Minerva and the Muse: A Life of Margaret Fuller

Minerva and the Muse: A Life of Margaret Fuller

Minerva and the Muse: A Life of Margaret Fuller

Minerva and the Muse: A Life of Margaret Fuller

Synopsis

Writer, teacher, and outspoken feminist, Margaret Fuller (1810-1850) was a dynamic presence in American intellectual life. In this new biography, Joan van Mehren makes use of a wealth of new material to provide a sensitive portrait of Fuller's evolution as a woman and a writer.

Excerpt

In 1902, when a mass magazine held a poll to select twenty American women to present as candidates for the Hall of Fame for Great Americans at University Heights in New York City, Margaret Fuller came in sixth, behind Harriet Beecher Stowe but ahead of Mary Lyon, Frances Willard, and Maria Mitchell, all of whose names were engraved in high relief on one of the hall's 150 bronze tablets three years later. Even so, Fuller's placing in the poll -- she garnered more votes than Pocahontas, Betsy Ross, Louisa May Alcott, and Abigail Adamsattests to her celebrity at the turn of the century. A 1902 book on the Hall of Fame considered the twenty "most eligible women" for the honor and included thumbnail biographical sketches of each of them. The researcher did a careless job on Fuller:

Sarah Margaret Fuller was born in Cambridgeport, Mass., in 1810. Early in life she won friends among the leading writers and philosophers of the day, her unusual mental qualities enabling her to meet them as equals. In 1844, she came to New York and joined the staff of the Tribune, displaying in her writing a wide philanthropic purpose and occupying a high position in literary and artistic circles. In 1847, while on a visit to Europe, she was married to Giovanni Angelo Ossoli, Marquis Ossoli, and became an ardent supporter of the struggle for [Italian] independence. On her return to New York she renewed her literary work, winning fresh renown as an author and a reformer.

The glaring error in this account is the ending. On Fuller's return to New York in the summer of 1850, the bark Elizabeth, in which she was traveling with Giovanni Ossoli and their two-year-old son, was caught in a hurricane and went aground less than a hundred yards off Fire Island. After several hours of waiting on board for rescue, the entire family was drowned when the ship broke up. In the course of the following week, Horace Greeley published a stirring elegy to Fuller in the New-York Daily Tribune and sent his star reporter, Bayard Taylor, to Fire Island to cover the story; Ralph Waldo Emerson sent Henry Thoreau to canvass the beaches in search of any remains of Fuller or Ossoli, whose bodies were never recovered; by the end of the week the Tribune reported that Fire Island citizens "often exclaimed" that had they known that so much "interest was taken in the lady on board" extra measures to save her might have been undertaken.

At the time rumors of scandal were circulating over the relationship of the forty-year-old Fuller to the handsome twenty-nine-year-old Marchese Ossoli, who lacked any pretension to learning or intellectual power. While serving as . . .

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