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The Lives of Margaret Fuller: A Biography by…
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The Lives of Margaret Fuller: A Biography

by John Matteson

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Margaret Fuller (1810-50) was the only woman to be included in the Concord circle of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and Nathaniel Hawthorne. The author of the groundbreaking "Woman in the Nineteenth Century" and a war correspondent for the New York Tribune, Fuller returned home from her adventures in Italy only to drown 250 yards from the shore of her native land. She is a natural choice for biographers wanting to latch onto both a serious and sensational subject -- and several biographers have done so in recent years.

But as John Matteson shows in "The Lives of Margaret Fuller," it was not always so. By the early 20th century, Fuller had been largely forgotten. Even academics -- who can keep a reputation alive by teaching writers into the literary canon -- ignored her because she was a one-book author, and because much of her impact derived from a charismatic personality so powerful that when she died Emerson said he had lost his audience.

Right after her death her fellow writers assembled a volume devoted to her memory that was a surprise bestseller, eclipsed only by the publication of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" in 1852. But the kind of mostly pious, inspirational tributes that led to the proliferation of Margaret Fuller clubs in the decades after her death had played itself out by the 1920s, when scholars of all kinds were canonizing great writers, not great personalities.

Flash forward 50 years to the 1970s, with the revival of the women's movement and the desire in academia to revise the canon to give voice to the writings of women the male-dominated academy had discounted. Suddenly Fuller's writing and cultural influence became empowering -- to use a favorite academic word. And the culmination of this trend is surely Matteson's masterful biography, with chapter titles that emphasize the reasons his protean subject is likely to remain in the forefront of efforts to explore and dissect the American psyche: "Prodigy," "Misfit," "Apostle," "Conversationalist," "Ecstatic Editor," "Seeker of Utopia," "Advocate," "Lover and Critic," "Internationalist," "Inamorata," "Revolutionary," "Victim."

Pulitzer Prize winner Matteson expresses his significant debts to other biographers who have emphasized many of the "lives" that Fuller led as she was quite consciously breaking the mold her society wished to construct for women. His writing seems to derive palpable energy from Fuller's own dynamism. He does not downplay her arrogance and other faults, but in the end he discovers a Fuller that is startlingly modern in her contradictions and commitments. ( )
  carl.rollyson | Oct 7, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0393068056, Hardcover)

From the Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer John Matteson, an account of the "Susan Sontag" of nineteenth-century America.

A brilliant writer and a fiery social critic, Margaret Fuller (1810–1850) was perhaps the most famous American woman of her generation. Outspoken and quick-witted, idealistic and adventurous, she became the leading female figure in the transcendentalist movement, wrote a celebrated column of literary and social commentary for Horace Greeley’s newspaper, and served as the first foreign correspondent for an American newspaper. While living in Europe she fell in love with an Italian nobleman, with whom she became pregnant out of wedlock. In 1848 she joined the fight for Italian independence and, the following year, reported on the struggle while nursing the wounded within range of enemy cannons. Amid all these strivings and achievements, she authored the first great work of American feminism: Woman in the Nineteenth Century. Despite her brilliance, however, Fuller suffered from self-doubt and was plagued by ill health. John Matteson captures Fuller’s longing to become ever better, reflected by the changing lives she led. 28 black-and-white illustrations

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:00 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

An account of the brilliant writer and a fiery social critic Margaret Fuller (1810-1850) who became the leading female figure in the transcendentalist movement, wrote a celebrated column of literary and social commentary for Horace Greeley's newspaper, and served as the first foreign correspondent for an American newspaper. Amid all these strivings and achievements, she authored the first great work of American feminism: Woman in the Nineteenth Century.… (more)

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