Margaret Fuller, Wandering Pilgrim
Publication Year: 2008
Meg McGavran Murray discusses Fuller’s Puritan ancestry, her life as the precocious child of a preoccupied, grieving mother and of a tyrannical father who took over her upbringing, her escape from her loveless home into books, and the unorthodox--and influential--male and female role models to which her reading exposed her. Murray also covers Fuller’s authorship of Woman in the Nineteenth Century, her career as a New-York Tribune journalist first in New York and later in Rome, her pregnancy out of wedlock, her witness of the fall of Rome in 1849 during the Roman Revolution, and her return to the land of her birth, where she knew she would be received as an outcast.
Other biographies call Fuller a Romantic. Margaret Fuller, Wandering Pilgrim illustrates how Fuller internalized the lives of the heroes and heroines in the ancient and modern Romantic literature that she had read as a child and adolescent, as well as how she used her Romantic imagination to broaden women’s roles in Woman in the Nineteenth Century, even as she wandered the earth in search of a home.
Published by: University of Georgia Press
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I wish fi rst to express my gratitude to my thesis advisors many years ago at Cornell, Cushing Strout and Meyer Abrams. I am grateful as well to my former Cornell professor, Jonathan Bishop. Professors Bishop and Strout instilled in me a love of the American Transcendentalists, especially of Margaret Fuller. To Professor Abrams I owe...
A Note to Readers
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I refer to Margaret Fuller as Fuller throughout the text except when I mention other Fuller family members. Th en, for the sake of clarity, I refer to Fuller as Margaret, as I also do when she is...
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Pain is very keen with me,” Margaret Fuller wrote James Nathan, the German born Jewish businessman she had fallen in love with while in New York. So it was. Though Fuller triumphed in public as author of Woman in the Nineteenth Century (1845), conversationalist,...
Part One: “No Natural Childhood”
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She herself said she “had no natural childhood.” Born into a family tradition of religious fervor, intellectual endeavor, physical restlessness, and Roman vigor, Margaret Fuller was the oldest child of Timothy Fuller, who was the great- great- grandson of “Lieutenant” Thomas Fuller, who in 1638 at age twenty had crossed the ocean from ...
1. Her Father’s House
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A strict Unitarian, Margaret’s father routinely took his young family to church on Sunday and read aloud with them from the Bible in the parlor. A respected member of the political establishment, in his youth he had been rebellious. As stubborn and independent minded as his father and determined to obtain a level of material comfort denied him when young as the son of a poor country minister and farmer, the junior Timothy...
2. Hungry for Love
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In her autobiographical romance, Fuller depicts her father as a man whose tyrannical control she, like Mestra, tried unsuccessfully to evade. Her mother she paints as a passive person with a delicate, flower-like nature, a shadowy figure who played only a small part in helping to shape her firstborn’s life. ...
3. “Gate of Paradise”
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In light of the child’s hunger for love, it is easy then to see how Margaret, age seven, attached herself passionately to Ellen Kilshaw, the lovely daughter of a wealthy Liverpool merchant who met the Fullers in the summer of 1817 during her visit with her sister and brother- in-law in Boston. Timothy thought Ellen, who was about the same age as...
4. The World of Books
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Aunt Elizabeth, one of Timothy’s two unmarried older sisters who visited when Timo was away, as did Aunt Abigail (“Abba”) Crane, who was loving. Margaret disliked Elizabeth because she reported the children’s bad behavior to Timothy. In this 16 December letter to a father who seems hauntingly present even in absence, Margaret confesses: “If you have spies [her aunts and mother] they will certainly ...
Part Two: The Transition Years
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In her autobiographical romance Fuller says that the “peculiarity” of her early education deprived her of her childhood. Though seldom allowed to play with the neighborhood children in the marshland surrounding her house, she occasionally joined them in their games, but even then, she recollects, she preferred “violent bodily exercise” to their less- demanding play. The girls “did not hate me,” Fuller ...
5. Boston Schooling
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On the subject of the effect on her of the early education forced on her by her father, Fuller notes in her autobiographical romance how her too- intense focus on books as a child had “given a cold aloofness” to her outward expression while the intensity of her inward life, as was evident in the “profound depression” she experienced when Ellen...
6. Boarding School at Groton
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In May 1824 Margaret traveled by stagecoach with her high- spirited, sociable Uncle Elisha thirty- five miles northwest of Boston to Massachusetts apple country and Miss Susan Prescott’s Young Ladies Seminary in Groton run by Susan Prescott, the twenty- seven- year- old eldest daughter of Judge James Prescott...
