Transfiguring America: Myth, Ideology, and Mourning in Margaret Fuller's Writing

Transfiguring America: Myth, Ideology, and Mourning in Margaret Fuller's Writing

Transfiguring America: Myth, Ideology, and Mourning in Margaret Fuller's Writing

Transfiguring America: Myth, Ideology, and Mourning in Margaret Fuller's Writing

Synopsis

Transfiguring America is the product of more than eight years of research and numerous published articles on Margaret Fuller, arguably one of nineteenth-century America's most ardent feminists. Focusing on Fuller's development of a powerful language of cultural critique and mythmaking in the years immediately preceding her famous book Woman in the Nineteenth Century, Steele shows why Fuller had such a profound impact on the women's rights movement and modern conceptions of female identity.

Following a strict upbringing and severe tutelage by her father, Fuller went on to make a life as a writer, teacher, and champion for women's rights and equality. She formed many important relationships, most notably with Ralph Waldo Emerson. While Emerson taught Fuller a great deal, including the way to an "inner life", he fell short, as her father had done. But her spiritual struggles with her upbringing and relationships led to her continued intellectual maturity.

Fuller demanded not only political equality for women, but also emotional, intellectual, and spiritual freedom. With Woman in the Nineteenth Century, she advanced the cause of women's rights, urging women to find independence from the roles society had imposed upon them, in the home and with the family. She also promoted legal reform to end inequalities to women and spoke frankly on issues of marriage and relationships. While it shocked many, the first edition of the book sold out within a week in 1845 and sparked serious debate.

In Transfiguring America, Steele takes an in-depth look at Fuller's philosophy before this famous book, and how it makes her an important contributor to theoretical debates. He points out that Fuller'spersonal experiences and her cultural critiques are, in fact, the heart of her distinctive and highly influential writing. This book is further evidence that in addition to her role as one of nineteenth-century America's most po

Excerpt

In recent years, much of the best scholarship on Margaret Fuller has conceptualized her writing in terms of intellectual and cultural exchange. Highlighting Fuller's lifelong engagement with conversation, translation, and epistolary dialogue, many scholars have stressed the ways in which her writing mediates competing viewpoints, discursive frameworks, and values. At its best, this scholarship provides important insights into the intellectual mobility of a writer who became one of America's first and best cultural critics. But this foregrounding of Fuller's incisive intelligence and rhetorical brilliance has cast other aspects of her career into the shadow. One of the major goals of this study is to right the balance by focusing on sites of emotional and imaginative intensity in her life and writing. the result has been a special kind of biography—not an account of the public events of Fuller's life, but rather an analysis of the imaginative events shaping the contours of her career and the emergence of her social activism.

Three central terms structure my argument: myth, ideology, and mourning. Despite their individual differences, these three concepts highlight dynamic imaginative processes that blend private and public commitments. Fuller recognized that a culture is defined by the narratives it believes in—central myths shaping the contours of experience and being. Her brilliance lay in the capacity to disturb nineteenth-century ideologies of gender, race, and class through the construction of new myths, which reconfigured human potential. Articulating the sedimented losses that had accrued in the silenced and marginalized members of society, she found in narratives of mourning a means of highlighting the pain and dislocation residing in the psychic and cultural “underworld” of American life.

But if Fuller's political insights were born in the crucible of pain, they rose phoenix-like out of the ashes toward a realm of renewed being. the most profound narratives of loss, she discovered, carried within them the seeds of hope—what she termed a “brightness” emerging out of “darkness.” At the heart of this insight lay the conviction that selves, communities, and even nationalities might be transfigured by a spirit of reform. Fuller's names for that spirit changed often during the course of her career, but not the radical faith that enlightened individuals have the responsibility to remold public values, shaping them to the ever-elusive ideal of democracy.

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