Margaret Fuller: An American Romantic Life - Vol. 2

Margaret Fuller: An American Romantic Life - Vol. 2

Margaret Fuller: An American Romantic Life - Vol. 2

Margaret Fuller: An American Romantic Life - Vol. 2

Synopsis

Filled with dramatic, ironic, and sometimes tragic turns, this superb biography captures the story of one of America's most extraordinary figures, producing at once the best life of Fuller ever written and one of the great biographies in American history. In Volume II, Charles Capper illuminates Fuller's public years, focusing on her struggles to establish her identity as an influential intellectual woman in the Romantic Age. Capper brings to life Fuller's dramatic mixture of inward struggles, intimate social life, and deep engagements with the major movements of her time. He describes how Fuller struggled to reconcile high avant-garde cultural ideals and Romantic critical methods with democratic social and political commitments, and he reveals how she strove to articulate a cosmopolitan vision for her nation's culture and politics. Capper also offers fresh and often startlingly new treatments of Fuller's friendships with Ralph Waldo Emerson, Thomas Carlyle, and Giuseppe Mazzini and many others.

Excerpt

“Margaret had so many aspects to her soul that she might furnish material for a hundred biographers,” Margaret Fuller’s close friend James Freeman Clarke remarked to her early biographer Thomas Wentworth Higginson, “and all could not be said even then.” Surely, this is right. Indeed, Fuller’s friends compiled a long list of paradoxical psychological traits: sarcastic and reverent, serious and droll, self-regarding and self-sacrificing, alienated and engaged, full of broad good sense and of passionate temperament, and, perhaps most often cited, “masculine” and “feminine.” “This alternation perplexes the biographer, as it did the observer,” Ralph Waldo Emerson recalled. “We contradict on the second page what we affirm on the first.”

Yet every life, however multitudinous, has a distinctive shape. As in the first volume, my intention in this second one is to present a modern biography of a woman’s thoughts and actions as they were embedded in the public and private discourses of her time. Although this is the first comprehensive biography of Fuller, her life and identity as an intellectual remains my principal focus. The term “intellectual” would not come into common usage until the end of her century, but she and her Romantic compatriots fully understood that was who she and they were. They were “thinkers” (to use Fuller’s term) whose self-reflective ideas gave meaning to their lives, established their cultural authority, and mediated between their experiences and their expressions. I use the qualifier Romantic advisedly: to denote her embodiment of that movement’s central proposition—that the life of the subjective mind contains infinite depths of meaning and value. I also seek the right tone to retain yet bridge the distance between Fuller’s time and ours. However much Fuller’s relentless quest for authenticity prefigured a “modern” sensibility in American intellectual life, as I believe it did, her Romantic language and transcendent spiritual hopes belong to a previous century and leave a gulf that only ironic empathy can fill.

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