience to that of the experience of all women and prophesied that in the future life would be better for them.
The tone of Woman reinforces the idea that Fuller was writing a didactic work. At times the tone admonishes the audience to act; at other times it is declamatory, but dominantly it is conversational. Although its voice patterns are conversational, the archness of Fuller's diction and tone is transcendental. Today, the mannerism of Fuller's speaking style may sound affected. Nevertheless, many people who knew Fuller said that her chief talent was as a speaker, so it is not surprising that instead of syllogisms, many phrases contain the emotive power of a conversation, of which she would have been the star. Her writing technique included both questions and answers in a debate form, but it also revealed the hallmark of the accomplished conversationalist: a flair for the dramatic. At best her conversational technique suggests breathless ejaculations rather than sentences. In a kind of accelerating excitement, she used the hortatory style: "Let us be wise, and not impede the soul. Let her work as she will. Let us have one creative energy, one incessant revelation. Let it take what form it will, and let us not bind it by the past to man or woman, black or white. Jove sprang from Rhea, Pallas from Jove. So let it be." Then her tone changes to one of intimacy. Her writing sounds as if she were talking to a small group and studying the reaction of her audience.
In the following passage, she revealed that she was a perceptive performer who could quickly adapt an argument to match the mood of her imaginary audience by modifying, explaining, and then hammering home at the proper psychological moment the point she intended to make in the first place:
If it has been the tendency of these remarks to call Woman rather to the Minerva side,—if I, unlike the more generous writer, have spoken from society no less than the soul,—let it be pardoned! It is love that has caused this,—love for many incarcerated souls, that might be freed, could the idea of religious self-dependence be established in them, could the weakening habit of dependence on others be broken up.
Her excuse for her stand was love. In effect, she seemed to be anticipating objections. Her most famous suggestion combines a speaking conversational style with her flair for dramatization: "But if you ask me what offices they may fill, I reply—any. I do not care what case you put; let them be sea-captains, if you will." Her frequent use of dashes suggests the pause used by accomplished speakers.
Other passages in Woman combine the dramatic method of composition with an aphoristic technique: "Tremble not before the free man, but before the slave who has chains to break"; "Whatever abuses are seen, the timid will suffer; the bold will protest." In her dramatization of her thesis, she used an aphoristic method of attracting attention by reversing sex roles, beginning with her suggestion that the time had come for "Eurydice to call for an Orpheus, rather than Orpheus for Eurydice." Again she wrote: "Presently she [nature] will make a female Newton, and a male Syren." "But Penelope is no more meant for a baker or weaver solely, than Ulysses for a cattle-herd." Later she suggested, not unlike semantic changes in vogue today, that the title given to a party abroad, "Los Exaltados," be changed to "Los Exaltados, Las Exaltadas." This stylistic device of sex role reversal is used to advocate one of her central ideas—that there is no "wholly masculine man, no purely feminine woman"—which culminates in the "sea-captain" passage.
Whether that of a preacher, orator, or confidante, the tone of Woman expresses the spoken word. Hence many of Fuller's images relate to sound. Perhaps here she echoes Shelley, whom she admired: "And, if men are deaf, the angels hear. But men cannot be deaf." She used music as a means of expressing the divine: "Then their sweet singing shall not be from passionate impulse, but the lyrical overflow of a divine rapture, and a new music shall be evolved from this many-chorded world." Or she saw woman as a bird with clipped wings that desires to fly and sing: "no need to clip the wings of any bird that wants to soar and sing." That she frequently preferred sound imagery to that of sight is again indicated by her final poem:
For the Power to whom we bow
Has given its pledge that, if not now,
They of pure and steadfast mind,
By faith exalted, truth refined,
Shall hear all music loud and clear,
Whose first notes they ventured here.
Another type of rhetorical device that Fuller often used is imagery derived from organicism, which implies movement, growth, expansion, or fruition. Her argument rested on the "law of growth." She used phrases such as ampler fruition, fruitful summer, or plants of great vigor will always struggle into blossom. She liked movement related to the life force symbolized by the heart: "I must beat my own pulse true in the heart of the world; for that is virtue, excellence, health." And the cycles of nature—the flowing of streams, the waxing moon, and noon-morning-dawn imagery—are favorites.
Yet despite her frequent choice of auditory and organic imagery, her work's salient characteristic is its great use of references to literature, history, religion, and mythology. These references are used primarily as an exemplar for her readers to emulate, as recognized authority to support her topic, or as allusions to Holy Writ.
Since the structure of Woman is sermon-like, Fuller used biblical allusions as the major support for her near-rhapsodic religious vision of the great potentialities of men and women. She derived her thematic exhortation—"Be ye perfect"—from Matthew 5:48, from which she deleted "therefore." On occasion she quoted directly from the Bible: "This is the Law and the Prophets. Knock and it shall be opened; seek and ye shall find." Another way that she used biblical sources was to reshape a scriptural passage. Matthew 5:13 reads: "Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house." Fuller changed the meaning: "The candlestick set in a low place has given light as faithfully, where it was needed, as that upon the hill." In this passage, she incorporated biblical allusions and Christian concepts: "Love has already been expressed, that made all things new, that gave the worm its place and ministry as well as the eagle; a love to which it was alike to descend into the depths of hell, or to sit at the right hand of the Father." She used a clause such as a love that cannot be crucified or commonly used biblical terms as future Eden, lamb, green pastures, Prince of Peace, and Holy Child to symbolize hope and renewal. From traditional Christian theology she derived a reference to the deadly sin of sloth. Phrases that connote Calvinism, such as "doomed in future stages of his own being to deadly penance," can be found in Woman. Elements of the providential doctrine appear: "Yet, by men in this country, as by the Jews, when Moses was leading them to the promised land, everything has been done that inherited depravity could do, to hinder the promise of Heaven from its fulfillment."
She found inspiration in the figure of the Madonna, whom she mentioned several times: "No figure that has ever arisen to greet our eyes has been received with more fervent reverence than that of the Madonna." She referred to the Virgin Mary's powerful influence to reinforce her idea that women are born not only to nurture and alleviate the loneliness of men but also are prossessors of immortal souls.
But it was to the Old Testament that she turned for the woman who would redeem mankind. Adam, she wrote somewhat ironically, "is not ashamed to write that he could be drawn from heaven by one beneath him,—one made, he says, from but a small part of himself." Adam "accuses" Woman—through her "Man was lost, so through woman must Man be redeemed" by "Immortal Eve."
Fuller employed biblical and religious allusions in the usual way to clarify meaning and as the wellsprings of her treatise. In addition, she cited contemporary writers—feminists, socialists, and transcendentalists—to buttress her argument that women could play a broader role in society. Her use of allusions to outstanding women from all recorded time, however, was complex. Their use is not an affectation but an intrinsic part of her way of thinking and the rhetorical method she adopted in order to make her point. Her allusions not only clarify her meaning but also serve as models of conduct to inspire or instruct women. Examples used as affirmations are taken from poetry, such as Britomart; from history, such as Aspasia; from mythology, such as Isis and Iduna or Sita in the Ramayana; from folklore, such as Cinderella; or from more contemporary life, such as the Polish Countess Emily Plater. Instead of cataloging lists of words, as Emerson suggested and Whitman did, her technique was to catalog women. She barely escaped creating an encyclopedic effect because she appears not to have wanted to leave anyone out. She admitted she "may have been guilty of much repetition." It could be argued that Fuller should have been more selective, but on the other hand, through sheer weight of numbers, the women cited from the ages become a catalog that is an evocation, a challenge to men to remove "arbitrary barriers" through proof that women can succeed. Thus she explained her use of her numerous examples: "I have aimed to show that no age was left entirely without a witness of the quality of the sexes in function, duty, and hope." As Fuller said, the function of her examples is to serve as a witness. Her citation of women from history and women from fiction finally blends into women from mythology. Her search led her to delve beyond patriarchal Hebrew-Christian society to the prototype mythic woman—an earth mother who was recognized as a powerful figure, a priestess with powers of intuition and serving as a medium to the divine. Fuller's figures become in themselves the incarnation of concepts. Cassandra and Iphigenia serve as witnesses to her argument that not only are women enslaved in Western civilization but that they are not allowed to use their special gifts of "electric or magnetic powers" with which they could be enriching the world. She cited the Seeress of Prevorst and "a friend" as examples of contemporary women whose gift of psychic power was wasted. Summarizing this concept, she asked: "Grant her, then, for a while, the armor and the javelin. Let her put from her the press of other minds, and meditate in virgin loneliness. The same idea shall reappear in due time as Muse, or Ceres, the all-kindly, patient Earth-Spirit." It was to classical mythology that Fuller turned for models to illustrate her ideas of the possibilities of the feminine principle.
In her search for an ideal of feminine virtue, she considered many of Shakespeare's heroines. She preferred his portrait of Cordelia, whose virtue she greatly admired. She also discussed the quality of the marriages he portrayed and found the marriage of Portia and Brutus superior to those in Cymbeline and Othello. Nevertheless, she used the relationship between Portia and Brutus as an example of the way women were neglected in ancient Rome. She thought Shakespeare was a genius with greater poetic power than John Ford and Philip Massinger, whom she also cited, but believed he did not portray women as heroic as they did or as did Spenser:
Shakespeare's range is also great; but he has left out the heroic characters, such as the Macaria of Greece, the Britomart of Spenser. Ford and Massinger have, in this respect, soared to a higher flight of feeling than he. It was the holy and heroic Woman they most loved, and if they could not paint an Imogen, a Desdemona, a Rosalind, yet, in those of a stronger mould, they showed a higher ideal, though with so much less poetic power to embody it, than we see in Portia or Isabella.
Her main interest in her evaluation of Shakespeare's female characters was whether their images were heroic.
Of all of the authors in British literature, Fuller chose Edmund Spenser as the one who gave the best portraits of female characters: "The range of female character in Spenser alone might content us for one period" (p. 66). Britomart was her choice for an ideal woman not only because she was virtuous but also because she was strong and independent. Having mentioned Britomart several times, Fuller eventually began to compare her with contemporary women. She believed that Madame Roland was as valiant as Britomart and that Mary Wollstonecraft and George Sand would not have become outlaws had there been "as much room in the world for such, as in Spenser's poem for Britomart." When a character like Britomart satisfied her expectations, Fuller sounded as if she were speaking of a real person and began to mix fictional with historical women.
According to Fuller, having a woman monarch (whatever Elizabeth's quality as a ruler) had its value in inspiring Spenser's creation of epic women characters: "Unlike as was the English queen to a fairy queen, we may yet conceive that it was the image of a queen before the poet's mind that called up this splendid court of women." If Queen Elizabeth helped to inspire Spenser, any strong woman inspired Fuller. She used her outstanding women—dead or alive, literary or historical or mythical—to witness the capabilities within women when they rely on themselves. Figures as disparate as Lady Godiva, Cinderella, George Sand, Mrs. Hutchinson, Cassandra, Eve, Hagar, and Venus served as testimonials in her sermons on the power within women.
This plethora of examples represents a remarkable amount of scholarship, and Fuller delved into countless sources in her search for answers. Although written in nineteenth-century language with some words as outmoded as purity and delicacy and a conversational style that might be considered affected, her work is surprisingly modern in its concepts. Her brilliant treatise presents and prefigures such modern ideas as the need for role models. Fuller searched beyond Judeo-Christian patriarchy for the feminine principle and the earth mother. She posited an androgenic quality in all people, a need to do away with sexual stereotyping. In essence, Fuller's creation becomes the archetype of woman, of "The Woman in the Nineteenth Century," and of any woman who has aspired, who has wondered and been thwarted but who has still refused to compromise. Fuller's archetypal woman knows that in any compromise, she compromises not only herself but everyone else as well; and that men who become exploiters suffer and lose their humanity themselves.
As with all scholarly and complex literature, reading Woman calls for active participation from readers. Also, since Woman is a highly suggestive work, readers must be receptive to its message. Both Edgar Allan Poe and Henry David Thoreau said that Fuller's writing and speaking voice were one. A careful scrutiny of Woman reveals the dynamism and insights that Fuller's conversation praised, and readers who are willing to become engaged in the profundity of her thought processes will be amply rewarded.
Essentially Woman is an affirmation, a witness to the possibilities within women and men who discover within themselves their spirituality and permit it to grow. It is a call for excellence. The first obstruction, the self, is on trial. Beginning with the individual, who must take responsibility for her or his own life, Woman envisions a world that would correspondingly reflect this changed self. Ultimately, Woman transcends the issue of woman's rights. Paradoxically, after preaching self-reliance for women, it becomes a philosophic message on the interdependence of all people.
Woman in the Nineteenth Century's philosophic framework is predicated on universals; principles of right and wrong do indeed exist. Margaret Fuller was not ashamed to preach because she believed an individual could reshape her or his life—in fact, could approach perfection. And her sermon had effect. Early feminists were inspired to action by Woman in the Nineteenth Century. Three years after its publication, they called the first woman's rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 7944
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 book's corrupting heresies but also by its "slipshod style": "Miss Fuller seems to us to be wholly deficient in a pure, correct taste, and especially in that tidiness we always look for in woman.
Recent criticism, what little there is, dispenses with the sexist stereotyping but remains troubled by the apparent incoherence and occasionally bewildering content of the book. According to Arthur W. Brown, "Summer on the Lakes lacks systematic arrangement. Its only order is a loose kind of chronology, and its form shows the episodic qualities of the journal upon which it is based" [Margaret Fuller]. Lawrence Buell relates the book to other experiments in Transcendentalist literary excursion, but he insists that, unlike Whitman and Thoreau, who "prophesy" in their excursions, "Margaret Fuller is largely content to remain on the level of description and anecdote." [Literary Transcendentalism: Style and Vision in the American Rengissance]. Margaret Allen discovers more substance in the book, but she still finds it "self-consciously literary, episodic, and rambling"; she maintains mat "Fuller never solved the problem of form for herself and never found the best vehicle for her expression" [The Achievement of Margaret Fuller]. Madeleine B. Stern and Annette Kolodny argue for thematic unity in the book, but they do not analyze its structure [in an Introduction to a 1972 edition of Summer on the Lakes and in The Land Before Her, respectively].
I would like to propose here that the book is more coherent and controlled than most readers have contended and mat its experimental form can be described in some detail. Perhaps its structure, however loose, is deliberately planned rather man the unfortunate result either of Fuller's self-admitted difficulty with form or of the traditionally diffuse, meandering nature of travel writing. Perhaps the letters, tales, poems, extracts from books, and other materials ostensibly unrelated to me trip do not merely pad out an otherwise skimpy narrative, but help control and direct the book's shape and major themes.
In her own literary criticism Fuller joined contemporary calls for new structures that would suit the new matter of America. Imitations of British literature, she insisted, do hot express the fresh American race "with ample field and verge enough to range in and leave every impulse free, and abundant opportunity to develope a genius, wide and full as our rivers, flowery, luxuriant and impassioned as our vast prairies." She looks forward to a time when "our literature [shall] make its own laws, and give its own watch-words." As Bell Gale Chevigny notes, Fuller's literary stance is related to her political—and specifically feminist—radicalism: "She appears to have . . . associated the strictness of literary forms with the confining social forms and to have resented what both cost her in vitality" [The Woman and the Myth: Margaret Fuller's Life and Writings].
According to Fuller, Emerson comes closest to realizing a form free, flexible, and rich enough for new American discoveries in the "life without and life within." She writes of Emerson's detractors, "They were accustomed to an artificial method, whose scaffolding could easily be retraced, and desired an obvious sequence of logical inferences. They insisted there was nothing in what they had heard, because they could not give a clear account of its course and purport. They did not see that Pindar's odes might be very well arranged for their own purpose, and yet not bear translating into the methods of Mr. Locke." Although she is sympathetic to Emerson's experiments in forms ordered by other than classically logical means, she joins his critics in demanding greater unity and coherence: "in no one essay [of Essays: Second Series] is the main stress so obvious as to produce on the mind the harmonious effect of a noble river or a tree in full leaf. Single passages and sentences engage our attention too much in proportion. These Essays, it has been justly said, tire like a string of mosaics or a house built of medals." Such criticism seems ironic from one whose own works were denounced for incoherence and lack of unity, but Fuller was just as hard on herself. In passages published in her Memoirs, she claimed: "I shall never be an artist; I have no patient love of execution; I am delighted with my sketch, but if I try to finish it, I am chilled. Never was there a great sculptor who did not love to chip marble. . . . For all the tides of life that flow within me, I am dumb and ineffectual, when it comes to casting my thought into a form. No old one suits me. If I could invent one, it seems to me the pleasure of creation would make it possible for me to write."
