(The following biographical information comes from the Introduction to The Essential Margaret Fuller, written by Jeffrey Steele.)
Margaret Fuller was born in 1810 in Massachusetts, and was the first child of Timothy (later a congressman) and Margarett. Fuller had eight siblings, two of whom died when they were just over a year old. Fuller’s father was very strict about her education and was her sole instructor for many years, leaving her no time to play with other children or do other “normal” kid stuff. Fuller lived during a time when (white) men dominated everything but the housework, but because she was so well-educated by her father, she was upset by the obvious inequality of the sexes. She felt as though her very personality was being snuffed out by patriarchy. Her thoughts on this injustice also led her to fight against the other inequalities she saw–she was an outspoken advocate for the abolition of slavery and for the fair treatment of homeless people and prisoners as human beings. She stood up for anyone whom she thought was being treated unfairly.
Her time as a Transcendentalist started in 1836 when she met Ralph Waldo Emerson. She liked his theory of self-reliance because it seemed to fall right in line with her ideas about independence. She joined the Transcendentalist Club, and eventually became the editor of the club’s journal (The Dial) in 1840.
She died in a shipwreck in 1850, along with her partner (there is no record of an actual marriage, but they would have been seen as married by common law) and their two-year-old son.
This is an extremely brief overview of her life, and I will be going into more detail about certain parts of it in future posts this week. I just wanted to give readers some kind of background into who she was, in case people aren’t familiar with her work.
I said in my first post that I found Fuller to be pretty snooze-worthy, that I’m not a fan of her poetry, and that she was a little too verbose for me. I remember learning quite a bit about mythology in high school, but I was lost when it came to all of the mythological references in her writing. (The endnotes explained some of them, and I looked some of them up as I was reading, but it became super cumbersome and annoying after a while.) In addition, even though I know Transcendentalism is rooted in religion, she put way too much emphasis on religion in her writing for my tastes. It is obvious that she was very passionate about her writing and what she believed in, and for that I have the utmost respect.
Regardless of how I felt about her writing, though, I am with her 100% on the social justice issues. I might have different reasons for wanting to live in an egalitarian society (that have nothing to do with being closer to God and Heaven), but I want the very same things she wanted almost 200 years ago. I am absolutely amazed (but not really) that although we have made huge strides in accomplishing what she believed were the goals for any compassionate society, we still have such a long way to go and some things have only gotten worse. I am interested to know what she would think of our society today, especially concerning our prison-industrial complex and this country’s serious issues with unemployment and homelessness. I can only imagine what she would have to say about our involvement (or lack thereof) in other countries and our country’s ridiculous Drug War. What would she say about the Occupy Wall Street movement, or how far Capitalism and Materialism have come and the different ways (good and bad) in which those two things affect us? These are the thoughts that kept running through my head while reading The Essential Margaret Fuller.
The essays she wrote for the New-York Tribune were much more to the point than her other writing, most likely because she knew those pieces would be read by a wider audience. I enjoyed those essays very much, particularly “Our City Charities”–written about the Bellevue Alms House, the Farm School for children, an asylum for the insane, and the penitentiary on Blackwell Island–and “Prevalent Idea that Politeness is too great a Luxury to be given to the Poor,” which chided people for treating the poor meanly and unfairly just because they’re poor. If I could type out the whole of “Prevalent Idea” here, I would; it is a fantastic essay and one that I think a lot of people would do well to read. (You can read “Prevalent Idea” for free on the Google Books website, here; “Our City Charities” can be read on the same website, here.)
Aside from the stuff that I didn’t like about some of Margaret Fuller’s writing, there were quite a few pieces that I really enjoyed reading. I feel that everything that was included in this collection is still relevant today, too.
More to come on Summer on the Lakes, Woman in the Nineteenth Century, and her time in Italy during the revolutions… stay tuned.