Margaret Fuller’s short-lived career as an essayist did not prevent her from making a clear literary mark in several important areas. She wrote major works in areas including (but not limited to) feminist thought, travel essays, literary criticism, social activism, and Italian politics. Her essays began with reflective, literary pieces directed to an elite audience of contemporaries, including transcendentalists such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne, when she was editor and writer for the Dial. Later she became a reporter for the New York Tribune. As firsthand witness to the social ills of her day, she sought to move her public audience to action on social issues. Woman in the Nineteenth Century, developed from an earlier essay written and published in the Dial, is the work for which she is best remembered today. Her reputation among feminist scholars is well known, but her essays on literary, social, and political issues are enjoying renewed interest. They illustrate Fuller’s prophetic insight into issues that still challenge citizens today.
Fuller’s initial literary publications resulted in her editing the transcendentalist journal the Dial. With Emerson’s encouragement she assumed the task, believing she would be free of major financial responsibilities. She saw the editorship as an opportunity: “I will try to say what I mean in print one day,” she wrote in 1840. However, when writers who had promised works failed to deliver them in a timely fashion, Fuller pressed herself into essay writing. In the first issue, she set forth “Essay on Critics” (1840); she followed with “Lives of Great Composers” (1841), “Goethe” (1841; one of her favorite philosophers), and “The Great Lawsuit: Man versus Men: Woman versus Women” (1843). The latter work became the catalyst of her larger, better-known essay, Woman in the Nineteenth Century (1845). In “Lawsuit,” Fuller formed her argumentative format using the Muse and Minerva to represent the two sides of the radical duality that exists in each man and woman. With the support of Horace Greeley, who began the New York Tribune (1841) in order to elevate the masses, Fuller expanded her initial essay into a book-length manuscript that Bell Gale Chevigny (1994) says gave “psychological integrity and a new attention to the claims of society and politics.”
When Woman was published, Fuller was on a journey to the Great Lakes, where she gained valuable experiences beyond those of transcendental New England. She wrote about these experiences in a book of essays outlining the natural beauty of the area.
Summer on the Lakes in 1843 (1844) initially gave evidence of Fuller’s romantic view of the plight of Native Americans. Later, however, she spent time with the Indians at Mackinaw Island and began to feel differently, writing that she understood the “soul” of their race. She further expressed this sensitivity in her subsequent social essays for the Tribune by addressing the plight of immigrants who faced ethnic, religious, racial, and economic discrimination. Among her most famous essays are those such as “The Irish Character” (1845), in which she exposes the common expression, “No Irish need apply.”
She gained her knowledge firsthand as she visited homes, workplaces, schools, prisons, and insane asylums. She provided eloquent defenses for equality of women’s education and fought the evils of capital punishment. She became a champion of the poor, the blind, the insane, and social outcasts, including prostitutes who were often viewed as social inferiors or ruined women. She tackled the issue of slavery in seven pieces, most notably her “Narrative of Frederick Douglass” (1845); she argued that everyone should read Douglass to understand how the human mind is “stifled in bondage.”
Social issues did not prevent Fuller from maintaining her interest in literary criticism.
Papers on Literature and Art (1846) provided her with new popularity in America and abroad. Here Fuller combined a number of her Tribune reviews on writers such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Charles Brockden Brown, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow with an original essay on the state of American literature. She also wrote “Modern British Poets” (1846), in which she assessed writers such as Byron, Keats, Coleridge, and Wordsworth. She completed a favorable review of Elizabeth Barrett’s poems (1845), expressing her “cordial admiration” of the work.
In August 1846, Fuller became one of the first American correspondents to cover the European scene. Accompanied by philanthropist Marcus Spring and his family, Fuller visited England, France, and Italy. While she was encouraged by the roles of English women in theater and publishing, she was appalled by their general poverty and poor education. She outlined her views in “On Travel in England and Scotland” (1846–47). In France, she met and became a defender of the writer George Sand.