She reveals uneasiness about the structure specifically of Summer on the Lakes. In its last chapter, after an extended series of excerpts from other books, she wishes for "a thread long enough to string on it all these beads that take my fancy"—a metaphor closer to the "string of mosaics or a house built of medals" than to the organic unity of a river or tree. And Higginson quotes a journal entry in which Fuller expresses dissatisfaction especially with the "last part": "I ought to rewrite the Indian chapter, were there but time! It will, I fear, seem desultory and ineffectual, when my materials are so rich; owre rich, perhaps, for my mind does not act on them enough to fuse them." But although it may have fallen below her aims, Summer does represent an attempt more successful than has been acknowledged at the new form and the fused, harmonious whole that she longed for in Emerson's work and her own.
As does much Romantic and post—Romantic writing, the book offers hints about the aesthetic by which it should be judged. Fuller insists that "we must learn to look at [the new Western form of life] by its own standard," and she argues for a "new, original, enchanting" kind of elegance for Western women. This repeated theme can be applied to her book, too; perhaps Summer should be judged by new standards rather than by outmoded literary rules. "What is limitless is alone divine," Fuller says, implying that her book will not be bound within conventional limits. And as an alternative to the structural metaphor of a string of beads, she offers the figure of a "dexterous weaver" who "lets not one color go, till he finds that which matches it in the pattern; he keeps on weaving, but chooses his shades" maybe the book is not so much unrelated sketches strung loosely together as a skillful pattern composed of consciously matched threads.
In the first chapter of Summer, Fuller records her disappointment in Niagara Falls, a sense of anticlimax brought on by her familiarity with pictures and travel literature. Reading about them has removed all freshness and surprise from her own visit to the falls. We might expect, then, that she would attempt a new kind of travel writing, one that avoids conventional objective description and that precludes standard response from the reader. Indeed, Fuller presents a highly subjective excursion that focusses on the perceiver more than the objects perceived and that is designed to make the reader an active participant in the excursion. She offers not the usual guidebook but a "poetic impression of the country at large; it is all I have aimed to communicate." She gives her travel narrative a sense of drama and spontaneity by suggesting that she is composing it in the very process of her travels, rather than ordering and evaluating the whole after the fact. Thus, she speaks in the first sentence of "the, as yet, unknown drama" of the trip. As she goes along, she shows herself deciding what to include and leave out of her book, letting us in on the process of its making.
She uses, also, other techniques to make her book unconventional and to "defamiliarize" her material. She varies the standard structure of a voyage out and back by breaking off her narrative before she has returned to her point of departure. In this way the book—like so many other Romantic works—is essentially a fragment. Summer on the Lakes is fragmentary in other important ways, too. In her poetic epigraphs, Fuller speaks of the book as the product of a broken reed—as some significant fragments left from her trip West. She challenges her readers to create for themselves a magical narrative out of what she has salvaged. In her comments on books about Indians, she returns to the theme of the creative reader generating a valuable work from a flawed text: "it is easy to make images from his hints," she writes of Murray's travels; about Schoolcraft's Algic Researches she says, "We can just guess what might have been there, as we can detect the fine proportions of the Brave whom the bad taste of some white patron has arranged in frock-coat, hat, and pantaloons." And in calling attention to the "hidden vortex" of the Niagara Falls whirlpool, Fuller hints at a similar center in her own book: "the slight circles that mark the hidden vortex, seem to whisper mysteries the thundering voice above could not proclaim,—a meaning as untold as ever." Maybe her readers are to supply the untold meaning not explicitly proclaimed in Summer on the Lakes.
Fuller provides other hints about the active role of the reader in the process of her work. By including in it dialogues, extracts from her reading, and letters, poems, and anecdotes from others, she establishes that Summer is the result of creativity shared by a number of people.
She borrows an observation on Titian's "Venus and Adonis" that is pertinent to her own book: "like all beautiful works, it gains by study." She quotes Justinus Kerner on the freedom of the reader: "I give facts; each reader may interpret them in his own way." Finally, in her closing poem "The Book to the Reader," she not only requests her readers' sympathy and cooperation but also challenges us to experience for ourselves the Western "fruit" that is one subject of her book.
The context of Fuller's loose, fragmented, heterogeneous travel narrative is a period of Romantic experimentation with new forms and aesthetic principles. To convey their sense of complex, unstable, manifold reality, the Romantics developed a dramatic, explorative literature of process—an art that generates moments of insight caught from fleeting, often contradictory perspectives. They frequently employed a loose narrative spine (often some kind of voyage out and back), from which they could branch off at will for imaginative excursions in a number of directions. The focus shifts from the landscape through which the protagonist travels to the protagonist himself or herself—from objective or outer to subjective or inner exploration (Thoreau's "home cosmography"). The resulting works (e.g., The Prelude, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, "Song of Myself," Waiden, Moby-Dick) move away from traditional unity toward a looser coherence based on the writer as protagonist and on interconnecting patterns of related images, moods, and themes. These works are not "formless," as anti-Romantic critics have charged, but are purposely flexible, digressive, and encyclopedic. Thus, in place of works structured according to classical rules and patterns, Augustus Wilhelm Schlegel argues for "a deeper, more intrinsic, and more mysterious unity . . . the Unity of interest." To convey this new sense of unity and structure, Schlegel uses the metaphor of "a mighty stream" which springs from different sources and receives various tributaries (compare Fuller's metaphor for structure quoted earlier, "the harmonious effect of a noble river"): "Why should not the poet be allowed to carry on several, and, for a while, independent streams of human passions and endeavours, down to the moment of their raging junction, if only he place the spectator on an eminence from which he may overlook the whole of their course? And if this great and swollen body of waters again divide into several branches, and pour itself into the sea by several mouths, is it not still one and the same stream?"
Romantic works, then, strive for a deep unity beneath the surface disjointedness, digressiveness, and fragmentation. That surface itself is crucial because it functions to defamiliarize the reader—to prevent stereotyped responses and encourage novelty of perception. The Romantics complicate, disrupt, fragment, and otherwise alter straightforward narrative structures to involve the reader. The fragment, which D. F. Rauber calls "the ultimate Romantic form," becomes "a peculiarly potent means of eliciting active imaginative response." That the Romantics wanted active response from their readers is clear from their pronouncements. Emerson contends in "The American Scholar" that books "are for nothing but to inspire" and that "one must be an inventor to read well. . . . When the mind is braced by labor and invention, the page of whatever book we read becomes luminous with manifold allusion. Every sentence is doubly significant, and the sense of our author is as broad as the world." At the end of A Week, Thoreau declares, "A good book is the plectrum with which our else silent lyres are struck. We not unfrequently refer the interest which belongs to our own unwritten sequel, to the written and comparatively lifeless body of the work. Of all books this sequel is the most indispensable part." And Whitman sums up the new Romantic aesthetic theory under his concept of "Suggestiveness": "I round and finish little, if anything; and could not, consistently with my scheme. The reader will always have his or her part to do, just as I have had mine. I seek less to state or display any theme or thought, and more to bring you, reader, into the atmosphere of the theme or thought—there to pursue your own flight."
Given its contex of Romantic aesthetic experimentation, then, Summer on the Lakes should not be expected to be unified in conventional ways but rather in a looser, more flexible Romantic manner. Besides the structural spine of the (almost) round trip from New York to the upper Midwest, Fuller uses recurrent images, themes, and moods that the cooperative reader weaves together to make a whole fabric from threads apparently unrelated to the trip itself. Those repeated, partially developed images and themes contribute to the suggestiveness noted by early critics. Clarke called the book "full of suggestion, rich in matter, to be read again and again, and to appear new with each new reading." Stetson evaluated the same quality negatively; he complained of "underground associations, unintelligible to those who are not in me secret of her thoughts." But Fuller does, I think, furnish sufficient clues throughout the book to indicate the drift of her thought. Margaret Allen points to one underlying, directing concern: "the theme of Summer is nature and civilization, and their interaction." This theme certainly pervades the work, but it does not appear to encompass such important "digressions" as the stories of Captain P., Mariana, or the Seeress of Prevorst. Perhaps the underlying theme is broader and more inclusive. In parts of the book devoted to nature and civilization (e.g., those on the Indian and on the relation of whites to the land), Fuller stresses the wider theme of an ideal junction of opposites mat cannot last—that ends in disappointment, anticlimax, and wasted potential. This wider theme extends, also, to the frequent examples in the book of unhappy relationships between women and men. The recurrent elements of wasted resources, disjunction, and disappointment occur also in the personal, autobiographical segments of the book, especially in the central story of Mariana. Selfishness, materialism, prejudice, conformity, extremism, inflexibility—the forces mat destroy the Indians, scar the new land, and inhibit the growth of women are the same forces that blight Mariana. Occasional glimpses of an ideal emerge—hints of harmonious junction in the national, social, and personal spheres—but mese glimpses soon vanish, only to emphasize the distance we are from attaining the ideal. Beneath the surface light tone common to travel works, a prophetic, fatalistic vision pervades the whole, as Fuller indicates her sense of great potential mat will never be fulfilled.
Finally, besides its unity of theme and mood, Summer on the Lakes reveals a tighter architectonic structure than critics have claimed for it. Fuller arranges parallels, contrasts, and cross-references to create a series of paired chapters around the physical, thematic, and emotional center in Chapter IV:
Poetic Epigraphs (pp. 1-2)
Chapter I (pp. 3-13)
Chapter II (pp. 14-42)
Chapter III (pp. 43-69)
Chapter IV (pp. 70-108)
Chapter V (pp. 109-168)
Chapter VI (pp. 169-236)
Chapter VII (pp. 237-255)
Concluding Poem (pp. 255-256)
The epigraphs introduce both the theme of disappointment and a challenge to the active involvement of the reader. Fuller counts herself with the "moderns" who "their tale can only tell / In dull words, with a poor reed / Breaking at each time of need"). She hints that her book is fragmentary, incomplete—an unsatisfactory attempt to convey the summer excursion. But, she claims, despite its shortcomings, the book can be redeemed—can be understood and appreciated—by careful readers: "those to whom a hint suffices." These readers will create a coherent whole from the hints and fragments that Fuller provides. The second epigraph again stresses disappointment and failure: "I give you what I can, not what I would . . . In our dwarf day we drain few drops, and soon must thirst again." Once more she talks of fragments, the hints which readers must use to create their own experience in the process of reading. Among those fragments are "an eagle's feather which adorned a Brave, / Well-nigh the last of his despairing band." Fuller thus introduces two motifs (eagle and Indian) that recur as important threads in the tapestry of Summer and that come to symbolize opportunities lost and nobility and vitality now destroyed.
The opening epigraphs create a frame with the concluding poem "The Book to the Reader." Here, too, Fuller emphasizes the failure of her book, which can offer only remnants of her experience in the West. She likens Summer to a "dish of homely sweets," "blackberry jam" mat will not taste as good as berries that we could pick fresh ourselves. Again she invites our active participation—first in the direct experience of the West ("But the best pleasure such a fruit can yield, / Is to be gathered in the open field") and also in reading the book that she has made of her experiences. "Read me, even as you would be read," she says, since the book does become a collaboration between her and her readers.
Chapter I begins with some conventional thoughts about Niagara Falls (a spectacle "great enough to fill the whole life, and supercede thought"). Yet immediately Fuller confesses, "We have been here eight days, and I am quite willing to go away." One problem is that she experienced no surprise at the falls; prepared by books, drawings, and the panorama, "I knew where to look for everything, and everything looked as I thought it would." She does feel a moment of "undefined dread" proper to conventional appreciation of this sublime scene, but her main impression is one of anticlimax: "When I arrived in sight of them I merely felt, 'ah, yes, here is the fall, just as I have seen it in picture'." She finds herself "provoked with my stupidity in feeling most moved in the wrong place"—that is, at the rapids before the falls instead of at the falls themselves. "Happy were the first discoverers of Niagara," she writes, "those who could come unawares upon this view and upon that, whose feelings were entirely their own." This is her first experience of disjunction, as civilization keeps her from fully enjoying a natural spectacle. She cannot look at the falls with the fresh vision or surprise and astonishment that Father Hennepin recounts.
Her experience of Niagara is diminished by other irritants, too. The man who appropriates the falls to his own use by spitting into them symbolizes an age obsessed by utility. Although Fuller hopes that such is not "truly the age or truly the America," her subsequent discoveries diminish that hope considerably. Also, Jack Downing, who views the falls as "his great water-privilege," told her "all about the Americanisms of the spectacle; that is to say, the battles that have been fought here"—to which she responds, "It seems strange that men could fight in such a place." These misuses of a natural resource are followed by another—the chaining and tormenting of an eagle, which Fuller links to a chained eagle from her childhood that elicited her intense sympathy.
Disappointment and anticlimax also pervade the last chapter of Summer on the Lakes. The rapids at Sault St. Marie parallel in impressiveness those at Niagara, yet Fuller is again let down by her experience. After "shooting" diese rapids in a canoe, she "was somewhat disappointed in this being no more of an exploit than I found it." She also found "quite a disappointment" the launching of the "noble boat, the Wisconsin . . . which could not be made to stir." Perhaps her chief disappointment was that "I shall not see the Pictured Rocks, their chapels and urns. It did not depend on me; it never has, whether such things shall be done or not." This incident prompts an outburst of protest mat extends beyond this one, apparently minor, opportunity lost: "My friends! may they see, and do, and be more, especially those who have before them a greater number of birthdays, and of a more healthy and unfettered existence." She thus looks back to the fettered eagle of Chapter I and she crystallizes in this one occasion the other disappointments and lost opportunities recorded in the previous chapters. She had already mentioned reading books "in anticipation of a canoe-voyage on Lake Superior as far as the Pictured Rocks," thereby pointing her narrative forward to this anticlimax. Yet remembering her disillusionment after reading about and then seeing Niagara gara Falls, we must wonder if a trip to the Pictured Rocks would not in any case have been disappointing. Her various frustrations inspire Fuller's longing for another world, a motif that recurs throughout the book: "Bear me to thy better world . . . Take me to that far-off shore, / Where lovers meet to part no more."
Besides the themes of disappointment and anticlimax, other parallels and contrasts link I and VII as framing chapters. For example, the fantasy at Niagara Falls of literary, Cooper-style Indians—"naked savages stealing behind me with uplifted tomahawks"—contrasts with the pitiful reality that Fuller confronts at Sault St. Marie: the "broken and degraded condition" of real Indians, their "greatness, unique and precious" now vanished. The deformation that some see in the buildings at Niagara Falls parallels the "blemishes" that the begging Indians leave behind at the Sault. The section on Niagara as a battlefield anticipates the discussion of General Hull's surrender of Detroit in the War of 1812. In both chapters Fuller refers to "a dream within a dream." Finally, Fuller's praise of novelty and her lament over lacking any sense of freshness and wonder at Niagara find parallels in the last chapter. She writes,
We get the better [of the Indians] because we do
"Look before and after."
But, from the same cause, we
"Pine for what is not."
Books and art let her "look before" at what previous visitors saw at Niagara, thus preventing the novel experience that she then pines for. In a related passage, a ship captain sees for the first time the ruins of an old English fort on Point St. Joseph's, although he has sailed by them many times: "He presented a striking instance how men, for the sake of getting a living, forget to live." Just as one product of civilization (books and art) interferes with Fuller's appreciation of Niagara, another manifestation of civilization (business or busyness) prevents the captain from appreciating a beautiful landscape available to him. The incident prompts Fuller to restate an ideal which she has mentioned in several previous chapters: "We want a more equal, more thorough, more harmonious development, and there is nothing to hinder from it the men of this country, except their own supineness, or sordid views."
Fuller sets up II and VI as another pair of matched chapters by including in them another series of cross-references, parallels, and contrasts. In Chapter II she arrives at Mackinaw too late to go ashore but promises that "I shall see it to more purpose on my return"; she thus points forward to Chapter VI, where she does explore the island at length. In Chapter II she glimpses her first Indians and briefly reviews books about them; most of Chapter VI is devoted to Indians and consists of extracts from the Indian books. In both chapters, too, she refers to the Wickapee flower, which she associates with Indian culture.
More substantially, in these paired chapters she presents examples of an ideal—of harmonious junction and growth on individual, social, and regional levels—but she then goes on to suggest that the ideal will not be fulfilled, despite the wonderful opportunities that the West offers. Chapter II begins and ends with glimpses of an ideal union of opposing energies. In the opening dialogue, Fuller assumes the role of gnome, which she portrays as an alchemist and poet. Rejecting J.'s condemnation of gnomish materialism, M. (Margaret) sees the gold that the gnomes produce as "the last expression of vital energy" and the earth, the gnomes' dwelling, as "spirit made fruitful,—life." This junction of the material and spiritual is crucial for this chapter and the entire book. She concludes the chapter with a tour through land that seems another union of the earthly and spiritual, of the human and divine. The section is pervaded by images of heaven, fairyland, and harmony.
