Chapter 4: American Transcendentalism

(Sarah) Margaret Fuller

© Paul P. Reuben
October 17, 2016

Page Links: | Primary Works | Achievement | Selected Bibliography 2000-Present | Study Questions |
MLA Style Citation of this Web Page |

| A Brief Biography |

Site Links: |  Chap 4: Index  | Alphabetical List | Table Of Contents | Home Page |

SMF Portraits
(The portrait on the left is at the Concord Free Public Library, Concord, Massachusetts and appears on the cover of Wilson's book listed below.)

Primary Works

"The Great Lawsuit. Man versus Men. Woman versus Women," (Dial essay) 1843; Summer on the Lakes, 1843, 1844; Woman in the Nineteenth Century, 1845; Papers on Literature and Art, 1846; At Home and Abroad, ed. Arthur B. Fuller, 1856; The Letters of Margaret Fuller, ed. Robert N. Hudspeth, 4 vols., 1983- .


"What woman needs is not a woman to act or rule, but as a nature to grow, as an intellect to discern, as a soul to live freely, and unimpeded to unfold such powers as were given her when we left our common home." - MF

Margaret Fuller worked as a schoolteacher, as an editor, held "conversations," was active in social reform, and went to Europe as a foreign correspondent. As a writer, she is admired as a literary critic and for her sympathies for the plight of the Indians. She has written on such themes as transcendentalism, women's rights, critical theory, gender roles, and political reform in Europe.

| Top | Selected Bibliography 2000-Present 

Adams, Kimberly V. Our Lady of Victorian Feminism: The Madonna in the Work of Anna Jameson, Margaret Fuller, and George Eliot. Athens, OH: Ohio UP, 2001.

Barolini, Helen. "Ardor and Apocalypse: The Timeless Trajectory of Margaret Fuller." in Their Other Side: Six American Women and the Lure of Italy. NY: Fordham UP, 2006.

Bennett, Michael. "Gender Democracy: Margaret Fuller and Sojourner Truth Argue the Case of Woman versus Women." in Democratic Discourses: The Radical Abolition Movement and Antebellum American Literature. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 2005.

Bomarito, Jessica. ed. Feminism in Literature: A Gale Critical Companion. Detroit, MI: Thomson Gale 2004

Capper, Charles. Margaret Fuller: An American Romantic Life. Vol. 2: The Public Years. NY: Oxford UP, 2007

Clack, Randall A. The Marriage of Heaven and Earth: Alchemical Regeneration in the Works of Taylor, Poe, Hawthorne, and Fuller. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2000.

Dimock, Wai-Chee. "The Planetary Dead: Margaret Fuller, Ancient Egypt, Italian Revolution." in Through Other Continents: American Literature across Deep Time. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2006.

Fish, Cheryl J. Black and White Women's Travel Narratives: Antebellum Explorations. Gainesville, FL: UP of Florida, 2004.

Fleischmann, Fritz. ed. Margaret Fuller's Cultural Critique: Her Age and Legacy. Peter Lang, 2000.

Gianquitto, Tina. "The Pressure of Hidden Causes: Margaret Fuller and Romantic Science." in 'Good Observers of Nature': American Women and the Scientific Study of the Natural World, 1820-1885. Athens: U of Georgia P, 2007.

Hudspeth, Robert N. "My Heart Is A Large Kingdom." Selected Letters of Margaret Fuller. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2001.

Marshall, Megan. Margaret Fuller: A New American Life. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 2013.

Matteson, John. The Lives of Margaret Fuller: A Biography. NY: Norton, 2012.

Mills, Bruce. Poe, Fuller, and the Mesmeric Arts: Transition States in the American Renaissance. Columbia: U of Missouri P, 2006.

Murray, Meg M. Margaret Fuller: Wandering Pilgrim. Athens: U of Georgia P, 2008.

Myerson, Joel. ed. Fuller in Her Own Time: A Biographical Chronicle of Her Life, Drawn from Recollections, Interviews, and Memoirs by Family, Friends, and Associates. Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 2008.

