Authors: Megan Marshall
Table of Contents
Copyright © 2013 by Megan Marshall
All rights reserved
For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 215 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10003.
The Library of Congress has cataloged the print edition as follows:
Margaret Fuller : a new American life / Megan Marshall.
1. Fuller, Margaret, 1810–1850. 2. Authors, American—19th century—Biography. 3. Feminists—United States—Biography. I. Title.
In memory of—
Where I make an impression it must be by being most myself.
—Margaret Fuller to her editor John Wiley, 1846
List of Illustrations
Margaret Fuller, engraving by Henry Bryan Hall Jr. Graphics File, Prints & Drawings, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.
Timothy Fuller, portrait by Rufus Porter. Fruitlands Museum, Harvard, Mass., F.1992.6.
Margarett Crane Fuller, daguerreotype, c. 1840s. Courtesy of Frances Fuller Soto.
“The Old Hovey Tavern, Cambridgeport, Which Was Burned June 12th 1828,” lithograph, c. 1820s. Boston Athenaeum, Prints and Photographs Dept., B B64C1 Hot.h.(no.1).
Margaret Fuller, sketch by James Freeman Clarke. Houghton Library, Harvard University, MS Am 1569.3 (11).
James Freeman Clarke, sketch by his sister, Sarah Freeman Clarke. Houghton Library, Harvard University, MS Am 1569.3 (10).
“Perspective View of the Seat of the Hon. Francis Dana,” watercolor by Jacob Bigelow, 1806, for his Harvard College mathematical thesis. Harvard University Archives, HUC 8782.514 (126).
Photograph of 108 Pleasant Street, Farmer’s Row, Groton. Courtesy of Groton Historical Society, Groton, Mass.
The Greene Street School, Providence, lithograph. Courtesy of the Rhode Island Historical Society, RHi X17 371.
Caroline Sturgis, portrait. Courtesy of the Sturgis Library, Barnstable, Mass.
Samuel Gray Ward, salt print photograph. Boston Athenaeum, Prints and Photographs Dept., AA 5.4 Ward.s.(no.1).
Anna Barker Ward, oil portrait by William Morris Hunt. Private collection.
Margaret Fuller, photograph, Southworth and Hawes, 1850-55, after a daguerreotype by John Plumbe, 1846. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Gift of Edward Southworth Hawes in memory of his father, Josiah Johnson Hawes, 43.1412.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, daguerreotype. Courtesy of Concord Free Public Library, Concord, Mass.
Ellery Channing, portrait. Courtesy of J. C. Marriner.
Ellen Kilshaw Fuller, daguerreotype. Courtesy of Frances Fuller Soto.
“New York City Hall, Park and Environs,” c. 1849, lithograph by John Bachmann. From the collection of the New-York Historical Society.
George Sand, sketch, oil on canvas, by Thomas Couture, c. 1848. Courtesy of Réunion des Musées Nationaux/Art Resource, N.Y.
Adam Mickiewicz, drawing by Kazimierz Mordasewicz, 1898, after a daguerreotype of 1839 by an unknown artist. Courtesy of Muzeum Literatury Adama Mickiewicza, Warsaw.
Giovanni Angelo Ossoli, daguerreotype. Houghton Library, Harvard University, MS AM 1086.1.
“Tasso’s Oak, Rome,” engraving by J. G. Strutt belonging to Margaret Fuller, inscribed “From the Wreck of the Elizabeth.” Courtesy of Lucilla Fuller Marvel.
Margaret Fuller, engraving by Henry Bryan Hall Jr.
HE ARCHIVIST PLACED THE SLIM VOLUME, AN ORDINARY
composition book with mottled green covers, in a protective foam cradle on the library desk in front of me. When I opened it, I knew I would find pages filled with a familiar looping script, a forward-slanting hand that often seemed to rush from one line to the next as if racing to catch up with the writer’s coursing thoughts.