Glimpses of ideal, harmonious landscapes and of opposites joined appear also in Chapter VI. Fuller finds at Mackinaw "an old French town, mellow in its coloring, and with the harmonious effect of a slow growth, which assimilates, naturally, with objects around it. The people in its streets, Indian, French, half-breeds, and others, walked with a leisure step, as of those who live a life of taste and inclination, rather than of the hard press of business, as in American towns elsewhere." She writes that, for the Indians, "All places, distinguished in any way by nature, aroused the feelings of worship." She thus associates herself with the Indians; in Chapter II she described the trees of Ross' grove as "large enough to form with their clear stems pillars for grand cathedral aisles. There was space enough for crimson light to stream through upon the floor of water which the shower had left. As we slowly plashed through, I thought I was never in a better place for vespers." She gives two important examples of white men living in concord with Indians: Alexander Henry, "who combines some of the good qualities of both [races]; . . . the sentiment and thoughtfulness of the one, with the boldness, personal resource, and fortitude of the other," and Governor Everett of Massachusetts, whose address to the Indian chiefs features various images of harmony between the races (e.g., "they are all one branch, one family. . . . May the oak and the sapling flourish a long time together").
But these glimpses of harmony and junction are overwhelmed by evidence in both Chapter II and VI that the potential ideals will not be realized—that opportunities for combining the best of opposites are being wasted and will not come again. Fuller sees indications of failure from the very start of her trip West. She writes of the people on her boat, "It grieved me to hear these immigrants who were to be the fathers of a new race, all, from the old man down to the little girl, talking not of what they should do, but of what they should get in the new scene. It was to them a prospect, not of the unfolding nobler energies, but of more ease, and larger accumulation. It wearied me, too, to hear Trinity and Unity discussed in the poor, narrow doctrinal way on these free waters." The theme of the old narrow theology coming West and diminishing chances of genuine renewal appears again in the corresponding Chapter VI. Here Fuller condemns "the stern Presbyterian, with his dogmas and his task-work," for failing to integrate the Indian and his values into the changing order of the West, and thereby destroying an opportunity to make him "a valuable ingredient in the new state." Most whites, she maintains, are religious "only to mask their iniquity" against the Indians. Even those who are sincere in their religion do wrong to impose that religion on the Indians.
In both chapters, the glimpses of a slow, organic growth that joins the natural and manmade in harmony give way to visions of ugly "mushroom growth": "The march of peaceful is scarce less wanton than that of warlike invasion. The old landmarks are broken down, and the land, for a season, bears none, except of the rudeness of conquest and the needs of the day, whose bivouac fires blacken the sweetest forest glades." Although in Chapter II Fuller says, "I trust by reverent faith to woo the mighty meaning of the scene, perhaps to forsee the law by which a new order, a new poetry is to be evoked from this chaos," she finds in subsequent chapters little justification for that faith and hope. Rather, the emphasis remains on destruction rather than valuable new construction. She talks in Chapter II of the "fire-ships" (steamboats), the "demons of a new dynasty," that have stripped the Manitou Islands of their best trees; in Chapter VI she links the disappearance of the Indian with the felling of forests and she quotes a traveller's observation that "the atmosphere of the trees does not agree with Caucasian lungs; and it is, perhaps, in part, an instinct of this, which causes the hatred of the new settlers towards trees."
Even the Indian encampments that first seemed symbols of harmony contain evidence of disjunction between white and red. Fuller includes in her picturesque descriptions reminders of "ignominious servitude and slow decay" and of the "firewater" with which whites are subverting the Indians. The ideal union of white and red represented by Everett and Henry will not occur. Fuller sees little likelihood of an amalgamation that would combine the best qualities of both races. As a rule, she says, mixed breeds are inferior, and, anyway, the callous, materialistic, self-righteous whites that she describes in Chapter VI are more likely to exterminate than incorporate the Indians. She points to the shameless treatment of the civilized Cherokees: "There was a chance of seeing what might have been done, now lost forever." As a result, man "loses in harmony of being what he gains in height and extension; the civilized man is a larger mind, but a more imperfect nature than the savage."
Finally, among the other images of disjunction and failed relationships in these paired chapters are a corresponding set of disastrous marriages. In Chapter II Fuller tells the story of Captain P., a "spiritual" man tragically mismatched to the "hard and material" Fanny; in Chapter VI she recounts the Indian myth of the marriage between an Indian brave and a she-bear—"a poetical expression of the sorrows of unequal relations." In both stories, the junction of opposites leads not to ideal, harmonious growth but to tragedy and wasted potential.
Chapters III and V are also related by specific cross-references and common themes. Both focus on the (ultimately unrealized) ideal of joining heaven and earth, nature and mankind, with particular attention to women. Chapter II opens with three days in "Elysium," the Rock River area of Illinois, which Fuller describes in terms of heaven and Eden. She draws heavily on the literature of landscape gardening, turning Illinois into a garden monument to the harmony between man and nature: "But Nature all-astonished stands, to find / Her plan protected by the human mind."
This Edenic, harmonious landscape represents the opportunities offered by the West—"a new country and a new life." But, according to Fuller, "the great drawback upon the lives of these settlers, at present, is the unfitness of the women for their new lot . . . a lot which would be full of blessings for those prepared for it." Because of their upbringing in the East, in a society that does not use their potential, women cannot take advantage of the opportunities that the West offers. They are hampered by "reference to European standards" which prevent original growth in the new Western soil. Their education, especially, unfits them for the new life and contentment they might otherwise enjoy." Another hindrance to the ideal union of heaven and earth, man and nature, is the narrow materialism of most settlers, people who "had no thought beyond satisfying the grossest material wants." Despite the elysian setting of their homes, Fuller finds the typical settler's house "repulsive"; she is struck by "the slovenliness of the dwelling and the rude way in which objects around it were treated, when so little care would have presented a charming whole." Once again she contrasts the whites and Indians, using new imagery: "Wherever the hog comes, the rattlesnake disappears; the omnivorous traveller, safe in its stupidity, willingly and easily makes a meal of the most dangerous of reptiles, and one whom the Indian looks on with a mystic awe."
Alongside this imagery appropriate to the region are references to the classical myths of Ganymede and Hyacinth. Both myths concern a union of the earthly and divine. Ganymede is the mortal boy chosen by Zeus and granted a glimpse of heaven, which now torments him in his earth-bound condition as he longs for the junction that cannot yet be. Hyacinth is the mortal loved by both Apollo and Zephyrus and killed through the latter's jealousy. In both cases, the potential union of human and divine is frustrated, just as the western settlers fail to realize their heaven on earth because of their materialism and failure to fulfill the potential of women.
Chapter V is linked explicitly to Chapter III. Fuller compares Milwaukee, the setting of V, with the Rock River region of III: "I saw not those majestic sweeps, those boundless distances, those heavenly fields; it was not the same world." Parallel to Ganymede and Hyacinth is the story here of Venus and Adonis, another brief junction of the human and divine which ends in "the tragedy of a breaking tie." Just as Black Hawk returned to what once was his Illinois home, an Indian returns to his former home in Milwaukee, thereby angering the new white owner of the land. Just as the Edenic settings of Illinois reveal, upon closer inspection, houses that Fuller finds out of character with their environment, she now happens upon a "very Eden" which turns out actually to be ravaged by sickness, care, and labor. Just as she earlier enjoyed the hospitality of an Irish gentleman's mansion, she now accepts shelter with the destitute Pottawattamies. And just as she saw most Illinois women unfit for Western life and therefore miserable, she discovers in Wisconsin "a contented woman, the only one I heard of out there"; the others "found their labors disproportioned to their strength, if not to their patience; and, while their husbands and brothers enjoyed the country in hunting or fishing, they found themselves confined to a comfortless and laborious indoor life."
Much of Chapter V is devoted to the Seeress of Prevorst, a "digression" which many readers have found disturbing. If this section were included only because Fuller happened to read about the German spiritualist while she was at Milwaukee, Summer on the Lakes might well suffer from incoherence and padding. But the story picks up and develops many of the threads that Fuller has all along been weaving through her tapestry. By way of a preface to the Seeress, Fuller (here taking the role of "Free Hope") urges "apprehending the infinite results of every day," and she claims, "All my days are touched by the supernatural." She thus offers in her own example and that of the Seeress the junction of earth and heaven that appears throughout Summer as a tantalizing but infrequently realized ideal. She finds the Seeress a "strong contrast with the life around me." Unlike the materialistic Western settlers, the Seeress reveals "the development of the spiritual in the fleshly eye . . . the faculty for prophetic dreams and the vision of spirits." Her "peculiar inward life" and "inward state" contrast with the merely external life of the settlers. Yet, like the other women in Summer, the Seeress becomes the victim of an oppressive social system. Upon her marriage, "she was obliged hourly to forsake her inner home, to provide for an outer, which did not correspond with it." Unfitted as she is for her new life—as are most of the women Fuller finds in the American West—she breaks down physically even as she grows spiritually.
The Seeress thus becomes another example of disjunction. In leading "an almost disembodied life," she moves away from Fuller's ideal of the harmonious conjunction of opposites. In the Seeress "spirit and soul seemed often divided, and the spirit to have taken up its abode in other regions, while the soul was yet bound to the body." She provides a counterbalance to the western settlers, but does not herself represent the ideal because she goes too far in the opposite direction. As Fuller argues in her summation of the Seeress, "the functions should be in equipose, and when they are not, when we see excess either on the natural . . . or the spiritual side, we feel that the law is transgressed."
The Seeress provides, then, yet another example of potential not realized—of an ideal not maintained or developed. Her own life, along with the ghosts that she sees, illustrates once again Fuller's recurring theme of opportunities lost: "The Hades she imagines is based in fact, for it is one of souls, who, having neglected their opportunities for better life, find themselves left forlorn, helpless."
Chapter IV is the central chapter of the book numerically and thematically. It is unusual in that it has, explicitly, very little to do with Fuller's trip West. Back in Chicago, she does not write about the places and people diere but inserts poetry and letters received from friends, fills most of the chapter with the story of Mariana, and then closes with material from her reading. In a letter to Emerson, Fuller describes the chapter as a grab-bag or miscellany: "I shall bring in with brief criticisms of books read diere, a kind of letter box, where I shall put a part of one of S. Ward's letters, one of Ellery's and apropos to that July moon beneath whose influences I received it, a letter containing Triformis." While this chapter, even more than the others, might seem to justify criticism of Summer on the Lakes for incoherence and padding, Fuller may have tighter control here than critics have suggested.
First, she includes materials from other writers as part of her Romantic program for demonstrating that any work of art is a collaboration. As David Luke argues, letters, especially, represent "an appeal for shared creativity as an expression of friendship." Second, the materials that she includes in this central chapter are not random or unrelated to the rest of the book. Radier, they recapitulate and focus major images and themes from the whole work.
J. F. Clarke's poem "Triformis," for example, is another expression of disappointment in the relationships between men and women. The affair that begins as a potential "treasure" of "undeveloped destinies" ends with "miles of polar ice" parting the two lovers. The poem typifies the pattern that Fuller has been varying throughout Summer on the Lakes: a glimpse of an ideal, followed by disillusion when that ideal is not realized. The letter from the painter, too, picks up important themes from previous chapters and looks forward to later ones. The painter sketches himself as an archetypal Traveller driven by "insatiable desire" for the secrets of "a far-off world" and for a "pathway to a world beyond." The Traveller thus represents an urge to leave this world for a better, a theme that Fuller also treats in sections devoted to the Lorelie, Ganymede, the Seeress of Prevorst, and some of her own moods. Again through the painter's letter, Fuller returns to the theme of ideal organic, harmonious progress opposed to the "rapid progress here" in the West.
The center of the chapter and the book—and perhaps its "hidden vortex"—is the story of Mariana. This fictionalized autobiography would be entirely out of place in travel writing before the Romantic period, with its conventions of objectivity and impersonality. With Romantic literary experimentation, however, travel writing changed significantly. Subjectivity now replaced objectivity as a standard. A reviewer for Putnam's summarized the change of taste: "It is not the things seen, nor the difficulty surmounted, but the man and the hero who sees and surmounts, that interests us." More recently, William C. Spengemann insists that the "true Romantic travel narrative has dispensed with physical travel." Thus, if Waiden is Thoreau's record of inward travel and exploration (see especially the first two paragraphs of ), Summer on the Lakes is Fuller's account of internal as well as external travel and so appropriately centers on "Mariana." As Stetson wrote in his review, the book is "in a high degree subjective . . . evidently she is much more occupied with what is passing in her own soul, than with the objective realities which present themselves to the senses."
The story of Mariana illustrates the book's central themes of disappointment, disjunction, and opportunities lost. We learn from the start that "Mariana, so full of life, was dead." In the first part, Fuller pictures her idealized alter ego as an energetic, imaginative child with a "touch of genius and power." Through the envy and malice of her classmates, who cannot tolerate her nonconformity, Mariana becomes a "genius of discord among them." She recovers her ability to love, however, and once more brings her classmates together, united in their love for her. In this first section, Fuller links Mariana to the Seeress by references to her poetic abilities, sleepwalking, and "strong convulsions"; the Seeress herself is a sleepwalker, poet, and victim of "convulsions and spasm." Mariana resembles the Seeress in the second part of her story, too, as her energies are wasted and her inner life disrupted by her own excesses and marriage to a one-dimensional businessman. "Sylvain became the kind, but preoccupied husband, Mariana, the solitary and wretched wife." Mariana comes to typify "a fine sample of womanhood" who is "born to shed light and life on some palace home" but who instead wastes away in a frustrating domestic captivity. Like the Traveller at the beginning of the chapter and the other defeated questers in the book, she laments that "love passed me by," leaving her with a "thirst that none can still."
Fuller argues that "such women as Mariana are often lost, unless they meet some man of sufficiently great soul to prize them." This is a transition to the last part of the central chapter, devoted to Philip Van Artevelde and Morris Birkbeck. Bom represent types of men who might have redeemed Mariana by letting her grow and live up to her full potential. Van Artevelde becomes for Fuller a symbol of the ideal conjunction of opposite qualities. "When will this country have such a man?," she asks; "It is what she needs; no min Idealist, no coarse Realist, but a man whose eye reads the heavens while his feet step firmly on the ground, and his hands are strong and dexterous for the use of human implements . . . [Such men possess] prescience, as the wise man must, but not so far as to be driven mad to-day by the gift which discerns tomorrow [an allusion, perhaps, to the Seeress]. When there is such a man for America, the thought which urges her on will be expressed."
Birkbeck, too, functions as an ideal, the answer for both Mariana and America: "Freedom, the liberty of law, not license; not indolence, work for himself and children and all men, but under genial and poetic influences;—these were his aims. How different from those of the new settiers in general!" Yet such men as Van Artevelde "come not so often as once an age," and as for Birkbeck, "death prematurely cut short his plans." The central chapter ends on a note of frustration and pessimism, of ideals unrealized and opportunities lost.
The book as a whole ends on much the same note. Returning to Buffalo, Fuller encounters a "shabbily dressed phrenologist" whose phony spiritualism contrasts with the true inner dimension of a Seeress of Prevorst or Morris Birkbeck. She sees "knots of people gathered here and mere to discuss points of theology," just as on the boat out she heard "Trinity and Unity discussed in the poor, narrow doctrinal way." Apparently their trip west has not given these people the new vision mat Fuller had hoped for. Instead of taking advantage of the freedom and novelty afforded by the West, they are more likely to establish in me West the old narrow notions that they brought with them. Fuller is buoyed up a little to hear some people "discussing the doctrines of Fourier." But, she remarks, "It seemed pity they were not going to, ramer than from, me rich and free country where it would be so much easier, than with us, to try the great experiment of voluntary association." (Three years after the publication of Summer, the collapse of Fourierist Brook Farm confirmed her fears.) Fuller concludes her book with this last indication of possibilites mat will not likely be realized—of disappointment over opportunities missed.
Summer on the Lakes possesses, men, if not the tidiness mat Orestes Brownson looked for in woman, at least a greater degree of unity and coherence than it has been credited with. Brownson seems correct, however, in describing Summer as "a sad book." We might justly apply to it Fuller's own remark about Goethe's Elective Affinities: "There is indeed a sadness, as of an irresistible fatality, brooding over the whole."
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 8347
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 literary celebrity with increasing political power, she had a forum from which to advocate reform—a position enjoyed by few other women in America. At this moment, the obsessive, mythical quality simply disappears from Fuller's writing—either because she was too busy to indulge earlier moods or because she had simply outgrown them. In March 1845 Fuller noted the change in her position as a shift from "personal relations" to a "public career": "I have given almost all my young energies to personal relations. I no longer feel inclined to this, and wish to share and impel the general stream of thought."
