Providence, Rhode Island
New York, New York
1810: born in Cambridgeport, Massachusetts
1835: Fuller's father dies, and she takes responsibility for educating
her younger siblings.
1837: teaches school in Providence, Rhode Island
1838: returns to Boston, Massachusetts
1839: translation of "Conversations with Goethe in the Last Years of His
1839-1844: supports herself by presenting "Conversations" for women on
poetry, ethics, and other topics; eventually admits men
1840-1842: edits The Dial
1843: tours Midwest
1844: Summer on the Lakes, in 1843
1844: moves to New York and works as a literary critic for Horace Greeley's
New York Tribune
1845: Woman in the Nineteenth Century
1846: "Papers on Literature and Art"
1846: sails to England to work as a correspondent
1847: settles in Rome
1848: gives birth to Angelo, a son by Giovanni Ossoli
1849: may have married Ossoli
1850: dies in shipwreck on way back to America
In an era when most American women lacked the means or even the confidence
to become the intellectual equals of men, Margaret Fuller was an intellectual
giant. Given a classical education by her father, she possessed a foundation
of knowledge and a keen mind that together made her a leading thinker and
writer of her time. In particular, she was known for her literary criticism,
which she published in the New York Tribune and elsewhere, and her
nonfiction, includingWoman in the Nineteenth Century. In this book,
published even before activists such as Susan B. Anthony began to work
for women's political and economic independence, Fuller sought to free
women's minds, to give them the opportunities and confidence to achieve
intellectual independence. In addition to writing about this subject,
Fuller organized "Conversations" for women near her home in Massachusetts.
Like Franklin's Junto and other organizations of men, these gatherings
provided intellectual stimulation for participants.
Issues and themes
Fuller was by no means the only American woman to achieve literary success
in the period before the Civil War. At a time when women made up a large
part of the national readership, women such as Lydia Maria Child, Susan
Warner, Sarah Parker Willis, Emily Dickinson, and Sarah Whitman wrote novels
and poetry, and all but Dickinson achieved popular acclaim. Harriet Beecher
Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin was by far the most successful book of
the century, selling more copies in the United States than any other book
except the Bible. Fuller was distinctive, however, in that she ventured
into the world of philosophy and social commentary--a realm
dominated by men. A major figure of Transcendentalism, she attended
meetings with Emerson and other male intellectuals and edited the Transcendentalist
publication The Dial from 1840 to 1842. Sharing the other Transcentalists'
interest in the importance of the individual, Fuller reminded readers
that women were individuals, too, and encouraged women to join the Transcendentalist
movement. It has been said that Fuller claimed for women the same principles
that Emerson claimed for men.
"The Great Lawsuit"
What, according to this essay, are the four types of relationships between
men and women? Which does Fuller seem to think is best and why?
In what ways does Fuller want to see women's lives and opportunities changed?
Consider her comment on Mary Wollstonecraft and George Sand: "Such women
as these, rich in genius, of most tender sympathies, and capable of high
virtue and a chastened harmony, ought not to find themselves by birth in
a place so narrow, that in breaking bonds they become outlaws" (729).
What does Fuller say are the "two aspects of woman's nature" (733)? What
does each represent? Do you agree with her? Why or why not?
Analyze Fuller's description of the female intellect. In what way is it
different from the male intellect?
In his essay "The Poet," Ralph Waldo Emerson compares a poet to an "Aeolian
harp" through which nature flows and creates the music of poetry. How does
Fuller make a similar case for a woman's relationship with art? According
to her definitions, is a woman a more natural artist than a man? Explain
by citing passages from the essay.
"There is no wholly masculine man," Fuller writes, "no purely feminine
woman" (733). What are the implications of this statement?
Why does Fuller emphasize the "Minerva side" of the female intellect?
How does Fuller use the metaphor of the virgin to describe the proper form
of a woman's intellectual development?
Describe Fuller's views on marriage. Do you agree with her? Why or why
Analyze Fuller's feminism by comparing it with other types with which you
Fuller, Margaret. The Essential Margaret Fuller. New Brunswick,
N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1992.
---. "The Great Lawsuit." Norton Anthology of American Literature. Shorter
Fourth Edition. New York: W.W. Norton, 1995. 726-736.
"Margaret Fuller." Norton Anthology of American Literature. Shorter
Fourth Edition. New York: W.W. Norton, 1995. 726-728.
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