Oratorical Culture in Nineteenth-Century America: Transformations in the Theory and Practice of Rhetoric

By Gregory Clark; S. Michael Halloran | Go to book overview

4
Margaret Fuller A Rhetoric of Citizenship in Nineteenth-Century America

R. Joy Rouse

The project of positioning Margaret Fuller in transformations of nineteenth-century rhetoric is a slippery one. At best, she is a marginal figure in histories of rhetoric because of their primary focus on institutional rhetorics and rhetorical instruction, and she did not produce any one text that fits easily into the category of rhetorical treatises. She didn't write a textbook or a detailed analysis or theory of her teaching and writing practices. Historians of rhetoric do, however, have access to records of her practices and observations about teaching, her thoughts about women's positions in the nineteenth century, her feminist manifesto, Woman in the Nineteenth Century, and a rich collection of articles she wrote for Horace Greeley New York Tribune. Why, then, one might ask, write about Fuller in the context of the history of rhetoric -- or more specifically, why Fuller in a consideration of transformations of nineteenth-century rhetoric?

One answer to this question can be gleaned from the range of her practices and her revision of the transcendentalist notion of self- culture. Fuller's understanding of self-culture and her later theory of mutual interpretation, as rhetorics, encouraged individuals, especially women, to participate in civic and communal activity; in addition, her work evoked a standard of public morality addressing the needs of oppressed people. It is paradoxical that during the years I examine here, 1836 to 1846, Fuller's work and commitment to civic virtue were developing alongside the growing emphasis in main-

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