Newman, Lance. "Margaret Fuller, Rock River, and the Condition of America. in Our Common Dwelling: Henry Thoreau, Transcendentalism, and the Class Politics of Nature. NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.

Pacheco, Derek. Moral Enterprise: Literature and Education in Antebellum America. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 2013.

Showalter, Elaine. ed. The Vintage Book of American Women Writers. NY: Vintage, 2011.

Steele, Jeffrey. Transfiguring America: Myth, Ideology, and Mourning in Margaret Fuller's Writing. Columbia, MO: U of Missouri P, 2001.

Urbanski, Marie M. O. ed. Margaret Fuller: Visionary of the New Age. Orono, ME: Northern Lights Publication, 1994.

Vásquez, Mark G. Authority and Reform: Religious and Educational Discourses in Nineteenth-Century New England Literature. Knoxville, TN: U of Tennessee P, 2003.

| Top |Sarah Margaret Fuller (1810-1850): A Brief Biography
A Student Project by Trudi F. Sigmon 

Sarah Margaret Fuller was born on May 23, 1810 to Margarett Crane Fuller and Timothy Fuller in Cambridgeport (now part of Cambridge), Massachusetts. She was the first of nine children, and until her fifth birthday, the Fuller's only surviving child. Two children died in infancy. A sister, Julia Adelaide, died in October 1813 at 18 months old, when Margaret was 3 1/2 years old. Her earliest recollection, recorded in the Memoirs, is the death of her younger sister, according to Watson:

Thus, my first experience of life was one of death. She who would have been the companion of my life was severed from me, and I was left alone. This made a vast difference in my lot. Her character, if that fair face promised right, would have been soft, graceful and lively; it would have tempered mine to a gentler and more gradual course (4).

"The elder Timothy Fuller (1739-1805) had achieved notoriety for his dismissal by his congregation when he preached against the Revolution." (Watson 3) At "a local convention to ratify the new constitution he … refused to support a document that allowed for the continuation of slavery. His five sons all became lawyers, including Timothy, who had been demoted in his Harvard graduating class for leading a student protest." (Watson 3)

Timothy Fuller may be better known as how he set about his daughter's education than his four terms as congressman. He eventually served as chairman of the House Naval Committee. Timothy Fuller taught Sarah Margaret his own relentlessly logical thought process (Blanchard 22).

Fuller's education was unusual only because she was a girl. She was provided a "rigorous but severe model of intellectual attainment." (Steele 127) Such an education "provided a model of mental discipline that clashed with the gender roles of the time." (Steele 127) Fuller learned Latin at six years old and Greek at ten years old.

Fuller's mother, Margarett Crane Fuller, gave up her short career as a school teacher to marry Timothy Fuller in 1809. She was the gentle unifying bond in the Fuller family. Margaret later dropped the "Sarah" from her name and insisted on being called Margaret like her mother (but with one "t").

Fuller had to memorize daily passages from Virgil and recite up to 500 lines a week. From Virgil and studying Cicero, Fuller went to reading Plutarch. This is an example of an intense but disappointed father and a strong willed and gifted child. She was scolded for reading "Romeo & Juliet" on a Sunday when she was eight years old. She really didn't care about the scolding because she was so absorbed in the story.

She suffered from excruciating headaches, nightmares, sleepwalking, and twice was found in convulsions. She did not outgrow the nightmares or the sleepwalking until adulthood. The migraine headaches plagued her all her life (Blanchard 21).

Fuller took refuge from her father's academic demands in the quiet beauty of her mother's garden. According to Kornfeld, in her private journal Margaret wrote:

I loved to gaze on the roses, the violets, the lilies, the pinks; my mother's hand had planted them, and they bloomed for me. I culled the most beautiful. I looked at them on every side. I kissed them, I pressed them to my bosom with passionate emotions, such as I have never dared express to any human being. (11)

"Her mother's garden provided a welcome refuge from the strain of academic recitation in her father's study; and, in later years, flowers became powerful maternal symbols in Fuller's essays and poetry" (Steele 128).