But the recognition mat 1844 is the watershed year in Fuller's emotional and imaginative development does not explain what happened that year. Again, the best evidence is contained in the poems that document a remarkable progression through a sequence of psychological and mythic encounters. Fuller was never to come this close again to achieving in her art a consciousness of her private demons and angels. We might read the poems of this year as a progressive act of exorcism—a psychological healing that once and for all closed the door on many of Fuller's deepest obsessions. Whatever the truth of the matter, a number of the poems she composed rank among her finest artistic achievements.
A note of anguish is struck by what are probably the earliest of Fuller's 1844 poems—"I wish I were where Helen lies" and "Death opens her sweet white arms." Written on 22 April, these poems strike a chord of despondency that brought Fuller as close as she was to come to thoughts of suicide. In the first, the Poet contrasts her desolate position with that of a "lover in times of old" who laments the death of Helen. The bereft lover, she argues has at least known happiness; for "Who wholly loves has known the whole, / The wholly loved doth truly live." In contrast, the Poet's situation is one of loveless solitude:
But some, sad outcasts from this prize,
Wither down to a lonely grave,
All hearts their hidden love despise
And leave them to the whelming wave.
They heart to heart have never pressed,
Nor hands in holy pledge have given,
By father's love were ne'er caressed,
Nor in a mother's eye saw heaven.
A flowerless and fruitless tree,
A dried up stream, a mateless bird,
They live, yet never living be,
They die, their music all unheard.
"Loved passed me by," the Poet laments, portraying herself as a homeless child doomed to wander in a forbidding world. A "lost lover," she becomes the "prey and spoil" of others who use her ramer than comforting her.
Cut off from the world of human love, her only hope is the promise of divine charity:
But oh this thirst that none can still
Save those unfounden waters free;
The angel of my life should fill
And soothe me to Eternity.
As we shall see, the movement from human to divine love is the course that Fuller takes during this pivotal year.
On the same manuscript sheet, a second poem offers an even starker portrait of Fuller's condition:
Opens her sweet white arms and whispers,
Come say thy sorrows in this bosom! This
Will never close against thee; and my heart
Though cold cannot be colder much than man's.
We can surmise that a number of factors contributed to Fuller's depression: a general malaise and discontent that seems to date from her 1843 trip to the west, her ill health the following winter, and the second distribution of her father's estate in March. But perhaps the deepest wound resulted from the pregnancies of Fuller's sister Ellen, Hawthorne's wife Sophia, and Emerson's wife Lydia. In December 1842, Fuller had written that "the darkest hue on my own lot is that I have neither children, nor yet am the parent of beautiful works by which the thought of my life might be represented to another generation." Fuller's comments in her letters and in her published writings make it clear that she did not see motherhood as the only option for women. She noted, for example, in a July letter to Emerson that "the saddest position in the world must be that of some regal dame to whom husband, court, kingdom, world, look in vain for an heir!" But at the same time, it is clear that the pregnancies and childbirths of three of her women friends touched her very deeply.
On one level, they seem to have awakened a complex set of associations that embodied some of her deepest feelings about birth and death. When Ellen's child was born in late May, Fuller was reminded of an earlier birth that became a death: "Our youngest brother Edward, who died while I held him, was born on my eighteenth birthday, and given to me. . . . If this child dies, too, her uncle will be grown to about the angelic size in the other world and can take care of her." Fuller herself was a "parent" on 23 May (to recall the terms of her 1842 letter): she completed the composition of Summer on the Lakes on that date (her birthday) and then visited Mount Auburn Cemetery and "walked gently among the graves." This conjunction of birth and death, of creativity and mourning, is typical of Fuller's imaginative rhythms. Echoing the terms of her 1840-41 spiritual crisis, it suggests that once again Fuller was returning to mourning as a gateway to her deepest psychological energies. Striking a prolonged note of melancholy, her 1844 journals displace the act of mourning from external figures entirely onto Fuller's self-image. Depicting herself as a bereft and loveless maiden, Fuller begins to work through the anguish she felt at her inability to occupy a traditional female role. Although Fuller's catastrophic infatuation with James Nathan in 1845 revealed the persistent lure of the Muse/true woman role, after 1844 she was able to play the part of the unconventional woman (Minerva) without falling into the abyss of melancholy. This is tantamount to saying that, during 1844, Fuller finally started to become "Minerva"—the unconventional, unmarried woman "betrothed to the sun."
Significantly, the childbirths surrounding Fuller during this period resonate with a set of images in her letters that depict her experiencing an analogous process of pregnancy and birth. "As fire lays open, and the plough awakes a virgin soil," she writes in October 1843, "successions of seeds are called into development, which the powers of nature had generated in different moods." In November, she remarks that "after preparation of unknown length beneath the soil, an unexpected plant springs up and shadows all the remaining scene." Writing to Anna Barker Ward the next month, she imagines stirring within herself "the tree born to lift its head" in order to bless with many a blossom the struggles of its root to establish itself in the cold dark earth." In January 1844, she writes Emerson that "I have enjoyed a consciousness of inward ripening"—a phrase that could easily be applied to an expectant mother's consciousness of the quickening of her fetus. Finally, in what could be interpreted as a powerful womb image, Fuller writes Caroline Sturgis in August that "Life opens again before me, longer avenues, darker caves, adorned with richer crystals!"
Characteristically, Fuller translates her own ambivalences about motherhood into powerful mythic images of maternity. Cut off by personal circumstances from the actual experience of bearing and nurturing a child, she is still able to imagine herself as sharing maternal qualities. In May 1844, Fuller sends her friend Anna Loring a pin bearing the image of Raphael, "who, beyond all others, was worthy to depict the holy Virgin, the Mother of a holy child." Several weeks later, in a revealing slip of the pen, she suggests a maternal relationship to her younger brothers by observing in a letter to Caroline Sturgis: "I did not know then I should have such a large family of sons." In the letter to Charming (previously cited) in which Fuller enjoins him to preserve her "flower-pieces," she clearly ties her self-image with the image of her mother. Fuller's adoption of a maternal role is also evident in the letter she wrote Sarah Shaw in September. "If you can feel towards me as a Mother, after knowing me so long," she writes, "I should not be afraid to accept the sacred trust." But in the most striking passage of all, Fuller compares herself to the goddess Ceres seeking for her lost child, Persephone. Commenting on the possibility that Caroline Sturgis may not be able to visit her in New York, she observes: "But if not so, Ceres is well accustomed to wander, seeking the other Magna Dea, and to be refused the cup of milk by the peasant."
It is easy enough to assert that, during 1844, Fuller felt stirring within the gestation and birth of creative powers that manifested themselves in her writing. On one level, this rings true. But the reference to "Ceres" and "Magna Dea" above compels us to examine these images more deeply. Corresponding to such passages in the letters are numerous poetic evocations of powerful goddesses or archetypal female powers: the waxing moon, Virgin Mother, Leila, Diana, Hecate, Sphynx, and Isis. Such mythic figures suggest the forces welling up from Fuller's unconscious, at the same time they point outward from Fuller's expanding self to a wider circle of reference. Given Fuller's actions by the end of 1844—her visits with female prisoners at Sing-Sing, her growing commitment to the plight of abandoned and imprisoned women, her comments on the position of women in Woman in the Nineteenth Century—we can see that these goddess-figures both symbolize her own creative power and bond her with other women. Summoning the goddess, Fuller both reveals a hidden part of herself and releases myths that embody an ideal of Woman for her forgotten sisters. Once she recovered the goddess in 1844, Fuller was able to turn the next year to new roles that enabled her to manifest in public ways the nurturing qualities that she had found through Her.
Two poems written in early May demonstrate the powerful mythic material that Fuller was uncovering. The first, enclosed in her 3 May letter to Caroline Sturgis, returns to one of the central symbols orienting her 1840-41 spiritual crisis. "I live, I am—The carbuncle is found," Fuller had written ecstatically to Sturgis on 8 September 1840. Then, on 22 October of that year, she presented the carbuncle as the goal of her quest: "I would now steal away over golden sands, through silent flowery meadows father still through darkest forests 'full of heavenly vows' into the very heart of the untrodden mountain where the carbuncle has lit the way to veins of yet undreamed of diamond." Now in 1844, she returns to the carbuncle as a mystical talisman that might defend a close friend:
Slow wandering on a tangled way
To their lost child pure spirits say
The diamond marshal thee by day;
By night the carbuncle defend
Hearts-blood of a bosom friend. . . .
Read in relation to the poem "I wish I were where Helen lies," written two weeks before, the image of the "lost child" is revealing. In the earlier poem, Fuller had portrayed herself as a lost child wandering in a hostile world; here she imagines a source of protection, a talisman that connects the lost child to a realm of protecting spirits. Many of Fuller's poems during the next seven months seem to perform a similar talismanic function. Relieving her of the burdens of isolated selfhood, they link her with a region of transcendent spiritual power.
In a poem written just two days later, on 5 May, Fuller locates that region in the depths of the psyche. "Four times the form upon the dreamer's eye / Has dawned," she begins, recounting four similar dreams that struck her as moments of revelation. The first moment came to her as "The Revelation of all Poesy"; the second, recalling the 1835 poem to Anna Barker, is an escape from "crushing dull despair." In the poem to Barker (discussed above), Fuller portrayed herself reaching up frantic arms toward a benevolent figure "with soft eyes, beaming the tenderest love." Here, the same figure returns, but with an important amplification—she has started to take on the lineaments of the Virgin Mother:
My eyes were upward turned, when
A gaze met mine; Oh of such love benign,
Such melting love, such heavenly human love,
As mothers feel when in their virgin hearts
First stirs the folded dove. . . .
Anticipating the exultant Christianity of poems to be written later that summer—works such as "Virgin Mother Mary mild" and "Sub Rosa-Crux"—this image suggests one direction Fuller's imagination was carrying her—toward images of a nurturing goddess-figure who would eventually combine aspects of the Virgin Mother with those of Diana and Isis. Again, we notice the displacement and sublimation of the image of pregnancy into a spiritual context: the "folded dove" stirring within the Mother who reaches down toward her lost daughter.
Fuller presents the third moment of revelation as a feeling "Of intimate communion far more full / Than ever known before in any hour." But the account of the fourth dream is the most striking, because of Fuller's vivid dramatization of her spiritual and psychological condition:
I had walked forth alone, seeking in vain
After dull days of many petty cares,
Of petty, seemingly of useless cares,
To find again my nobler life,—again
To weave the web which, from the frosty ground,
Should keep the tender feet of prisoned Queen,
Or wrap the breast of weeping beggar child,
Or curtain from the saint a wicked world,
Or,—if but rightly woven were this web
For any, for all uses it were fit:
But I had lost the shuttle from my hand. . . .
Again, the image of the lost child appears; but here, the Poet imagines herself as once capable of achieving a "nobler life" of creative expression that might protect her from such vulnerability. She has woven the protecting "web"; she might do so again, if she can find the lost "shuttle." After such a preface, Fuller's account of the fourth dream, a moment that "left a deep calmness in my heart" presages a return to queenly power. Significantly, Fuller last portrayed herself as a queen in 1840. Now, she senses a renewed accession of regal power—a power that seems linked to the lesson that her fourth dream provides her: "Flow with thy Destiny, and serve thy Fate."
Fuller's poetry during the month of May reverberates around the two poles defined in "Four times the form upon the dreamer's eye." Images of solitude, loss, and isolation are matched by an increasingly articulated vision of an ideal realm that becomes Fuller's "Fate." In "When no gentle eye beam charms," she contrasts the absence of hope and comfort with a "better world" where "The star of love shall set no more." Another poem, written just a few days later, concludes with a prayer:
The heart of stone in me renew
A heart of marble pure and white,
Sculptured with characters of light
For when all souls all love may know,
And their true core time's falseness show
Then hard and soft together flow
And marble melting like the snow
With sunset rays shall roseate glow.
Imagining her self transfused with a glowing radiant spirit, Fuller evokes a moment of grace that redeems her present isolation.
This vision of grace is amplified in "The temple soared"—a poem that Fuller later revised and included in Woman in the Nineteenth Century. "In the inmost shrine," she writes, "Stands the image divine / Only seen / by those whose deeds have worthy been." This vision, Fuller concludes, is offered by "truth" who "assumes the wand of Love." This truth is attired either in a "robe of green" or "Winter's silver sheen," a "White, pure as light" that "Is fit alike for bridal vest, or gentle shroud." The disturbing conflation of life and death, bridal veil and shroud, is matched by the imagery of another poem written at about the same time, "Boding raven of the breast." The Poet has been haunted by a "boding raven," a "vulture"; yet she maintains the hope that the "vulture may become a Dove." This spiritual transformation will be enacted through a ritual that combines aspects of baptism, burial, and marriage:
Let the humble linnet sing
Of the assured, if distant Spring;
While I baptize in the pure wave,
Then prepare a deep safe grave.
Where the plighted hand may bring
Violets from that other spring.
Whence the soul may take its flight
Lark-like spiral seeking light
Seeking secure the source of light.
While the precise referents of these images are impossible to determine—what is that other spring?—it is clear that this poem enacts a ritual burial associated with the past (a burial of the past?). The Poet's "plighted hand," presumably a sign of her marriage to the spirit, similar to the "woman betrothed to the sun" in Woman in the Nineteenth Century, strews flowers upon a grave—a ritual of mourning that becomes a spiritual release, freeing her soul to a "lark-like spiral seeking light."
"To the Apollo on my pin" depicts an analogous process of transformation. Composed 3 June and later revised and copied into Fuller's letter of 3 November, this poem imagines Apollo as a heavenly singer who achieves a larger consciousness of life" through the sublimation of disappointed love into artistic creation. Although Apollo "loved in vain so many lovely forms" and was left with nothing "but his song," his losses were compensated by the flowing of love "into genius," a process through which Apollo was "baptized in his own life's fire." An image of the process Fuller herself was experiencing in 1844, this poem promises the insight of poetry as the replacement for lost love.
As Fuller explored the transformative powers that were surfacing in her poetry, she attended as well to the external forces that threaten to impede the progress of enlightenment. Ultimately, these two themes were blended in Woman in the Nineteenth Century, which founded an enlarged conception of female selfhood on the power of myth at the same time that it analyzed the cultural pressures imprisoning women. In one of her most unusual poems, "On the boundless plain careering," Fuller created a striking allegory of the ways in which a free being (in this case, a wild horse named Konic) was captured and emotionally shackled by the "tyrant"—man. Opening with a vista of the "untamed" Konic galloping on the "boundless plain," this poem portrays his transformation from a creature who knows "no servile moment" to one whose spirit has been broken. Suddenly, Konic is frightened by the appearance on the horizon of "Centaur forms"—broken horses bearing their riders. Portrayed as "enslaved brethern" (1. 16), these creatures endure the "bit & whip of tyrant scorn" as their riders hasten "To make new captives as forlorn." The terrified Konic is roped and then released. He gallops off, filled with the illusion that he is once again free.
But it is the pathos of Konic's illusory freedom that becomes the focus of Fuller's poem. For although his body seems free, his psyche has been marked as indelibly as the brand that he now carries:
Never again, upon the mead
Shalt thou a free wild horse feed.
The mark of man doth blot thy side
The fear of man hath dulled thy pride
Thy master soon shall on thee ride.
Refering ostensibly to a broken horse, these lines resonate unmistakenly as a representation of the psychological position of any dominated group—American slaves or American women. Although it seems likely that Fuller intended this piece as a commentary on slavery, the gender reference is unmistakable. After a number of intervening years, the "captor re-appears" to find Konic with "broken pride." At that moment, the Poet comments, "Thou'rt wedded to the sad estate." And then in lines that Fuller's brother later suppressed, she makes the connection explicit:
Sometime, on a fairer plain
May those captives live again
Where no tyrant stigmas stain.
Marriage will then have broke the rod
Where wicked foot has never trod
The verdure sacred to a God.
Someday, the Poet hopes, free and untyrannical relationships will be possible in a world where marriage will no longer be modeled upon a pattern of domination.
