Book Review: The Essential Margaret Fuller

Posted November 28, 2011 by Heather in Book Reviews / 9 Comments

Book Review: The Essential Margaret FullerThe Essential Margaret Fuller Published by Rutgers University Press on June 1992
Genres: Nonfiction, Fiction, Poetry
Format: Paperback
Pages: 536
Source: my shelves

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A couple of weeks ago (November 15th, to be exact) I kicked off Transcendentalist month by starting The Essential Margaret Fuller. I was looking forward to reading Woman in the Nineteenth Century, Fuller’s radical-for-the-times feminist book, which is included in this collection of her work. I finally finished the entire collection last night and I have never been happier to finish a book in my life. It took me almost two weeks to read something that should have taken me a week (at the most) and it kind of felt like torture. I was bored out of my gourd for most of it, let me tell ya. There were bright spots here and there throughout the collection, but overall I was forcing myself to keep reading every day and I did a whole lot of skimming. I’m not going to get into specifics in this post because I want to talk about different sections of the book separately over the next few days, but I wanted to type up an overall review of sorts that includes what you will find in The Essential Margaret Fuller.

The book starts with an Introduction written by the editor, Jeffrey Steele, which gives us an overview of Fuller’s life, and her career as a writer and advocate for women and the downtrodden. She had a pretty interesting childhood and led a pretty interesting life, which I will get into more in a later post. The Introduction explains the background behind Fuller’s work–what the times were like in the early- to mid-1800s, the other players in Fuller’s life, etc.–and what drove her to write about the subjects she chose. After the Introduction, there is a timeline of her biography that lists important dates in her life.

The rest of the book consists of what the editor chose as the essential writings a person should read in order to become acquainted with Fuller’s work and ideas. These writings include a short autobiography (“Autobiographical Romance”), poetry, Fuller’s most well-known books (Summer on the Lakes and Woman in the Nineteenth Century), a few short stories, reviews and essays that Fuller wrote for the New-York Tribune, and letters that she wrote while she was in Italy during the Italian Revolutions of 1848-49.

I’m not sure why I found Fuller to be so snooze-worthy overall, but it took me two weeks to read this because she kept putting me to sleep (literally). Maybe I just wasn’t in the mood for her style of writing; normally I have no problem with fancy prose and such. In this case, however, Fuller’s fancy prose was being used to get across what I think are important ideas, and I kept saying to myself, “Holy crud, woman, SPIT IT OUT ALREADY.” Also, her poetry is the rhyme-y kind–which is fine–but I just wasn’t in the mood for that. I only read a couple of her poems and skipped the rest. At this point in my life, I think I’m more into the non-rhyme-y poetry because it’s less constricting and I like the sound of it better.

I guess what I’m getting at is this: Fuller was a good writer and she had a lot of great ideas that I agree with, but I just wasn’t into her writing style at the time that I read this. Maybe I would have appreciated it more if I had read it at a different time, or if I knew more about the other works in history (mythology and stuff) that she was constantly referencing in her writing. The endnotes helped, but not enough. This book is going to take a re-read for me to understand and/or enjoy a lot of it, but that won’t be happening any time soon. Maybe next year.

(I will be going into more detail about my opinions on specific pieces of Fuller’s writing in other posts throughout the week–I found a few things very enjoyable/interesting.)

Other posts:


To learn more about Margaret Fuller, visit her page on the American Transcendentalist Web.

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