But this notebook was different from any other I’d seen: it had survived the wreck of the
off Fire Island in July 1850, packed safely in a trunk that floated to shore, where grieving friends retrieved the soggy diary and dried it by the fire. The green pasteboard cover had pulled away from its backing; the pages were warped at the edges in even ripples. This was Margaret Fuller’s last known journal. Its contents were all that remained to hint at what she might have written in her famous lost manuscript on the rise and fall of the 1849 Roman Republic, the revolution she had barely survived. The manuscript itself—“what is most valuable to me if I live of any thing”—had been swept away more than a century and a half ago in a storm of near hurricane force, along with Margaret, her young Italian husband, and their two-year-old son, all of them passengers on the ill-fated
I opened the cover and read what appeared to be a message directed to me, or to anyone else who might choose to study this singular document. The words, written on a white index card, had not been penned in Margaret Fuller’s flowing longhand, but rather penciled in a primly vertical script formed in a decade closer to mine—by a descendant? an earlier biographer? a library cataloguer? Two brief lines carried a judgment on the volume, and on Margaret herself: “Nothing
public events merely.”
The nameless reader, like so many before and since, had been searching Margaret Fuller’s private papers for clues to the mysteries in her personal life—Had she really married the Italian marchese she called her husband? Was their child conceived out of wedlock?—and found the evidence lacking.
I turned the pages, reading at random. In the early passages, Margaret recalled her arrival at Naples in the spring of 1847 at age thirty-six, her “first acquaintance with the fig and olive,” and sightseeing in Capri and Pompeii before traveling overland to Rome.
Having grown up a prodigy of classical learning in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Margaret had long wished to make this journey. Yet perhaps it was for the best that a reversal in family fortune kept her in New England through her early thirties. She had made a name for herself among the Transcendentalists, becoming Emerson’s friend and Thoreau’s editor before moving to New York City for an eighteen-month stint as front-page columnist for Horace Greeley’s
which led to this belated European tour in a triumphal role as foreign correspondent, witness to the revolutions that spread across the Continent beginning in 1848.
Flipping ahead to January 1849, I read of the exiled soldier-politicians Garibaldi and Mazzini greeted in Rome as returning heroes and of a circular posted by the deposed Pope Pius IX, excommunicating any citizen who had aided in the assassination of his highest deputy the previous November: “The people received it with jeers, tore it at once from the walls.”
Then—“Monstrous are the treacheries of our time”!—French troops, dispatched to restore the pope to power, had landed just fifty miles away on the Mediterranean coast, at Civitavecchia.
Finally, on April 28: “Rome is barricaded, the foe daily hourly expected.”
These vivid entries, brief as they were, would anchor my narrative of Margaret’s Roman years. Public events “merely”?
How extraordinary it was to find a woman’s private journal filled with such accounts. Yet the inscriber of the index card had found the contents disappointing. Would any reader fault a man—especially an internationally known writer and activist, as Margaret Fuller was—for keeping a journal confined to public events through a springtime of revolution? Margaret well understood this limited view of women and the consequences for those who overstepped its bounds. She herself had scorned those who censured her personal heroines, Mary Wollstonecraft and George Sand, for flouting the institution of marriage; Margaret had been appalled that critics “will not take off the brand” once it had been “set upon” these unconventional women, even after they found “their way to purer air”—in death.
Margaret’s own legacy had been clouded by the same prurient attention, often leading to condemnation, always distracting attention from her achievements.
For a time I believed I must write a biography of Margaret Fuller that turned away from the intrigues in her private life, that spoke of public events solely, and that would affirm her eminence as America’s originating and most consequential theorist of woman’s role in history, culture, and society. Margaret Fuller was, to borrow a phrase coined by one of her friends, a “fore-sayer.”
No other writer, until Simone de Beauvoir took up similar themes in the 1940s, had so skillfully critiqued what Margaret Fuller termed in 1843 “the great radical dualism” of gender.
“There is no wholly masculine man, no purely feminine woman,” she had written, anticipating Virginia Woolf’s explorations of male and female character in fiction.
Margaret Fuller’s haunting allegories personifying flowers presaged Georgia O’Keeffe’s sensual flower paintings; her untimely midcareer death set off a persistent public longing to refuse the facts and grant her a different fate, similar to the reaction following the midflight disappearance of Amelia Earhart nearly one hundred years later. Although she had titled her most influential book
Woman in the Nineteenth Century,
heralding an era in which she expected great advances for women, Margaret Fuller fit more readily among these heroines of the twentieth century. She deserved a place in this international sisterhood whose achievements her own pioneering writings helped to make possible.