Fuller, Margaret

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.
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Fuller, Margaret

Margaret Fuller, 1810–50, American writer, lecturer, and public intellectual, b. Cambridgeport (now part of Cambridge), Mass. She was one of the most influential personalities in the American literary circles of her day. A precocious child, she was forced by her father, a Massachusetts congressman, through an education that impaired her health but nonetheless gave her a broad knowledge of literature and languages. A stimulating talker, she conducted (1839–44) a series of conversation classes for society women in Boston on social, literary, historical, and philosophical topics. She was an ardent feminist, and her book Woman in the Nineteenth Century (1845) treated feminism in its economic, intellectual, political, and sexual aspects. A leader of transcendentalism, she edited its premier journal, the Dial, for its first three years (1840–43). Although she has been identified as Zenobia in Hawthorne's Blithedale Romance, she was never in sympathy with the Brook Farm experiment upon which the book is based. More recognizable is James Russell Lowell's caricature of her as Miranda in the Fable for Critics. Horace Greeley, attracted by her writings, including Summer on the Lakes in 1843 (1844), called her (1844) to New York City as the first literary critic of the New York Tribune, from which her Papers on Literature and Art (1846) were republished. While working for Greeley, she also wrote essays on the unfairness of marriage, abuses in asylums and prisons, and African-American and woman suffrage.

She sailed for England in 1846, and there became the first American female foreign correspondent. She also met and impressed such eminent writers as George Sand, George Eliot, Matthew Arnold, and William Wordsworth. In 1847, Fuller went to Rome, where she married the Marchese Ossoli, a follower of Mazzini, and with him took part in the Revolution of 1848–49, writing letters home describing the situation for Tribune readers. In 1850, while sailing home to the United States, she and her husband and 20-month-old son were drowned when the ship was wrecked off Fire Island, N.Y. Also lost in the wreck was the manuscript of her history of the Roman Republic. Her works were republished incompletely by her brother, Arthur Fuller; her love letters were edited by Julia Ward Howe; and three of her transcendentalist friends, Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Henry Channing, and James Freeman Clarke, created an anthology of her works and reminiscences of her life entitled The Memoirs of Margaret Fuller Ossoli (1852, repr. 1972) that for a few months was America's bestselling book.

See her selected writings, Woman and the Myth, ed. by B. G. Chevigny (1977); her letters (ed. by R. N. Hudspeth, 4 vol., 1983–87); J. Myerson, ed., Fuller in Her Own Time (2008); biographies by J. W. Howe (1883, repr. 1969), T. Higginson (1884), M. Wade (1940, repr. 1973), P. Blanchard (1987), C. Capper (2 vol., 1992 and 2007), B. G. Chevigny (1976, rev. ed. 1994), J. v. Mehren (1995), M. M. Murray (2008), J. Matteson (2012), and M. Marshall (2013); studies by P. Miller, ed. (1963), J. Myerson, ed. (1980), D. Watson (1989), F. Fleischmann, ed. (2000), and J. Steele (2001).

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