During the remainder of June and early July, as Fuller pursued the goal of personal and psychological freedom, she reached a level of inspiration that led to the composition of six of her best poems: "To Sarah," "Leila in the Arabian zone," "Double Triangle, Serpent and Rays," "Winged Sphynx," "My seal ring," and "Sistrum." (A seventh poem, "Virgin Mother Mary mild," introduces a vein of Christian imagery that Fuller was to exploit more fully later in the summer.) The importance that Fuller attributed to these poems is evident from the letter she wrote Emerson on 13 July. Although she feels that Emerson's literary "excellence . . . is of a kind wholly unattainable to me," she too has been writing—creating "flowers and stones" that might "have a hieroglyphical interest for those of like nature with me." Unable to "polish my marbles" as Emerson does, Fuller defines her production as the expression of "unimpeded energy." Their truth is the truth of feeling; for "Whatever is truly felt has some precious meaning." Fuller then refers to the poems she has been working on (I have added titles in brackets):
The horse, konic belongs to Frank Shaw ["On the boundless plain careering"]. S. Ward it was who likened Sarah to the sweet fern ["To Sarah"]. The Sistrum ["Sistrum"] I have shown you, and I believe the Serpent, triangles, and rays ["Double Triangle Serpent and Rays"] which I had drawn for me. The other two emblems were ascribed to me by others, and the Winged Sphynx ["Winged Sphynx"] I shall have engraved and use, if I ever get to look as steadily as she does. Farewell, O Grecian Sage, though not my Oedipus.
The significance of these poems is most evident in their mythic imagery. Leila, the goddess animating Fuller's most important mystical essay, reappears after a three-year absence. At the same time, the figure of Leila is deepened and enriched by a complex weave of mythical reference. Io, Isis, Diana, Mercury, the Sphynx are all evoked—a mythical panoply that links directly with the myths underpinning Fuller's "idea of Woman" in Woman in the Nineteenth Century.
"Our friend has likened thee to the sweet fern," the poem "To Sarah" opens, evoking the sweet "fragrance" exuded by Fuller's intimate, Sarah Clarke. Comparing the influence of her friend to the calming effect of plants, Fuller goes on to equate her soothing power to that felt one restless day when she fled from the "dull ebb after emotion's shocks" to the retreat of a secluded wood. Spreading for herself a bed of "sweet bay," she found
an hour of pure tranquillity
Like to the autumn sweetness of thine eye
Which pries not, seeks not, & yet clearly sees,
Which woos not, beams not, yet is sure to please.
Defining an ideal of female support and nurturance, the poem concludes by contrasting Sarah's "green" world with the Poet's "dim wood of regret," a realm that "Was made the one to rhyme with Margaret." Rather than embodying the sweetness of laurel (bay), the Poet identifies herself as "Leila." Her world is one of painful aspiration, not sweet being:
But, since I know that Leila stands for night,
I own that sable mantle of the sky
Through which pierce, gem-like, points of distant light.
"As sorrow truths, so night brings out her stars."
Aspiring in solitude toward "points of distant light," the Poet embodies what Fuller in Woman in the Nineteenth Century calls the role of "Minerva": she is the self-reliant spiritual quester. In contrast, her friend Sarah—with all of her emotional nurturance—is the more traditional true woman, the "Muse."
During the next few months, Fuller was exploring the realm of Minerva—a figure whose realm, she jokingly suggested in a letter to Emerson, lay far outside the dominion of masculine power. Chiding Emerson in July about his insensitivity to the sources of her inspiration, Fuller commented on the distance between his and her own creative positions: "But what is this pathos compared to that perceptible in the situation of a Jove, under the masculine obligations of all sufficinyness, who rubs his forehead in vain to induce the Minerva-bearing headach! Alas! his brain remains tranquil, his fancy daughterless!" Judging from the poetry that Fuller was writing at this time, her fancy was far from "daughterless." Instead, she was uncovering a pantheon of daughters, as in the following remarkable poem:
Leila in the Arabian zone
Dusky, languishing and lone
Yet full of light are her deep eyes
And her gales are lovers sighs
Io in Egyptian clime
Grows an Isis calm sublime
Blue black is her robe of night
But blazoned o'er with points of light
The horns that Io's brow deform
With Isis take a cresent form
And as a holy moon inform.
The magic Sistrum arms her hand
And at her deep eye's command
Brutes are raised to thinking men
Soul growing to her soul filled ken.
Dian of the lonely life
Hecate fed on gloom and strife
Phebe on her throne of air
Only Leila's children are.
Assuming the role of the goddess Leila, a figure "languishing and lone," Fuller expands her being to encompass the attributes of Io, Isis, Dian, Hecate, and Phebe. Of all diese, the figure of Isis is most important. Her "magic Sistrum" (a rattle) possesses a transformative power on the opposite sex: "Brutes are raised to thinking men / Soul growing to her soul filled ken." The Goddess, Fuller suggests (in an argument she will amplify in Woman in the Nineteenth Century), embodies an ideal of spiritual fulfillment that transcends the gender divisions marking the unequal relationships of American culture.
Fuller's next poem, "Double Triangle, Serpent and Rays," symbolizes the transfiguration of gender difference through the powerful symbol of androgynous union, the "hieros gamos" or mystical marriage sought by numerous hierophants as the final consummation of consciousness. The significance of this symbol for Fuller is indicated by the drawing that accompanies this poem in her 1844 Commonplace Book. This design—interlocking triangles, surrounded by a serpent swallowing its tail and rays—was later used by Fuller to preface the 1845 edition ofWoman in the Nineteenth Century.
Patient serpent, circle round,
Till in death thy life is found;
Double form of godly prime
Holding the whole thought of time,
When the perfect two embrace,
Male & female, black & white,
Soul is justified in space,
Dark made fruitful by the light;
And, centred in the diamond Sun,
Time & Eternity are one.
"Male and female represent the two sides of the great radical dualism," Fuller had written the previous summer near the end of "The Great Lawsuit." "But, in fact, they are perpetually passing into one another. Fluid hardens to solid, solid rushes to fluid. There is no wholly masculine man, no purely feminine woman." Now, as she expanded her earlier essay into Woman in the Nineteenth Century, Fuller returned to an even more profound realization of this theory of androgyny. Her assertion the previous year sounds theoretical; but the poems of 1844 take that theory and concretize it in moving articulations of spiritual aspiration. Praying for a wholeness that has eluded her, Fuller defines a talisman, a mandala, that might resolve for her the contradictions of her existence.
"Winged Sphynx" maintains the image of spiritual quest. Here, Fuller adopts the persona of a sphynx who has progressed through a period of renunciation, when she maintained "an aspect Chaste, Serene," to a moment of fulfillment. The imagery of this poem connects Fuller's spiritual awakening of 1844 with her crisis during the winter of 1840-41. The earlier crisis is now interpreted as a necessary station on the poet's journey. The fragments of her life are now seen to cohere into a pattern of spiritual progression:
Through brute nature upward rising,
Seed up-striving to the light,
Revelations still surprising,
My inwardness is grown insight.
Still I slight not those first stages,
Dark but God-directed Ages;
In my nature leonine
Labored & learned a Soul divine;
Put forth an aspect Chaste, Serene,
Of nature virgin mother queen;
Assumes at last the destined wings,
Earth & heaven together brings;
While its own form the riddle tells
That baffled all the wizard spells
Drawn from intellectual wells,
Cold waters where truth never dwells:
—It was fable told you so;—
Seek her in common daylight's glow.
"Yes, others are purer, chaster, kinder than I," Fuller once wrote, "but none more religious. All my life is aspiration." Both mis assertion and the poems Fuller was writing in 1844 remind us of the mistake of defining her literary accomplishments in secular, intellectual terms. Fuller's deepest moments of introspection, as well as her most effective political actions, were directed by a fervent—although unorthodox—faith. In biographical terms, this insight reminds us that the winter of 1840-41 and the summer of 1844 are two of the most critical moments in Fuller's life; for, during these two periods, she came closest to defining the vision of a central spiritual power that shaped many of her pursuits.
"My seal ring" continues the argument of "Winged Sphynx." Here, Fuller asserts that one must follow the lead of Mercury, who has "cast aside / The signs of intellectual pride" to accept "the soul." Only in this way can one become "wholly human," "A spotless radiant ruby heart" who has learned to control or cast out each "serpent thought." Expanding the imagery of "Double Triangle, Serpent and Rays" (as well as that of the early poem "Drachenfels"), this poem defines the expansion of soul as a conquest over serpent energies, the power of instinct that Fuller associated with the dragons of the Rhine legend as well as with the image of Typhon in the myth of Isis and Osiris. It is not surprising that Fuller's next poem, "Sistrum," celebrates the rattle of Isis, which—in Plutarch's myth—was used to frighten away Typhon. Only through maintaining the "ceaseless motion" of the sistrum, the Poet argues, can one escape from the petrifaction of "dead devotion." By controlling the serpent (dragon/Typhon/devil), one preserves an image of purity and spiritual fulfillment. The alternative is to lapse into the sensuality and even depravity evoked throughout Woman in the Nineteenth Century.
The intensity of symbolism, the archetypal energy, of Fuller's 1844 poems suggests the power of the forces she was encountering. A sense of anguish, and even despair, lurks just beneath the surface of many of them, as if their lines were charms or talismans preserving a precarious psychological equilibrium. As the summer of 1844 progressed, Fuller's poetry balanced between assertions of an increasingly militant faith and eruptions of personal doubt and bitterness. "July Fourth 1844" represents the latter impulse. Questioning the patriotic celebrations that surround her, Fuller contrasts the levelling tendencies of contemporary America with the heroism that she finds in ancient Rome. The men around her seem filled with a noisy, but pointless, energy that falls far short of earlier nobility:
I know you have no king,
But have you noblemen?
Or have you gentlemen?
Far more, have you Men?
No! Why then, Ameriky,
I pray you tell to me
Why you make such a noise
With rockets, guns, and boys!—
"All the use of earth," the Poet continues, "Is to good men to give birth." But few of the men surrounding Fuller have that inherent divinity.
If this vision of masculine heroism defines one side of Fuller's temperament, the other side is evoked by the maternal imagery of a succeeding poem—"Here comes the night." Day brought no delight," the Poet laments, "Welcome Mother night." But the maternal embrace provides only a temporary and unsatisfactory comfort: "she with dark soft charms / Calls to her arms / Yet with no heat warms." Another poem written at this time also balances masculine and feminine qualities. In "Lead lunar ray," Fuller portrays a longing for the emergence of an "armed knight," the Poet's champion," who might help her to reach the "throne" of her "phoenix king." But these masculine images contrast with feminine images of gestation and nurturance that evoke the other side of the Poet's personality. She prays that the rain will "Free from their pain / Plants which still in earth / Are prisoned," 9), a growth that is equated with the emergence of the "Soul . . . Cradled in the will" (emphasis added). Fed by "mother thought, " the infant "Birds" of the Poet's thought will eventually sprout strong "wings."
But as the year progressed, the balance between sun and moon, king and queen, seemed harder and harder to maintain. From July to November 1844, this vision of harmony was periodically threatened by moments of despair, loneliness, and unfulfilled desire. "Lonely lady tell me why," for example, directly addresses the anxiety, the "dull despair, that threatens to "bind" the Poet's "heaven-born, heaven-seeking mind." The Poet bids the lonely Lady of the poem (Fuller) to discipline her heart to relinquish the lure of secular love in favor of a "nobler part." But the emotional sacrifice of this spiritual discipline seems almost too much to bear:
No more to thee, no more, no more.
Till thy circling life be oer,
A mutual heart shall be a home,
Of weary wishes, happy tomb.
In a surprisingly explicit poem, "Is it not great—this feat of Fate," Fuller even more directly confronts her sense of unfulfilled desire. She longs for the "Diver" who can "Break the spell / Of the slimy oyster shell, / Showing a pearl beyond all price so / round and clear." "Swift as the dart," this "joyous deliverer" will "bathe in the stream / Which of him doth endlessly dream." Like "Rama," he will fill the "gold cup" of "His Sita."
But Fuller's best poems sublimate longing into symbol, transform pain into myth. In "Leaving Fishkill for New York," Fuller wonders if her position might be that of an Ariadne deserted by Theseus. Here, too, the union between masculine and feminine threatens to dissolve:
For if this fail, alone I stand
To watch the sail on desert strand
And if a Theseus so forsake
Is there no God will pity take
On the sad maiden motherless,
On the lost maiden fatherless!
A widowed bride, more comfortless.
But during the second half of 1844, Fuller was to write five poems that celebrated the pursuit of mat harmony of spirit she termed a "sacred marriage."
Each of mese poems—"Sub Rosa-Crux," "Raphael's deposition from the cross," "To the Face seen in the Moon," "For the power to whom we bow," and "The Sacred marriage"—overcomes the sense of abandonment by imagining existence as a spiritual quest. Fuller's syncretism is revealed by the rich blend of symbols that are held up for worship. Images of Christ, carbuncle, Leila, moon, and marriage evoke a sense of quest mat mingles aspects of Christian vocation, alchemical process, and mystical mediation. Fuller never came closer to defining the spiritual discipline that oriented much of her life and writing. Written during the period she was completing Woman in the Nineteenth Century, these poems express both the enthusiasm underlying that work and its mythological/religious substratum.
"Sub Rosa-Crux," a poem celebrating the worship of Jesus, seems to be the most traditional of these poems. But here images of Christian quest merge into an evocation of a private spiritual discipline—a transformation later prompting Emerson's observation that Fuller invented her own mythology. We have lost, Fuller laments, the strict devotion of the "Knights of the Rosy Cross" who wore "within the heart" a secret fire corresponding to the "glistening ruby" they bore without. Although we "wear the cross of ebony and gold," we have lost the capacity to "feed an undying lamp." Instead, our "hope" is a "starry promise in a frequent night." Yet, the Poet holds forth the promise that spiritual aspiration, the faithful mining of "the vein of gold" might lead to transfiguration:
And, by that lovely light all truth revealed,
The cherished forms which sad distrust concealed
Transfigured, yet the same, will round us stand,
The kindred angels of a faithful band;
Ruby and ebon cross both cast aside,
No lamp is needed for the night has died.
Happiness, the Poet asserts, is the reward of those who maintain this vision even in the face of adversity. "Be to the best thou knowest ever true" is their "creed." Even if they themselves are "over borne," they know the satisfaction of "marshal[ing] others on the way." In contrast to Fuller's poems of despair and solitude, pain here is sublimated into an imitatio Christi that justifies suffering for the sake of illumination, solitude as the means of spiritual discipline.
Fuller's finest poem, "Raphael's deposition from the cross," expands the meditation upon Christian symbolism by evoking Mary's pain at the moment of Christ's death. Returning to an imaginative situation that had obsessed her as early as the fall of 1839, Fuller focuses Mary's grief as that of a mother lamenting a dead child. The poem echoes the grief occasioned by the death of Emerson's first child Waldo, a loss that had been reawakened by the birth in 1844 of his second son. But more importantly, it confronts Fuller's own pain and grief for "the heavenly child, / Crucified within my heart." As in the spiritual crisis of 1840-41, a process of grief-work prepares the way for vision. Only by accepting and working through her sense of loss can the Poet rediscover her deepest spiritual and creative energies. "Let me to the tomb repair," she prays, "Find the angel watching there, / Ask his aid to walk again. . . ." The goal she longs for is a moment of death and rebirth, purification and apotheosis—her old self dying into a renewed being:
Fan again the Parsee fire,
Let it light my funeral pyre
Purify the veins of Earth,
Temper for a Phenix birth.
Returning in the second part of this poem to the image of the mourning Virgin, the Poet begins to realize that "power" is only reached through the "deepest of distress." The Christian message of death and resurrection is evident, but combined with the Christian theme is a psychological truth as well—that the resurrection of the self depends upon the acceptance, and not the avoidance, of pain. Only by focusing upon the "blight" hidden in the "coffin." can one "escape and bathe in God."
The concluding stanzas evoke the accession of spiritual insight and power:
Margaret! shed no idle tears;
In the far perspective bright
A muse-like form as thine appears
As thine new-born in primal light.
Leila, take thy wand again;
Upon thy arm no longer rest;
Listen to the thrilling brain;
Listen to the throbbing breast;
There nightingales have made their nest
Shall soothe with song the night's unrest.
Recapturing the elusive image of Paria in "River of beauty flowing through the life" (1841), the Poet recovers her muse. Fulfilling the promise of "Lead, lunar ray," she finds a nest for the birds of her heart. As in the earlier 1844 poem "Leila in the Arabian zone," the figure of Leila reappears after a three-year absence from Fuller's writing. Fuller's most profound image of her muse, Leila embodies unconscious energies that have been transformed from dragonish instinct into creative power. Leila appears in Fuller's writing when the disruptive power of the dragon/serpent/Typhon has been controlled and transformed.
At the same time, death in this poem ceases to be spectre—the hiding place of either father or muse—but rather a source of release:
"Maiden wrap thy mantle round thee"
Night is coming, starlit night,
Fate that in the cradle bound thee,
In the coffin hides thy blight;
All transfused the orb now glowing,
Full-voiced and free the music growing
Planted in a senseless sod
The life is risen to flower a God.
At this triumphant moment, all sense of entrapment, frustration, and enclosure falls away. Resurrected from the ashes of her former existence, the Poet rises with a godlike power. Fulfilling the Transcendentalist dream of the "God within," she manifests the essential divinity of the self.