7. Metamorphosis in Her Young Adulthood
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Th ere was nothing about Margarett Crane’s ambitious, irreverent daughter that would have fit a conventional nineteenth- century American mother’s expectations of what a lady should be. Nor did Margaret seem to indicate any desire or aptitude to be remade into a lady. On the contrary, after returning to Cambridgeport in the spring of 1825...
8. The Influence of the Harvard Romantics
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Out of French revolutionary hopes, the German idealism of Kant and his disciples, and English literary Romanticism, Harvard men like Waldo Emerson (class of 1821), Frederic Henry Hedge (class of 1825), and James Freeman Clarke and William Henry Channing (both class of 1829) generated a philosophy that God was not a Newtonian mechanical principle but instead a spirit that dwelled “within.” The philosophy...
9. The Search for Self
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Fuller’s fluctuating sense of self—her feeling of being at one moment elated and full of power and then, at the next, guilt ridden, conflicted, and vulnerable—fits the pattern of other Romantics. And Fuller at this point was certainly a Romantic. Having immersed herself in their literature, she was now acquiring from Romantic writers attitudes and a vocabulary by which she could express her emotional ...
10. The Farm in Groton
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Had Fuller stayed in Cambridge, she might have found a way to deal with the problems caused by her inner conflict about her parents. As an intellectual female, she would have received support from her Cambridge friends, who were arguing for radical reforms, including rights for women. Maybe she could have found a way to reconcile what one critic calls....
Part Three: Emerson, Epistolary Friend and Guide
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After her father’s death, Fuller wanted a friend more than ever to help her find a “centre” within “the ceaseless fluctuation of [her] mind.” She had begun to see Emerson as this wished- for friend long before she actually met him. She had heard much about him from James Clarke and Henry Hedge and in letters to friends was already being playfully “familiar” in referring to him. To Almira Barlow she relays ...
11. The Search for a Guide
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In 1836, the year he published Nature, Emerson’s psychological state was marked by a need to generate a life- sustaining philosophy from his lingering grief over the loss of his wife, Ellen Tucker, and his cherished brothers, Charles and Edward, a philosophy more satisfying to him than was either “an effete, superannuated Christianity”...
12. A Fluid Friendship
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That Emerson’s flow of words filled Fuller’s “soul” is evident in her essay, “Modern British Poets,” which appeared in two parts in the September and October issues of the American Monthly. For in it she focused on writers’ psychic conflict as a sign of the times, arguing that...
13. A “Forlorn” Boston Winter
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After her death Emerson observed of Fuller that, as “a woman, an orphan, without beauty, without money,” she had to overcome a lot of “negatives” in order to succeed as a teacher and writer. Fuller’s poverty was significant. Forced, in her words, to “get money,” in the fall of 1836 she moved to Boston to teach at the innovative Temple School of Human...
14. Providence, Pain, and Escape into Illusion
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The excitement Fuller had felt in Emerson’s presence, a wild exhilaration followed by a prostrating anxiety, increased when in early June 1837, just a few weeks after her return, she left Groton to teach at Hiram Fuller’s (no relation) new Greene Street School in Providence, Rhode Island. Th e experience was at...
15. “Drawn” by Fuller’s Siren Song
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By the end of the fall teaching term in late November 1838, Fuller was prostrated by pain. Earlier, in August 1838, she had noted in her journal that she was “in a state of sickly unresisting sensitiveness such as I do not remember in myself ever before.” By late autumn of that year, she was so stressed that she had trouble meeting her classes and resorted to asking Ellen, who was still sharing rooms with her on the ...
16. Retreat from Her Siphoning Sea
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Complicating Fuller’s life the winter of 1839– 40 were two new projects she undertook that, though rewarding, were physically and emotionally draining. She accepted editorship of the Transcendentalists’ new literary journal, The Dial in the fall of 1839. Larry Reynolds contends that this journal was largely Fuller’s inspiration because...
Part Four: The Seductive Lure of Nature
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From January 1839 to late summer 1841—during the time of her intense friendship with Emerson—Fuller experienced an emotional crisis that for her constituted a religious conversion. In these “crisis” months, Fuller moved from a self- imposed solitude in nature, through dramatic encounters ...
17. Religious Crisis
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This “Seductive Lure of Nature” section of the book thus necessarily begins with a reminder to readers as to why the idea of spiritual rebirth was so congenial to Fuller. It also reviews the texts she was reading (especially Plato and Plutarch) during her icy isolation in Groton in January 1839, texts that provided the intellectual and literary frame through which ...
18. A Divine Madness
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Aft er she had come home to Groton in January 1839, Fuller focused her attention on the writings of Plato that had enchanted her in 1833. She borrowed again Emerson’s volume of Plato, but this time she limited her reading to two dialogues...
