Margaret Fuller, Critic: Writings from the New-York Tribune, 1844-1846

By Judith Mattson Bean; Joel Myerson | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

When Margaret Fuller became the literary editor of the New-York Tribune in the fall of 1844, she also embarked on a process of reshaping her identity. Her Tribune essays, like her most famous work, Woman in the Nineteenth Century(1845), can be read not only as cultural critique but also a record of Fuller's evolving identity. With each column Fuller expressed her sense of self by taking positions that identified her politically and culturally. Before moving to New York City, Fuller lived in Boston, where she participated actively in its culture and identified herself with the progressive and reformist citizens, such as the Reverend William Ellery Channing, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Amos Bronson Alcott. She initiated an educational experiment by leading seminars (called Conversations) for women and edited the Dial, the Transcendentalists' literary journal, for two years. 1 Although informally educated, she was described as the most brilliant woman in America and one of the leading minds of her time. In Boston her efforts were aimed at interpreting European literature and German literary philosophy, encouraging American literature and art, and developing her own intellectual powers. Her philosophical orientation toward the idealism of the German Romantics such as Herder and Goethe was balanced by her appreciation for classical thought. Although progressive in literary and educational theories, she rejected direct association with “radical” groups such as the abolitionist societies in Boston. Her Tribune essays indicate that her New York experiences transformed her political consciousness and reoriented her perspective. They show that she gained an increased understanding of the opportunities for political action open to women and to intellectuals as she directly considered national political programs and her own role in shaping them through one of the most popular newspapers of the day.

Although in the 1840s political endeavor was, by definition, men's work, Fuller's columns reveal her growing radicalism and confidence in her political identity. Working for the Tribune brought her into contact with marginalized

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