Fuller was awkward and shy, and didn't know how to talk to other children. She was near-sighted and had developed a habit of half-closing her eyes whenever she looked at anyone (Blanchard 26). By 1820, Fuller was a moody, forgetful, untidy 10-year-old. She had shoulders that were rounded from being hunched over books, sitting over meals, and sitting over embroidery. She had acquired a facial mannerism that tipped the balance of her neutral looks toward plainness (Blanchard 33-34).

Timothy Fuller worried about his daughter becoming too blunt and too truthful. She was capable of blurting out frank remarks on subjects where others were wise enough to avoid. His solution was to send her to Dr. Park's school in Boston. Margaret was both anxious and afraid to go. The emphasis of her education would now shift from the intellectual sphere to the social. Before she was encouraged to be competitive, outspoken, candid, and abstractly idealistic. She would now be told to make herself less conspicuous, not to compete, not to speak her mind boldly, and to pay more attention to the practical details of everyday life (Blanchard 34-35).

Fuller loved the dancing lessons. She had blue eyes, strawberry blonde hair, and her mother's broad forehead. Most accounts say she was above average in height and had a well-developed figure at 13. Her complexion would take on a case of normal adolescent acne and it worried her father. Margaret wrote about it later, saying, "I recovered, and made up my mind to be bright and ugly" (Blanchard 40).

She was attracting the attention of Cambridge males many of whom were enrolled at Harvard. Fuller would still command the center of attention at the expense of violating the acknowledged rules of female behavior. "She lacked the opportunities for educational and professional advancement enjoyed by her male friends and by her younger brothers (three of whom eventually graduated from Harvard at a time when American colleges were closed to women)." (Steele 128) Fuller was sent to study at Miss Prescott's School for Young Ladies in Groton, 40 miles northwest of Boston. This was, of course, a finishing school.

She returned to Cambridge at 16 years old. She had an extraordinary talent for friendship. She gave and expected total loyalty. Intellect was not what she valued most in her friends. She looked for integrity, sensitivity, and idealism in her friends (Blanchard 54-55).

The family moved to Groton for Timothy Fuller's rural retirement. He was disillusioned with politics. When Timothy Fuller died suddenly of cholera on October 1, 1835, Margaret was put in the position of having to support her mother and younger siblings. She taught school for the next three years, first in Boston at Bronson Alcott's Temple School (1836-37) and then in Providence, Rhode Island (1837-39).

"Apart from her sense of isolation, she was now forcibly confronted with an image of what her future life would be if she did not succeed in changing it by her own efforts." (Blanchard 75) "It was the conversational teaching of adults, not children, which really interested her. In Boston, from 1839-44, Fuller conducted classes of "conversations" for women on such topics as literature, education, mythology, and philosophy (Blanchard 108).

Fuller continued to have headaches not from nearsightedness brought on by reading, but brought on by conversation. Fuller referred to them as "nervous" headaches (Blanchard 113).

In 1836, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Fuller became friends. In 1840, George Ripley approached Fuller and Emerson about his plan for Brook Farm. Both declined. Fuller had lectured there with people milling all around. Nathaniel Hawthorne was one of the original members.

In 1840, Fuller's friendship with Emerson and her critical essays won her a position as editor of The Dial. "She was the first woman member of the Transcendentalist Club and the editor of, and frequent contributor to, The Dial. The Transcendentalists believed in equality for women, and in her longest piece for The Dial, 'The Great Lawsuit: Man vs Men, Woman vs Women,' Fuller examined the knotty problems of women's rights and sexual roles." (Allen 8)

"After a trip to the Great Lakes and western prairies in 1843, Fuller wanted to write a travel book. For the research she was allowed to use the Harvard library, the first woman so privileged. Summer on the Lakes was published in 1844." (Allen 8-9)