But as most poets have realized, consummation is much more difficult to portray than aspiration. Despite the triumph of the conclusion of "Raphael's deposition from the cross," it is presented as a moment of potential atonement—as an image of longed-for perfection. Three other poems written in the autumn of 1844 strike this note of spiritual desire, but do so in strikingly different terms. Rather than using the familiar imagery of Christianity, they analyze the healing of the self as a harmonizing of masculine and feminine, sun and moon, or king and queen. The first of these poems, "To the Face seen in the Moon," sets the terms for this resolution by mapping the Poet's identity in gendered terms. The poem opens by evoking a solace familiar from Fuller's other poems—the "soft Mother's smile" of the consoling moon. But as she meditates, the Poet realizes that this maternal strength, part of her own personality, is matched by another side.
But, if I stedfast gaze upon thy face
A human secret, like my own, I trace,
For through the woman's smile looks the male eye
So mildly, stedfastly but mournfully
He holds the bush to point us to his cave,
Teaching anew the truth so bright, so grave
Escape not from the middle of the earth
Through mortal pangs to win immortal birth,
Both man and woman, from the natural womb,
Must slowly win the secrets of the tomb. . . .
In order to realize the "worthy Angel of a better sphere," the androgynous "angel of Swedenborg" that—in the words of Woman in the Nineteenth Century—"considers man and woman as the two-fold expression of one thought," the Poet must allow the "Man from the Moon" side of her personality to express his "secret heart."
It is revealing that this process is portrayed as winning "the secrets of the tomb." Having released herself from the burden of mourning her father, Ward, Barker, Emerson—all those that have been "lost" to her—Fuller depicts her heart as a tomb, a crypt, that can be reopened to reveal both masculine and feminine power:
And then, together rising fragrant, clear,
The worthy Angel of a better sphere,
Diana's beauty shows how Hecate wrought,
Apollo's lustre rays the zodiac thought. . . .
At this moment of release, both "Moon and Sun" rise from their grave. But in order to achieve that consummation, the Poet must wed the "Man in the Moon," her "Apollo." In other words, she must acknowledge and express both her masculinity and her femininity. Only when the man hidden inside her is released can the "union" of the self be realized—a moment of ecstatic communion from which
The promised King
Who with white sail unfurled
Shall steer through the heaven
Of soul—an unpolluted world.
And ultimately, the Poet hopes, that kingly power will meet "on his hard won throne a Juno / Of his own."
"For the Power to whom we bow," a poem later printed in Woman in the Nineteenth Century, continues this promise of an androgynous union of masculine and feminine qualities. This "Power," the Poet promises, "Has given" its pledge that "They of pure and stedfast mind" shall hear the music first "ventured" in Fuller's book. The way to such revelation, she cautions, will be arduous; for "rabble rout may rush between, / Beat thee senseless to the ground." Commenting upon Fuller's own position as a pioneer among America's gender theorists, the image of threatening "rabble" suggests as well the horde of fears, anxieties, and uncertainties that she must weather before reaching the tranquillity of self-reliance. But in contrast to Emerson's assertion that self-reliance involves the realization of power, light, and instinct through the expansion of the self, Fuller defines the process as entrance into a dwelling where masculine and feminine powers both rule—"the palace home of King and Queen." This is an enlargement of one's habitation, a harmonious balancing of disparate qualities that leads to a more regal sense of self. But, significantly, it is not—as Emerson imagined—an aggressive process of "dominion." Self-fulfillment, Fuller suggests, does not come through conquest but rather as a result of accepting and assimilating qualities that others repress.
Fuller achieves her most direct expression of this ideal in the poem "The Sacred Marriage," which she placed at the conclusion of Woman in the Nineteenth Century. If this position emphasizes the significance of this poem, its importance for Fuller is underscored by the existence in her journals of the draft of nineteen stanzas that are not included in the published version. Although these lines lack the polish of Fuller's finished verse, they maintain resonance, especially in the light of the poems Fuller had been writing in 1844. For example, the image of the tomb recurs, as the Poet longs for "Each thought" to "be planted in a fruitful grave." But as important as this release from the burden of mourning is the Poet's realization that her self is constellated of disparate powers that must be balanced and harmonized:
And as the One to vent his rays divine
Needs many orbs in stellar wreath to shine
And motions may join and recombine
So with some souls like ours the lot may be
A constellation be their destiny
An every varying various destiny
Near the end of this unfinished fragment, Fuller proposes that "wedded love may give / All that self centring for which we strive." But marriage, she knows full well, is a course that she has not followed. The fragment ends, as if blocked by the realization that Fuller's destiny (at least for the next five years) was to explore a self that was married only to the intuition of its own power.
While the published version of "The Sacred Marriage" suggests as well that the highest fulfillment comes through another, here the image of marriage is replaced by a more general articulation that includes "wedded love," "parent love," and—one assumes—the love of friends such as Fuller and Anna Barker. The important thing is the sharing of "mutual aims and tasks, ideals bright," a mingling of "Twin stars that mutual circle in the heaven." It is through "Mutual light," the Poet argues, that one is able "to draw out the powers." Through a sharing of "mutual moods" and of "mutual action," one is able to achieve "A Home in Heaven,—the Union in the Soul."
Although Margaret Fuller—in the following years—had to struggle to achieve the harmony that her poetry promised, she seems to have reached a moment of personal reconciliation in the autumn of 1844. Embodying her deepest anxieties and her most cherished dreams, her poems both enabled her to articulate a theory of selfhood that animated her most famous book, Woman in the Nineteenth Century, and gave her the courage to leave New England for New York City. An existence of more expansive political action awaited her. In November, for example, she addressed the female prisoners at Sing-Sing, telling them that "Your angels stand forever there to intercede for you; and to you they call to be gentle and good. Nothing can so grieve and discourage those heavenly friends as when you mock the suffering." This note of compassion, which was to characterize her New-York Tribune essays, represents one of the most important fruits of Fuller's years of turmoil. Having wrestled with her own demons, Fuller was now ready to help those less fortunate ones who seemed to have perished in the battle.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 453
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 environment like mine, what may have seemed too lofty or ambitious in my character was absolutely needed to keep the heart from breaking and enthusiasm from extinction." Her argument is that a woman seeking free action in nineteenth-century America must overdo to do at all. Applied to her writing, it may be her best defense. The rhetorical extravagance of the sentence quoted diminishes in proportion to the credence we lend to her thought. She appears to have similarly associated the strictures of literary forms with the confining social forms and to have resented what both cost her in vitality. She wrote that no old form suited her, and in writing as in life experimented and invented. Fuller was anything but vain about her writing, and her own dissatisfaction or modesty about it was so explicit and so often excessive that she herself has contributed to the low esteem in which it has been held.
Though Fuller's writing has passages of great force and beauty, my chief interest is in what it reveals of her remarkable development. In her stylistic excesses one can read the struggle she had to create the appropriate tone, or rather to generate an authentic self who could command an attentive audience. Until experience completed that self, she was obliged to try on, like many costumes, the rhetorics to which she had access.
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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']
Margaret Fuller was privileged in her lifetime—as a woman editor, essayist, political journalist, and arts critic in an otherwise largely male domain—because she was one of the first of her kind. When women began entering the literary lists in greater numbers, after Fuller's death and partly through her inspiration, she became a greater threat, to be excoriated and exorcised. Yet throughout her life she herself was ambivalent about her critical and creative abilities, saying of herself, 'I have no art'. Such diffidence was further ammunition against her after her death: she was taken at her own modest word by male successors who 'came to praise but also, perhaps unconsciously, to bury her' [Bell Gale Chevigny, The Woman and the Myth: Margaret Fuller's Life and Writings].
Fuller was the emblematic woman of her time. The American critic Norman Podhoretz has suggested that at most only one woman of her generation and place is allowed to be the 'Dark Lady', the intellectual superstar of her sex. This female lead in the mid-twentieth-century United States was taken first by Mary McCarthy, and then by Susan Sontag. Elaine Showalter has identified Margaret Fuller as the Dark Lady of the American Renaissance. Showalter also suggests that the Dark Lady is inevitably punished for accepting the eminence thrust upon her, citing recent harsh criticism of Sontag's previously influential work. Could this also help to explain the volte-face in Fuller's reputation?
What befell Fuller's reputation has happened to that of many other women writers, in the manner documented for a later period by Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar [in No Man's Land: The Place of the Woman Writer in the Twentieth Century, Vol. I—The War of the Words]; but it happened to her first. Fuller wrote her own life by living it. She wove it into a tapestry of epic proportions, a new Aeneid of Rome's refounding by an outsider. But after her early death alterations were made: the garment of her life was refashioned by male tailors—primarily Emerson and Hawthorne—to suit the prevailing female fashion. The mode which they chose was less than flattering: the styles on which they modelled her garb were the female invalid, the cerebral spinster, the vestal devotee.
Yet Fuller's life and death were heroic. She made her life not into the Gothic tale which women's novels of the time portrayed, but into a Latin epic: beginning from a youth steeped in the Latin texts from which most girls were barred, she spent the three last and most vital years of her life supporting the Roman revolution and running a hospital for the wounded during the siege of Rome. Earlier, she had edited the magazine which was to epitomize the Transcendentalist movement (The Dial), written criticism and social-policy articles for the New York Daily Tribune, worked with prostitutes at Sing Sing Prison in Ossining, New York, and visited the Native American women on Mackinac Island in the Great Lakes.
Fuller's most influential publication, Woman in the Nineteenth Century (1845), sold out within a week. Woman was based on Fuller's earlier work on the Woman Question, 'The Great Lawsuit: Man versus Men. Woman versus Women' (The Dial, July 1843), but the book was much more politically minded than the earlier essay. Bringing to the fore such issues as prostitution, employment, and marriage reform, Woman helped to set the tone, if not the precise agenda, for the Seneca Falls convention of 1848 and the American women's movement. (Fuller did not explicitly advocate women's suffrage, which did become a focus of the movement: the Tribune editor Horace Greeley, who sponsored the publication of Woman, was an inveterate foe of votes for women.) After her death 'Margaret Fuller Clubs' sprang up all over America. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony judged that Fuller 'possessed more influence upon the thought of American women than any woman previous to her time'.
Fuller's personal life, too, was heroic in the best woman's way: caring for her mother and seven younger siblings, then later enduring her own first childbirth without family support in Italy, and with no one who could so much as speak her language. Even her death—in a hurricane, fifty yards off the coast of Fire Island, returning to America from Italy with her Italian husband and 22-month-old son—was tragic radier man merely poignant.
It was Ralph Waldo Emerson who began the process of mythologizing Fuller into obscurity after her death. As one of three editors of her posthumous Memoirs, together with James Freeman Clarke and William Henry Channing, friends of Fuller's youth, he rewrote the heroic epic which she had lived as a minor novelette. The three editors' names did not even appear on the title-page of the Memoirs which re-invented Fuller in their preferred image. Nevertheless, Emerson sold more copies of Fuller's Memoirs than of any work of his own: his Nature (1836) took seven years to clear an edition of 500 copies. Fuller's Woman in the Nineteenth Century sold out an edition twice that size in one week.
The 'best possible motives' with which Emerson and his fellow editors were generally acknowledged to have acted—saving Fuller's sexual reputation—absolved them of any blame for finishing the 'autobiography' which her premature death had stopped short. They rewrote her life, apparently with her own posthumous permission.
Added to the editors' prurience about Fuller's Italian years—when she had a baby by Marchese Giovanni Angelo Ossoli, to whom she may or may not have been married at the time of their son Nino's birth in 1848—was their fear of what might be revealed about their own idiosyncrasies when Fuller's correspondence with them was printed. Fuller had a talent for inspiring confidences. Very soon after her death Emerson wrote in his journal: 'When I heard mat a trunk of her correspondence had been found and opened, I felt what a panic would strike all her friends, for it was as if a clever reporter had got underneath a confessional and agreed to report all that transpired mere in Wall street.' What he had to fear appears to have been less any sort of sexual innuendo than the embarrassing revelation mat Fuller could actually make the august sage of Concord laugh. He recorded of their first meeting in July 1835:
She had a dangerous reputation for satire, in addition to her great scholarship . . . her talk was a comedy in which dramatic justice was done to everybody's foibles. I remember that she made me laugh more than I liked . . . . She had an incredible variety of anecdotes, and the readiest wit to give an absurd turn to whatever passed; and the eyes, which were so plain at first, soon swam with run and drolleries, and the very tides of joy and superabundant life.
Emerson also lays great stress on Fuller's alleged ugliness—accepted as fact by subsequent critics, though feminists have pointed out that Thoreau's horsey nose and Emerson's fishy eyes have never been held against them. The abiding image of Fuller has been the one Emerson paints: bulging eyes, half-closed in perpetual sibylline contemplation; dishwater-blond locks; and a stooped posture. 'It is to be said that Margaret made a disagreeable first impression on most persons, including those who became afterwards her best friends, to such an extent mat they did not wish to be in the same room with her.'
Male bitchiness about Fuller's appearance has continued. Henry James imagined her as 'glossily ringletted and monumentally breastpinned'; the modern editor and critic Perry Miller, as 'phenomenally homely', her hair 'not quite blond, stringy and thin'. But the most salacious have been her admirers: 'At thirteen her breasts were so developed that she seemed eighteen, or twenty . . . Her hair was blond, fine and softspun, reflecting light like buckwheat honey when poured from a pottery jar. Her mouth was soft and curving. . . .'
A similar male prurience pervades Nathaniel Hawthorne's characterization of the Fuller-figure Zenobia in The Blithedale Romance (1852). Although in life Fuller counted Hawthorne more 'a brother to me, man ever . . . any man before', Hawthorne fulminated after her death against 'a damned mob of scribbling women'. More woundingly, he created in The Blithedale Romance a character widely assumed to be Fuller, with implications which were less than flattering. Throughout the novel the narrator makes openly sexual remarks about Zenobia, admitting to imagining her in 'Eve's earliest garment'.
She should have made it a point of duty, moreover, to sit endlessly to painters and sculptors, and preferably to the latter; because the cold decorum of the marble would consist with the utmost scantiness of drapery, so that the eye might chastely be gladdened with her material perfection in its entireness. . . what was visible of her full bust,—in a word, her womanliness incarnated,—compelled me sometimes to close my eyes, as if it were not quite the privilege of modesty to gaze at her.
Whether or not Hawthorne intended Zenobia really to be Fuller, the novel ends with her drowning, and most readers took that to be more than coincidence. Most unpleasantly of all, Hawthorne wrote in his notebooks—later published by his son with great damage to Fuller's remaining reputation—that she was better off dead.
She was a great humbug; of course with much talent, and much moral reality, or else she could not have been so great a humbug . . . tragic as her catastrophe was, Providence was, after all, kind in putting her and her clownish husband, and their child, on board that fated ship.
But however bitter Hawthorne's personal feelings about Fuller, modern critical opinion has begun to explore the idea that he was greatly influenced by Woman in the Nineteenth Century. Hawthorne may have been more angered by Fuller's disclosure of her sexuality through her affair with and marriage to Ossoli than was Emerson, more 'disappointed' in her, because of the two men he actually shows the greater awareness of the Woman Question. In chapter 14 of The Blithedale Romance, 'Eliot's Pulpit', Hawthorne demonstrates quite a sophisticated understanding of the conflicting pressures on Zenobia. Though the eloquent advocate of her sex, she can only win the orator Hollingsworth's heart by letting him monopolize her speech and belief. Hawthorne parodies Hollingsworth's tired arguments about male superiority: woman is made to be protected by man, Hollingsworth asserts, and if she doesn't recognize that, by God, she should be beaten into it. It is worm noting that Hollingsworth is often taken to be Emerson.
Some critics also see in Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter the influence of Fuller's 'apocalyptic feminism', particularly in this passage from the novel's conclusion:
Women. . . in the continually recurring trials of wounded, wasted, wronged, misplaced, or erring and sinful passion,—or with the dreary burden of a heart unyielded, because unvalued and unsought,—came to Hester's cottage demanding why they were so wretched, and what the remedy . . . She assured them of her firm belief, that, at some brighter period, when the world should have grown ripe for it, in Heaven's own time, a new truth would be revealed, in order to establish the whole relation between man and woman on a surer ground of mutual happiness. Earlier in life, Hester had vainly imagined that she herself might be the destined prophetess, but had long since recognized the impossibility mat any mission of divine and mysterious truth should be confided to a woman stained with sin, bowed down with shame, or even burdened with a lifelong sorrow. The angel and apostle of the coming revelation must be a woman, indeed, but lofty, pure and beautiful; and wise, moreover, not through dusky grief, but the ethereal medium of joy; and showing how sacred love should make us happy, by the truest test of a life successful to such an end!