Because of her earlier meeting with the Italian patriot Giuseppe Mazzini in London, Fuller, captivated by the cause of Italian liberty, left the Springs in Venice. Remaining in Italy, she took up the patriots’ cause by visiting the wounded soldiers and forming alliances with patriots such as the Marchesa Costanza Arconati, a noblewoman who introduced Fuller to important literary and political figures. Fuller’s disillusionment with Pius IX resulted in an anti-Catholic turn in her Tribune writings (1849); this proved to be personally costly. She led with essays such as “On Austrian Rule and the Need for Revolution” (1847) and followed with “On the Pope’s Flight and the Condition of Women” (1848).
Unable to have her History of Italy published in England, Fuller determined to return home to regain her reputation, which had been sullied by rumors of her romance with an Italian nobleman and the birth of their son. Unfortunately, Fuller, the Italian nobleman, and their son died in a shipwreck off the coast of Fire Island, New York. Her manuscript of History of Italy was never recovered.
Sarah Margaret Fuller, Marchesa d’Ossoli. Born 23 May 1810 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Studied privately, tutored by her father. Taught at Bronson Alcott’s Temple School, 1836, and Hiram Fuller’s Greene Street School, two years. Involved with transcendentalism, 1836–44: editor and major contributor, the Dial, 1840–44. Organized the Boston Conversationalists, which ran weekly “Conversations” for women, 1839–44.
Traveled in the Midwest, 1843–44. Moved to New York, 1844: journalist for the New York Tribune, 1844–46, and sent articles from abroad, from 1846. Traveled to Europe, 1846, and settled in Italy. Liaison with Giovanni Angelo Ossoli (possibly married, 1848): one son. Forced to leave Rome, then Italy, after the fall of Rome to the French. Died (in a shipwreck off Fire Island, New York), 19 July 1850.
Essays and Related Prose
Summer on the Lakes in 1843, 1844; facsimile reprint, 1972
Woman in the Nineteenth Century, 1845; in Woman in the 19th Century, and Kindred Papers Relating to the Sphere, Condition, and Duties of Woman, edited by Arthur B.Fuller, 1855
Papers on Literature and Art, 1846; as Literature and Art, 1852; enlarged edition, as Art, Literature, and Drama, edited by Arthur B.Fuller, 1860
At Home and Abroad; or, Things and Thought in America and Europe, edited by Arthur B.Fuller, 1856
Life Without and Life Within; or, Reviews, Narratives, Essays, and Poems, edited by Arthur B.Fuller, 1859
Writings (selection), edited by Mason Wade, 1941
Margaret Fuller, American Romantic: A Selection from Her Writings and
Correspondence, edited by Perry Miller, 1963
The Educated Woman in America: Selected Writings of Catherine Beecher, Margaret Fuller, and M.Carey Thomas, edited by Barbara M.Cross, 1965
Essays on American Life and Letters, edited by Joel Myerson, 1978
“These Sad But Glorious Days”: Dispatches from Europe, 1846–1850, edited by Larry J.Reynolds and Susan Belasco Smith, 1991
The Essential Margaret Fuller, edited by Jeffrey Steele, 1992
The Portable Margaret Fuller, edited by Mary Kelley, 1994
Woman in the Nineteenth Century and Other Writings, edited by Donna Dickenson, 1994
Margaret Fuller’s New York Journalism: A Biographical Essay and Key Writings, edited by Catherine C.Mitchell, 1995
Myerson, Joel, Margaret Fuller: An Annotated Secondary Bibliography, New York: Burt Franklin, 1977
Myerson, Joel, Margaret Fuller: A Descriptive Bibliography, Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1978
Allen, Margaret Vanderhaar, The Achievement of Margaret Fuller, University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1979
Brown, Arthur W., Margaret Fuller, New York: Twayne, 1964
Chevigny, Bell Gale, editor, The Woman and the Myth: Margaret Fuller’s Life and Writings, Boston: Northeastern University Press, revised edition, 1994
Myerson, Joel, editor, Critical Essays on Margaret Fuller, Boston: Hall, 1980
Watson, David, Margaret Fuller, an American Romantic, Oxford: Berg, 1988
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