"In 1844 she accepted an offer from Horace Greeley, the crusading newspaperman and publisher, to write reviews and criticism for his New York Daily Tribune . . . Margaret Fuller was one of the first women to earn a living at full-time journalism." (Allen 9)

Fuller sailed for Europe in 1846 as America's first woman foreign correspondent. She reported on her travels in the NY Tribune. In 1846 Fuller met Thomas Carlyle, Emerson's closest English friend, and through Carlyle met Guiseippe Mazzini a revolutionist in his fifteenth year of exile (Watson 30). Fuller settled in Italy in 1847 and took part in the Revolution of 1848-49. She played an active role in the Siege of Rome. The liberationists were attempting to unify the separate kingdoms and states of Italy and their hopes faded after the revolt failed (Steele 133).

Fuller's enthusiasm was reinforced by her love affair with 26 year old Giovanni Angelo Ossoli, one of Mazzini's followers and a member of the Roman Civic Guard. Ossoli was the fourth son of a minor aristocratic family (Watson 32). Fuller was 38 years old when she gave birth to Angelino Ossoli on September 5, 1848.

The family set sail for America on May 17, 1850 aboard the sailing schooner USS Elizabeth. On the way the ship's master Captain Hasty died from smallpox. Angelino also caught smallpox but Fuller and Ossoli were able to nurse him back to health. Fuller had the valued manuscript she prepared on the history of the Italian revolution on board. On July 19, 1850 the boat hit a sandbar off Fire Island, NY (Watson 46). Fuller, Ossoli, and their son drowned after clinging to the boat wreckage for twelve hours. Fuller refused to leave Angelino and Giovanni. She sang songs to the baby to keep him calm. Only her son's body was recovered along with a trunkful of letters and some of the baby's clothes (Blanchard 338). Henry Thoreau searched the shore in vain (Watson 46).

Margaret Fuller was America's first true feminist. She published America's first widely read feminist tract entitled "Woman in the Nineteenth Century" in 1845 (Watson 65). "Fuller confused, unsettled and quite simply scared many of the men she met. Edgar Allan Poe divided humanity into three classes: men, women, and Margaret Fuller (Watson 109).

"The psychological burdens of a white woman were similar in kind, if not in degree, to those of a man born into slavery…. In carving a niche for herself on the enormous wall of resistance that faced her, she left a foothold for others." (Blanchard 342)

Primary Works

"The Great Lawsuit: Man vs Men, Woman vs Women," (The Dial essay) 1843; Summer on the Lakes, 1843, 1844; Woman in the Nineteenth Century, 1845; Papers on Literature and Art, 1846; At Home and Abroad, ed. Arthur B. Fuller, 1856; The Letters of Margaret Fuller, ed. Robert N. Hudspeth, 4 vols., 1983- .

Works Cited

Allen, Margaret Vanderhaar. The Achievement of Margaret Fuller. U Park: Pennsylvania State UP, 1979.

Blanchard, Paula. Margaret Fuller: From Transcendentalism to Revolution. NY: Delacorte P, 1978.

Kornfeld, Eve. Margaret Fuller: A Brief Biography with Documents. Boston: Bedford Books, 1997.

Steele, Jeffrey. Dictionary of Literary Biography: Margaret Fuller. Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1997, Vol.183, 126-138.

Watson, David. Margaret Fuller: An American Romantic. NY: Berg Publishers Ltd., 1988.

Study Questions

1. Compare "Self-Reliance" or Walden to Woman in the Nineteenth Century as regards the responsibilities of the individual within a conformist society.

2. Discuss whether Zenobia in Hawthorne's The Blithedale Romance is a portrayal of Fuller, as some critics suggest.

3. Compare or contrast Fuller's ideas on critical theory to Poe's.

MLA Style Citation of this Web Page:

Reuben, Paul P. "Chapter 4: Margaret Fuller." PAL: Perspectives in American Literature- A Research and Reference Guide. WWW URL: (provide page date or date of your login).

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