In Woman Fuller anticipates Hawthorne's belief that the female Messiah must herself be pure (though not his extraneous assumption that she must also be beautiful), remarking, in an otherwise adulatory passage about George Sand: "Those who would reform the world must show that they do not speak in the heat of wild impulse; their-lives must be unstained by passionate error; they must be severe lawgivers to themselves'.
Underlying this sentiment was the political need for Fuller to placate the devotees of the then dominant discourse, what has since been termed the 'Cult of True Womanhood'. Earlier, in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, American thought on the woman question was actually more progressive man in Fuller's period. What the feminist historian Jane Rendali calls 'the rhetoric of republican motherhood' had elevated educational aspirations for women, though without challenging their confinement to the domestic sphere. In that realm—through boycotting tea, producing cloth for the revolutionary army's uniforms, and bearing the burden of billeting troops—American women had shown themselves worthy. The popular heroines 'Molly Pitcher' (Mary Hays), who carried water to American troops at the Battle of Monmouth, and Betsy Ross, who sewed the new republic's flag, epitomized this combination of patriotism and domesticity during the War of American Independence.
Some women, like the poet and playwright Mercy Otis Warren (1728-1824), had also used their pens to denounce the corruption of the old order and proclaim the glories of the new republic. These women writers of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries saw no contradiction between female independence of spirit and domestic harmony. The successful novelist and poet Susanna Rowson (1762-1824) urged husbands to treat their wives as intelligent and free beings if they wanted peace at home. Her patriotic comedy, The Slaves in Algiers, or, a Struggle for Freedom, centres on a group of American women held for ransom by Barbary Coast pirates. A parable of liberty from the former colonial oppressor whose privateers still ravaged American shipping on the seas, Rowson's text has one of the women say: 'I feel that I was born free, and while I have life, I will struggle to remain so.'
In an essay, 'On the Equality of the Sexes', written in 1779 and published in 1790 in the Massachusetts Magazine, Judith Sargent Murray had urged her fellow Americans to instil republican virtues into new generations of women. Coincidentally Murray's essay described the education given to a girl called 'Margaretta' by 'Mrs Vigilius'. Timothy Fuller, Margaret's father, likewise chose to indoctrinate his daughter in the republican virtues of Rome as well as those of America. Margaret's first extant essay, written at the age of about 12 for her father, showed that the cult of republican virtue had a new convert. 'Resolved, united hearts freed America . . . [I]t is not in the power of circumstance to prevent the earnest will from shaping round itself the character of a great, a wise, or a good man.'
From an early age Margaret learned Latin, French, logic, rhetoric, and a little Greek. One of her first letters to her father, written at 7, shows that she was being fed on a diet of warrior kings:
I have been reviewing Valpy's Chronology [of ancient and English history]. We have not been able to procure any books [on] either Charles 12th of Sweden or Philip IId of Spain but Mama intends to send to Uncle Henry. I hope to make greater proficuncy [sic] in my Studies I have learned all the rules of Musick but one.
By 9 she was writing letters to Timothy in Latin and working her way through the fifth book of Virgil, whom she had begun memorizing at 6, along with passages from Plutarch and Ovid. She had ingested not only the language but also its agonistic spirit, smarting inwardly because one Mary Elliot had finished her Virgil in thirty days. The ambition which she expressed openly all her life was already alive in a letter to her father of 3 February 1820. There she reiterated her determination to best Mary Elliot's record and sealed her resolve with the Lord's Prayer in Latin. In reply, Timothy wrote: 'I would not discourage you, my girl, by being too critical and yet I am anxious to have you admit to one fault, which you will remember I have often mentioned, as the source, the very fountain of others—carelessness.'
In Woman Fuller still shows her father's influence: when she is overly pedantic, when her recital of historical evidence becomes interminable, it is as if she is still trying to forestall any possible accusations of carelessness or lack of scholarship. Timothy Fuller, who took sole charge of his daughter's early education, had been adamant:
You must not speak, unless you can make your meaning perfectly intelligible to the person addressed; must not express a thought, unless you can give a reason for it, if required; must not make statements, unless sure of all particulars—such were his rules. 'But', 'if, 'unless', 'I am mistaken', and 'it may be so', were words and phrases excluded from the provinces where he held sway.
Fuller was taught to talk like a man. This alone would account for why many men found her so insufferable, and her erudition so dismaying, as this English comment makes pungently plain:
Margaret Fuller was one of those he-women, who, thank Heaven! for the most part figure and flourish, and have their fame on the other side of the Atlantic. She was an intellectual Bloomer of the largest calibre. She understood Socrates better than Plato did, Faust better than Goethe did, Kant Philosophy [sic] better than Kant did . . . but alack the difference between an encyclopaedia bound in calf and an encyclopaedia moving in blue stockings. Every fact, word, thought, idea, theory, notion, line, verse, that crowded in the cranium of Margaret Fuller was a weapon. They shot from her like pellets from a steam gun. She bristled all over with transcendentalism, assaulted you with metaphysics, suffocated you with mythology, peppered you with ethics, and struck you down with heavy history . . .
But between Fuller's assault-course education in girlhood, and her maturity, there had been a 'backlash'. The Roman constancy of will and purpose which the young Fuller so much admired played no part in the increasingly dominant cult of the True Woman, which celebrated submissiveness, piety, and passivity as the 'genius' of the female. The Cult of Republican Motherhood had allowed women a sturdy independence: but that of True Womanhood saw her as fully absorbed in her vocation, purifying and restoring fallen Man. Selfishness of any kind was the prime sin for women, and independence was a kind of selfishness. In return for abjuring all autonomy of thought and action, the 'True Woman'—the epitaph on the tombstone of Margaret's mother, Margarett Crane Fuller—could expect worship. As an article of 1830 in the Ladies' Magazine put it: 'A halo of glory encircles her, and illumines her whole orbit. With her, man not only feels safe, but is actually renovated. For he approaches her with an awe, a reverence, and an affection which before he knew not that he possessed.'
This conservative backlash began at the turn of the nineteenth century—with the victory of the Federalist party in 1796 and the puritanical American reaction to the publication of the frank Memoirs of Mary Wollstonecraft by her husband, William Godwin, after her death in 1797. (The damage done to Wollstonecraft by Godwin—who was her rival as well as her survivor—neatly parallels that done to Fuller by Emerson and the other editors.) Although conservative reaction to women's advancement was initially less pronounced in America than in England or France, it drew extra strength from the rise of religious evangelicalism, the narrowing of female employment opportunities outside the home, and concern for family cohesion on the Western frontier. True Womanhood was now held to be largely incompatible with the virtues of self-reliance and critical thought, though a partial exception would be made for female moral education.
In the political sphere, too, the early nineteenth century was a period of retreat for women. During the American Revolution enthusiasm for the logical consequences of the idea that all men are created equal had undermined the common-law position inherited from England, that married women had no legal, economic, or political existence. Women married to Tories who had been exiled, and their property confiscated, were sometimes able to regain their own share if they swore loyalty to the new republic. This implied that married women's property rights were not entirely subsumed in those of their husbands, and that women's political commitment could have some meaning, even if they were not full citizens. In 1790 the state of New Jersey even went so far as to adopt a franchise statute referring to voters as 'he or she'. In the aftermath of the Revolution divorce, overruled by the Privy Council in 1773 as contrary to the law of England, also became a right for those women in the New England and mid-Atlantic seaboard states whose legislatures had legalized it.
With the end of the Revolution and no further need for female support in the war effort, and the rise of an entrepreneurial capitalism which confined women's economic activity more closely to the home, these political and economic gains were generally short-lived. By the 1830s and 1840s, ironically the high tide of individualistic liberalism, the political and economic rights of American women had never been fewer. At the same time that white. American men had gained near-total control over their wives' property, they were benefiting from the abolition in almost all states of property requirements for the franchise. Rhode Island, for example, one of the few states which still limited white male suffrage to freeholders, extended the vote to all native-born men after the Dorr rebellion of 1842. The contrast between the sexes was sharper in America than in England, where the 1832 Reform Act still left lower middle-class and working-class men disenfranchised. (There, too, however, the forces of misogyny were in the ascendant: the 1832 Act specified for the first time in statue from that the voter must be male.)
For women Jacksonian America was not the land of opportunity: ramer the land of shrinking opportunity. Early revivalists of the Great Awakenings had allowed women to take a key part in meetings and to lead prayers; but by 1823 they were forbidden to do either in a pamphlet on 'Female-Influence', published by the Presbyterian Utica Tract Society and typical of the changes in the hotbed of evangelicalism, the Burnt-Over District of western New York State. In the repressive 1820s and 1830s even maternal and moral-reform societies were beginning to be thought suspect. To step outside the domestic sphere, hardliners argued, would sully the purity which alone gave women the right to call themselves morally superior to men, and capable of the other sex's moral reform.
Education was the last of the partial exemptions which remained intact—and indeed flourished—in the early 1840s. Improvement of the female intellect was acceptable as a means to an imperative end. As Fuller herself enunciated the dominant view, American daughters were exhorted to strive constantly for spiritual and intellectual perfection, not only for the sake of their own salvation, but for the good of their fathers, brothers and beaux—whose contact with the sharp world of business excused mem from any such strictness with themselves. 'Improvement in the daughters will best aid the reformation of the sons of this age', she wrote in Woman. (This jars oddly with Fuller's assertion that 'Not one man in the million, shall I say? no, not in the hundred million, can rise above the belief that Woman was made for Man . . .', and her complaint that 'So much is said of women being better educated, that they may become better companions and mothers for men'.
Catharine Beecher, founder of the Hartford Female Seminary and later of the Western Female Institute in Cincinnati, had justified female education by women's aptitude as natural missionaries, spreading a civilizing influence from the holy hearth. This imperial role for women was given a patriotic force by Philo Stewart, co-founder of Oberlin, the first college to educate men and women together. 'The work of female education', wrote Stewart, 'must be carried on in some form, and in a much more efficient manner than it has been hitherto, or our country will go to destruction.'
In the Cult of True Womanhood a strong religious component coexisted more or less peacefully with what might appear the ideological opposite, the philosopher John Locke's doctrine of the mind as a tabula rasa or blank slate. Since the child's personality was entirely a reflection of what the educator put into it, mothers as principal child-rearers bore a ponderous responsibility. Both the true man and the true woman were formed by their mothers. This perilous power in women's hands had to be tamed, by educating them to be reliable propagandizers. The 'concession' made in favour of education was not so much a privilege afforded to women as a further mechanism of control. Education was certainly not intended to prepare women for the professions and public life; it was meant to make them more reliable stewards of the master's most important resources, his children.
But by operating within the constraints of the acceptable, early nineteenth-century reformers had secured some educational advancement for women. Colluding with the doctrine of separate spheres, 'domestic feminists' such as Catharine Beecher helped to breed a class of educated heretics within the Cult, women who would not accept separate spheres. Further, the legitimacy of evangelical fervour, and the partial exceptions made in favour of philanthropic caused and education, had allowed some women a taste of life outside the home. Ladies' societies gave women experience in drawing up regulations, electing officers, corresponding with other charitable organizations, and overseeing accounts. The rise of 'Moral Reform' (the movement against prostitution) and of the abolitionist movement presented further opportunities for public participation, though women's increased activity on the platform was met by intense and sometimes violent male resentment.
It was in this situation of simultaneous male backlash and female backlash against male backlash that Woman in the Nineteenth Century appeared. The language and conclusions of 'The Great Lawsuit'—and to a lesser degree of Summer on the Lakes and Woman in the Nineteenth Century—reflect the baleful influence of the Cult of True Womanhood. That this was so should not be surprising, or a cause for castigating Fuller, as some of her earlier feminist biographers tended to do. In order to reach her intended audience, Fuller had to speak their language, and that was the diction and discourse of the True Woman. The 'hegemony' of a cultural discourse, in the term used by the Italian social philosopher Antonio Gramsci, affects not only the woman writer's audience, but also her own opinions.
A similar set of Gramscian ideas has been applied to the English Victorians by Deirdre David [in Intellectual Woman and Victorian Patriarchy: Harriet Martineau, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, George Eliot], who judges that Elizabeth Barrett Browning, George Eliot, and Harriet Martineau were 'neither ideological slaves to patriarchal thought, nor distinctly separate from patriarchal culture. They were both collaborateurs and saboteurs in the world that enabled their very existence as women intellectuals.' Is this also true of Margaret Fuller? Is it the price a woman writer must pay for being allowed to play the Dark Lady?
It would be unfair, I think, to say that Fuller was partly colluding in her own oppression, as David implies of Barrett Browning, Eliot, and Martineau. Her attitudes towards women were considerably more radical than those of any of these three, though she is closest to Eliot. But it is certainly true that Fuller must be judged against the background of her time as well as that of her own personal development.
It is also perfectly true that Fuller's high abstraction and individualistic, self-reliant solutions to women's social disadvantage are still cast in the Emersonian mould. As his disciple, Fuller used all the arguments that Emerson promulgated about the individual and applied them to women. 'The Great Lawsuit', and the first two-thirds of Woman (which largely reproduces 'Lawsuit') are hymns to women's equal powers of self-reliance with men.
Indeed, self-reliance was the story of Fuller's life, and of her death. Fuller had to be economically independent—and to provide for her father's children from the limited means available from a woman's profession, teaching. It did her health no good, and probably caused her death. The boat on which she went down, the Elizabeth, was an old-fashioned wooden-bottomed merchantman; Fuller could not afford a modern steamer or packet ship. When the Elizabeth foundered on a sand-bar off Fire Island, the bottom ruptured under the cargo of Italian marble and a statue of John Calhoun—that advocate of nullification, states' rights to self-reliance.
In her dispatches written during the Roman Revolution of 1849, when she ran a hospital and her husband Ossoli served in the Civic Guard, Fuller became much more practical, more communitarian, and quite radically socialist. But 'The Great Lawsuit' is marred by the Transcendentalist tendency to see reality through the lens of symbols. Although it contains striking and powerful statements, it also carries a heavy freight of vagueness and conceptual sloppiness.
Similarly, Woman in the Nineteenth Century reflects not only Timothy Fuller's educational influence and the spell of the Cult of True Womanhood, but also the ideals of the New England Transcendentalist movement. Transcendentalist literary theory consciously rejected syllogistic reasoning and systematic analysis. In accord with these dictates which she had helped to set as editor of the movement's canon-forming journal, The Dial, Fuller conceived Woman as an organic, subjective composition, a free association of ideas.
Although Fuller's writing could be quite pungent and down-to-earth—as in much of Summer on the Lakes— Woman is often high-blown in the Transcendentalist style, which was characterized by 'inchoate structure, prodigal imagery, wit, paradox, symbolism . . . and a manifesto-like tone'. Part of the difficulty was that 'the Transcendentalists were exceedingly weak in the genres most in favor today (poetry, drama, prose fiction)', but were attempting to revive styles little known at present, and to create new genres. In Woman Fuller welds sermon and conversation into such a form, one which may seem archaic to modern readers but which struck her contemporaries as powerful and new. Even Henry David Thoreau, who 'never liked anything', according to Emerson, considered 'The Great Lawsuit', the earlier essay which Fuller drew on in compiling the book length Woman, to be 'rich extempore writing . . . talking with pen in hand'.
The Transcendentalist, consciously literary manner departs about two-thirds of the way through Woman, however—the point (marked in the Explanatory Notes to this edition) at which the recycled 'Lawsuit' essay ends and the pages penned exclusively for the book begin. Between the publication of 'Lawsuit' in July 1843 and the final editing of Woman in November 1844, Fuller's thought had become more concrete and more radical, particularly on the subjects of slavery, Native American women, and prostitution. In all three cases she now saw, as she put it in Summer on the Lakes, 'the aversion of the injurer for him he has degraded'.
'[T]here exists in the minds of men a tone of feeling toward women as toward slaves', she wrote in Woman. Indeed, slavery is more honest: 'In slavery, acknowledged slavery, women are on a par with men'. Fuller was not the first to make this uncomfortable comparison. Drawing on ideas first advanced by the Irish feminist Anna Wheeler (b. 1785), William Thompson's Appeal of One-Half the Human Race (1825) likewise remarks:
As little as slaves have had to do in any part of the world in the enacting of slave-codes, have women in any part of the world had to do with the partial codes of selfishness and ignorance, which everywhere dispose of their right over their own actions and all their other enjoyments, in favour of those who made the regulations; particularly that most unequal and debasing code, absurdly called the contract of marriage . . . From regulating the terms of this pretended contract, women have been as completely excluded as bullocks, or sheep, or any other animals subjugated to man, have been from determining the regulations of commons or slaughter-houses.
