American Studies ETDs

Author

Mary Maxine

Publication Date

5-3-1973

Abstract

Margaret Fuller, one of the most interesting people in nineteenth-century America, was also one of the most maligned. Our knowledge of her is distorted. It is because of this distortion that she has been incised from the social and intellectual history of the United States. I have dealt with two major problems: Margaret Fuller's transition from liberal to radical, from reformer ·to revolutionary, and with the reasons for the destruction of the memory of Margaret Fuller as a great American thinker and activist.

She wrote the first feminist tract printed in the United States: Woman in the Nineteenth Century; she, along with Poe, was the first literary critic; she was the first editor of The Dial. She wrote one of the first good books about the West, Summer on the Lakes, and as the first foreign correspondent for an American newspaper, Horace Greeley's Tribune, she sent back very astute political analyses of conditions in England and France and, finally, of the Roman revolution. Had she been a man, her place in the history of the United States would have been secure for any one of these achievements. But as a woman, a feminist, a revolutionary, she found her life to be hopelessly lonely.

It is as a feminist critic that I look at her works, her life, and the extent to which she was destroyed as a force in American thought. This view makes the work synthetic and speculative, both of which would have pleased Margaret Fuller. Because I have dealt with her as an American disciple of the Goethe-Schiller esthetic philosophy rather than as a transcendentalist I am in disagreement with the majority of Fuller scholars. The events of her life which have had to be dealt with are evidence of her final rejection of transcendentalism. Her adherence to the sensualism of Goethe, which repelled Emerson, her rejection of self-reliance for socialism, her rejection of the role of lonely intellectual for a life as lover, mother, revolutionary create a constellation of rebellion against New England transcendentalism.

She is often ridiculed as an egocentric because she considered. herself to be a "prophetess" or "seeress." If these words are understood in their metaphorical sense it is easy to see why she considered herself in this light. She used her classes in Boston, called conversations, as consciousness raising groups foreshadowing the modern feminist groups by one hundred and thirty years. Her very astute analysis of Mazzini, who was a dear friend and comrade-in-arms, revealed more than anything else her awareness of the present and future problems of the Roman revolution. She realized. that the problem for Italy was the exclusion of economics from the political revolution.

Margaret Fuller was deliberately forgotten because she revealed a basic flaw in American philosophers and philosophy, their alienation from life and living. By her life as well as her writings, she foreshadowed the feminist movement of today, and in doing so she diminished the men around her-­Emerson, Hawthorne, Holmes, Lowell--in their own eyes. She was not to be forgiven. She was to be destroyed by ridicule, censure, "kindness," the editing of her "flawed" work. Finding Margaret Fuller has been a work of excavation into the life and times of the people around her.

Language

English

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

American Studies

Level of Degree

Doctoral

Department Name

American Studies

First Committee Member (Chair)

Patricia Clark Smith

Second Committee Member

George Arms

Third Committee Member

Joel M. Jones

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