Earlier still, Charles Brockden Brown, writing in the 1790s, had identified marriage as a 'compact of slavery'. But there is no firm indication that Fuller had read Thompson or Brown by the time she wrote her texts on women's position; and in the climate of the 1840s, such sentiments were much more shocking—particularly when they came from a woman. Even more controversial was Fuller's scepticism about the arguments put forward by white men to justify their political and economic dominance: that women, or slaves, are incapable of fiscal wisdom or political nous. These, she judged, are only psychological mechanisms which the dominant sex, or race, must use in order to justify its own arbitrary power to itself.
Fuller was not an active abolitionist at this time, but the examples of slaves and Native Americans had galvanized her thought on women. In 1843 she had made a journey to Niagara Falls and the Great Lakes with her friends Caroline Sturgis, Sarah Ann Clarke, and Clarke's brother William. The book which resulted, Summer on the Lakes in 1843 (1844), represents a forward hop, if not a leap, in both style and thought. Although the book lacks what Fuller admired—'the Spartan brevity and sinewy grasp of Indian speech'—it is liberally sprinkled with Thoreauvian salt:
[At Niagara] what I liked best was to sit on Table Rock, close to the great fall. There all power of observing details, all separate consciousness, was quite lost. Once, just as I had seated myself there, a man came up to take his first look. He walked close up to the fall, and, after looking at it for a moment, with an air of thinking how he could best appropriate it to his own use—he spat into it.
The range of Fuller's thought on women was stretched by the example of the squaws of Mackinac Island, among whom she was able to wander freely. Unlike the Enlightenment, which explored various constellations of domestic power relations—matrilineal Iroquois society, polyandry among the Nairs of Malabar, collective marriage in eastern Iran—the early nineteenth century lumped together all 'uncivilized' women's positions as barbarous. Fuller agreed that Native American women were lumbered with drudgery: their 'peculiarly awkward gait, and forms bent by burthens . . . so different from the steady and noble step of the men, [mark] the inferior position they occupy'. But she also observed more tenderness towards children among Native American braves than among white men, and considerable respect for matrons who were mothers of warriors. Native American children were called by the mother's name, and divorce was easy, more advantageous to women than men. On the boat for Sault St Marie, Fuller met a Native American woman (with whom she quite markedly did not identify, since she says that she was the only lady on board the ship). The woman had left her husband because he drank and wasted their earnings; she earned a living for herself and her child as a chambermaid. 'Now and again, she said, her husband called on her, and asked if he might live with her again, but she always answered, no. Here she was far freer than she would have been in civilized life'.
But if white western women were not freer than eastern, Fuller thought it was probably their own fault. Still unable to see women's position as socially conditioned, in Summer Fuller remains within the True Woman tradition by looking to western women for their own salvation.
It is . . . evident that. . . the women have great power at home. It can never be otherwise, men being dependent upon them for the comfort of their lives. Just so among ourselves, wives who are neither esteemed nor loved by their husbands, have great power over their conduct by the friction of every day, and over the formation of their opinions . . . This power is good for nothing, unless the woman be wise to use it aright. Has the Indian, has the white woman, as noble a feeling of life and its uses, as religious a self-respect, as worthy a field of thought and action as man? If not, the white woman, the Indian woman, occupies an inferior position to that of man. It is not so much a question of power, as of privilege.
Individual before social reform remains Fuller's creed in Woman, even though she is considerably more aware of social ills than she showed herself to be in 'Lawsuit'. The particular target on which she expends most firepower is prostitution, with marriage a close second. The remaining selections in this volume, particularly the review of George Sand's novel Consuelo (1843) and the excerpt from Fuller's story 'Aglauron and Laurie', often bear witness to Fuller's concerns about sexual politics. It was the politics of sexuality which roused Fuller's interest in the politics of politics. In 'The Great Lawsuit' Fuller had preached the Emersonian creed of self-reliance. But when 'we women have no profession except marriage, mantua-making and school-keeping', to be economically self-reliant without following one of these three 'trades', or the working-class equivalents of service and factory work, could only mean one possibility: the enterprise which the women of Sing Sing had pursued. Realization of this anomaly in her own thought combined with Fuller's detestation of hypocrisy—'Give me truth, cheat me by no illusion'—to ignite her fiery denunciation of the double standard.
It was prostitution which emblematized all other social ills, and which propelled Fuller into her increasing public concern and sympathy for socialism. Evangelical writers conflated prostitution with other forms of social chaos, including socialist radicalism; conversely, Owenite socialists saw prostitution as the paradigm of exploitation in industrial capitalism.
Fuller's concern about prostitution was by no means unique, nor was her analysis as systematic or programmatic as that of existing activists. The New York Female Moral Reform Society, founded in 1834 to convert prostitutes to evangelical Protestantism, had proposed to keep vigil at brothels and to publish a list of clients in the society's journal, the Advocate of Moral Reform. By the 1840s the American Female Moral Reform Society, as it became, had over 500 branches, providing cannon fodder for intensive political lobbying of the legislature to make seduction imprisonable—and succeeding in their demands by 1848. The Society also pilloried the male monopoly of the professions and claimed that low wages for women caused prostitution. (Many working-class girls used casual prostitution to eke out low earnings or get through periods of unemployment.)
What made the double standard particularly pernicious in the nineteenth century was the decline of the New England communitarian ideal in favour of the deracinated, deregulated market-place. Among the Puritans each member of the community, man or woman, had been responsible for the moral health of the group as a whole. This legitimized prying into what the more private-minded nineteenth century would regard as nobody else's business. Such institutionalized nosiness had meant that Puritan men's misdeeds were as likely to be uncovered as women's, even if they might be less strictly punished. But disestablishment of the Protestant churches after the Revolution lessened the religious imperative to uncover a neighbour's nakedness. Ironically, the nineteenth-century ideology of domesticity, retreating into the sancity of the private home, also covered up male mis-steps outside the home. The wife's blissful domestic ignorance would be threatened if a husband's wrong-doing were revealed, it could be argued.
A new ideal of female 'passionlessness' emerged in Anglo-American culture in the late eighteenth century. The natural woman was sexless; prostitutes were unnatural. Both male and female writers began to stress female chastity as protection for both the individual woman and society as a whole, and evangelical fervour heightened the imperative. Vestiges of the older joy in sexuality remained: Peter Gay has documented, at least in private sources such as diaries, that eroticism between loving partners was as great in the nineteenth century as ever or as now. But at least formally the ideology did change. As the early nineteenth century came to reject the Ideal of Republican Motherhood in favour of the Cult of True Womanhood, it replaced more egalitarian notions about male and female sexuality with what Bram Dijkstra calls 'the cult of the Household Nun'. The purity of the Angel in the House required a demon outside to service male sexuality. This accentuated the divide between good and 'fallen' women, but also legitimized male libido. Prostitution was a boon to society, and the whore the upholder of the wife's chastity.
Further, the dominant discourse only applied to native-born white middle-class women; women of colour, immigrants, and working-class women were not regarded as passionless, but as fair sexual game. Native American women were also thought debased: the heroic figures of Pocahontas and Sacajawea, both of whom saved men, were replaced by accounts in mid-nineteenth-century travel journals of 'dirty little squaws' leading male adventurers astray.
Fuller's view, never conditioned by prejudice against immigrant or Native American women, travels far beyond this dominant discourse, yet also begins from a starting-point in the Cult of the True Woman. Prostitution posed a particular problem for anyone who accepted, as Fuller did, that women were different from men in nature: a basic premiss of the Cult as well. Fuller writes in Woman:
The especial genius of Woman I believe to be electrical in movement, intuitive in function, spiritual in tendency. She excels not so easily in classification, or recreation, as in an instinctive seizure of causes, and a simple breathing out of what she receives that has the singleness of life, rather than the selecting and energizing of art.
Men's especial nature apparently included being more immoral. In the Cult of True Womanhood: 'Passionlessness was on the other side of the coin which paid, so to speak, for women's admission to moral equality' [Nancy F. Cott, 'Passionlessness: An Interpretation of Victorian Sexual Ideology, 1790-1850', Signs, 4, 1978]. But prostitutes were sexual women. Either Fuller could accept that prostitutes were passionless victims of male predatory sexuality—or she could prove the rule by the exceptions, denigrating prostitutes as false to all that True Womanhood stood for. Both strategies would have confirmed the Cult by ratifying asexuality in the 'normal' female. Instead, Fuller asks: 'Why can't a man be more like a woman?' She extends the True Womanly ideal of chastity to men: 'We shall not decline celibacy as the great fact of our age.'
In the end Fuller stands the Cult of the True Woman on its head: female moral nature, rightly reconstituted in the case of aberrant specimens such as prostitutes, can and should instruct male. It follows the Cult to its own logical conclusions, uncomfortable for men though they may actually turn out to be.
This aspect of Fuller's thought was not typical of her time, but it can be seen in later feminists. English campaigners against the Contagious Diseases Acts of 1864, 1866, and 1869 likewise rejected the mere regulation of prostitution as benefiting men only. They, too, called for an abolition of the sexual double standard and the establishment of a single joint code of sexual behaviour. If the prostitute was the unwitting guardian of the domestic hearth, this root-and-branch stance—which Fuller shares—means a radical willingness to see conventional marriage die the death. In contrast, Emerson wrote: 'We cannot rectify marriage because it would introduce such carnage in our social relations'.
In her 1875 lecture 'Social Purity', Susan B. Anthony argued: 'There is no escape from the conclusion that, while woman's want of bread induces her to pursue this vice [prostitution], man's love of the vice leads him there. For every abandoned woman, there is always one abandoned man and oftener many more.' This is pure Fuller.
In our own century, Fuller's relational feminism, her belief in separate male and female natures, prefigures an important strand in women's studies. Unlike Mary Wollstonecraft, whose 'rationalist' feminism is primarily rights-oriented and education-minded, Fuller's 'romantic' feminism seeks liberation mainly through psychological means. Second-wave feminism embodied this striving in consciousness-raising groups. Further, much modern feminist writing, particularly in psychology and educational theory, has confirmed the idea of 'a different voice', the concept—central to Fuller—that male and female moral personalities are not the same.
Fuller is a romantic feminist in contending that the content of girls' education should be affirmatively different, not merely a watered-down version of the classic texts fed to boys. Having been privileged to learn the father speech, Latin, she need not worship the priestly tongue mindlessly. Romanticism values diversity and assigns positive value to gender differences. It does not define female nature solely in contrast to male. This is the impetus behind Fuller's description of female nature as electrical, vital, magnetic, full of life. It is intended as the most affirmative of descriptions, not the mere negative of masculine identity. Life is what Fuller writes into her definition of woman.
Fuller's feminism is romantic in another sense: it emphasizes self-help and self-assertion, another strand in modern feminism. Woman is ambivalent as to whether women will achieve freedom through each other's support or their own individual striving, but it is clear that they will not achieve it in league with men. 'Men do not look at both sides, and women must leave off asking them.' This is another reason why political lobbying—of an all-male legislature—can have little effect, to Fuller's way of thinking. But although Fuller is not primarily remembered as a political activist, she targeted most of the inequities that would preoccupy later feminists: marriage as slavery, sex and sexuality, and women's poverty.
Fuller's attempt to state a vibrant and positive ideal of femaleness borrows from the Cult of True Womanhood, but ultimately transcends it. The qualities which Fuller claims for women by nature and right are too dynamic to sit comfortably in the hands-in-lap posture of the True Woman.
Last Updated on February 4, 2016, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1011
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 Press, 1988.
Suggests that "Fuller's relationship with Emerson lies at the center of any effort to reexamine her work and reassess her reputation," and examines major areas of difference and agreement between them.
Capper, Charles. Margaret Fuller: An American Romantic Life, Volume 1—The Private Years. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992, 423 p.
Biography described by Capper as an "act of historical recovery" and an exploration of Fuller's life and thought as well as works. This volume treats Fuller's life through 1840.
Cargill, Oscar. "Nemesis and Nathaniel Hawthorne." PMLA LH, No. 3 (September 1937): 848-62.
Exploration of the various friendships, familial relationships by marriage, and tensions between Fuller, Hawthorne, Elizabeth Peabody, Sophia Peabody (who married Hawthorne), and Ellery Channing (who married a sister of Fuller's). After Fuller's death, Hawthorne based the character of Zenobia in The Blithedale Romance on her, while Channing participated with Ralph Waldo Emerson and James Freeman Clarke in the extensive censorship and revision of her posthumous papers. This article is rebutted by Austin Warren (below).
Dickenson, Donna. Margaret Fuller: Writing a Woman's Life. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1993, 247 p.
Biographical and critical study. Dickenson begins with an exploration of Fuller's posthumous treatment: the heavily censored and revised edition of her work and the negative assessments published by her friends and professional associates. Dickenson writes that her treatment of Fuller's life is informed by insights provided by recent works of feminist scholarship.
Fuller, Frederick T. "Hawthorne and Margaret Fuller Ossoli." The Literary World XVI, No. 1 (10 January 1885): 11-15.
A nephew of Fuller's addresses Nathaniel Hawthorne's posthumously published excoriation of her. The critic quotes extensively from diary entries written by both Hawthorne and Fuller during the course of their relationship.
Hawthorne, Julian. "The Old Manse." In Nathaniel Hawthorne and His Wife: A Biography, Volume 1, pp. 243-303. Boston: Houghton Mifflin and Co., 1884.
Includes a diary extract in which Hawthorne receives as fact scurrilous gossip regarding Fuller and articulates his own negative assessment of her character.
Higginson, Thomas Wentworth. Margaret Fuller Ossoli. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1884, 323 p.
Early, appreciative biography that addresses the distortions introduced by the editors of the Memoirs.
von Mehren, Joan. Minerva and the Muse: A Life of Margaret Fuller. University of Massachusetts Press, 1995, 526 p.
Biography that offers analysis of Fuller's political sentiments.
Warfel, Harry. "Margaret Fuller and Ralph Waldo Emerson." PMLA L, No. 2 (June 1935): 576-94.
Account of Fuller's relationship with Emerson that adheres to a largely discredited perception that Fuller was forever in the position of acolyte to the more learned Emerson. Warfel includes an account of Fuller's editorship of the Dial magazine.
Warren, Austin. "Hawthorne, Margaret Fuller, and Nemesis." PMLA LIV, No. 2 (June 1939): 615-18.
Notes that in his account of the relationship between Fuller and Hawthorne, Oscar Cargill (cited above) "offers conjectures as authoritative, and advances 'views' necessarily unprovable."
Barbour, Frances M. "Margaret Fuller and the British Reviewers." New England Quarterly (December 1936): 618-25.
Assesses coverage of Fuller in the British press from 1846 to 1852. Barbour notes that the majority of British commentators on Fuller focus on her personality rather than her writing.
Brown, Arthur W. Margaret Fuller. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1964, 159 p.
Balanced account of Fuller's life and works. This was one of the first published studies to credit Fuller for her pioneering journalism.
Chevigny, Bell Gale. The Woman and The Myth: Margaret Fuller's Life and Writings. Rev. ed. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1994, 574 p.
Revised and expanded edition of a study that interposes Fuller's own writings with Chevigny's commentary. The book is divided into six sections corresponding to Chevigny's division of Fuller's written works into broad categories: "The Problem of Identity and Vocation," "The Friend," "The Transcendental ist: Teacher, Editor, Literary Critic," "The Feminist," "The Social Critic and Journalist," and "The Radical in Italy."
Myerson, Joel, ed. Critical Essays on Margaret Fuller. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1980, 289 p.
Collects previously printed critical essays on Fuller.
Smith, Bernard. 'The Criticism of Romance." In his Forces in American Criticism: A Study in the History of American Literary Thought, pp. 66-113. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1939.
Favorable appraisal of Fuller as a literary critic.
Steele, Jeffrey. "The Call of Eurydice: Mourning and Intertextuality in Margaret Fuller's Writing." In Influence and Intertextuality in Literary History, edited by Jay Clayton and Eric Rothstein, pp. 271-97. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991.
Explores the supposition that Fuller underwent a process of transformed self-identity during the winter of 1840-41, suggesting that she came to a full identification of herself as a woman and a writer through the process of mourning for her father.
——. Introduction to The Essential Margaret Fuller, by Margaret Fuller, edited by Jeffrey Steele, pp. xi-xlix. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1992.
Overview of Fuller's intellectual growth and development and survey of her major literary works.
Tuttleton, James W. "Margaret Fuller, the American Minerva." The New Criterion 13, No. 6 (February 1995): 24-9.
Outline of Fuller's life and career occasioned by the publication of several new biographies.
Watson, David. Margaret Fuller: An American Romantic. Oxford: Berg, 1988, 123 p.
Critical biography divided into three sections, treating Fuller's life, her works, and her reputation.
Additional coverage of Fuller's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Gale Research: Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism, Volume 5, and Something about the Author, Volume 25.