19. The Siren Song of Nature
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In her quest to affirm her female self, Fuller looked to find in literature a writer who could point the way to her “spiritual” awakening. So when the family moved to the house in Jamaica Plain, she continued her readings in the classics and the Romantics. She found...
20. The Seductive Sand
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That spring and summer, in preparation for writing a review of modern French literature, Fuller was reading Sand and other writers in the original French, including Alfred de Vigny and Pierre de Béranger. She was sharing Sand’s writings with Emerson, and, at the summer’s end, sent him her...
21. Demonic Desires
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Sand wrote La Marquise as well as her third novel, Lélia, with Dorval in mind. In La Marquise, the male actor, Lélio, is loved by a woman who resembles Sand and who has been “rendered frigid” by her late husband. Disguised as a man she goes to the...
22. “The Daemon Works His Will”
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In her crisis years 1839– 41, Fuller struggled with her own demonic desires, even as she was aware that authentic creative activity often involves such soul- endangering confrontations. Unlike Emerson, who decried the demonic as a force “without virtue” and equated it with ...
23. Redeeming Her Friendships from “Eros”
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In 1839, the year Fuller experienced the worst of her psychosexual-spiritual crisis, her lifelong friend James Clarke married Anna Huidekoper of Meadville, Pennsylvania. Then, Sam Ward and Anna Barker early in 1840 announced their intention to marry...
24. Mystic Cleansing
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In a letter about a ten-day visit Anna paid her in August 1840, Margaret tells Cary that the two had been “even happier together” than they were in 1839—before she knew of Sam’s engagement to Anna. In another letter three weeks later to ...
25. Paradise Regained
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Sometime in 1840 Fuller wrote William Channing the letter in which she depicts life as a “pilgrimage,” an ongoing effort to overcome “worldliness.” In it she tells how her new self- insight has helped her to understand the men who are part of the “Transcendental party” and the ways she “differ[s] from most of them on important points.” While...
26. The Law of the Father and the Embrace of Mother Nature
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If it is true, as Harold Bloom has suggested, that we are mature to the extent we relinquish our wish for a “godlike embrace” from “some sufficient love” in a place set apart from the social world, then Fuller’s retreat during her crisis to the embrace of Mother Nature must be seen as a step backward in her journey to wisdom. Yet it can also...
Part Five: The “Fine Castle”of Her Writing
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One of Fuller’s favorite dialogues of Plato was the Symposium (“The Banquet”). In it Plato records a conversation that Socrates had with Diotima of Mantinea in which the prophetess says to Socrates: “Those who are pregnant in body only betake themselves to women and beget ...
27. A Time to Write
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February 1845, Fuller focused on her writing with the confidence that, as Emerson had advised, if only she would take up her “work . . . proudly,” she could not “write a bad book.” She might even write a great one, as happened in the case of Woman in the Nineteenth Century, in which, as we shall see, she discussed the problems confronting nineteenth- century women and how each woman might gain control ...
28. Millennial Fever
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During a blustering May—with the odious east winds beating against her windowpanes— Fuller, who in April had handed over Dial editorship to Emerson, sat down at her desk and wrote as much as the foul weather—and a hurting head— would let her. The result was “The Great Lawsuit. Man versus Men. Woman versus...
29. Fuller’s Apocalypse
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Within the electric context of religious enthusiasts awaiting the Second Coming, Margaret Fuller wrote “The Great Lawsuit” in which she forwarded her case against every man—including her lawyer- congressman father—who wishes, in her words, “to be lord” in his “little world.” As men in the past had felt called by God to offer ma...
30. Contradictory Wishes and Dreams
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As Fuller was finishing “Th e Great Lawsuit,” she wrote Emerson telling him about a “really good book” on her desk: Andreas Justinus Kerner’s account of the case of the mystic Friederike Hauffe. In her letter she scolds Emerson for having said in his 29 April letter to her about the birth of the Wards’ baby girl, “though no son, yet a sacred...
31. Pilgrims and Prodigals
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Like her Christian ancestors, Fuller saw her life as a pilgrimage from innocence, through the valley of sin and death, to the “hill- prospect,” where, by way of “wise” self- control, she would be able, as she had written William Henry Channing in 1840, to “bring the lowest act” of her life “into sympathy” with her “highest thought.” Yet Fuller’s life journey...
32. Discordant Energies
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On her way home from Chicago, Fuller stopped to visit William Channing in New York, where he was a minister and leading social activist. Channing introduced her to his friends, including Horace Greeley, the progressive editor of the New-York Daily Tribune. Back in Cambridge by September, Fuller, between migraines, prepared ...
33. Mesmerism and Romantic Yearning in Summer on the Lakes
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In Summer on the Lakes, in 1843, Fuller included the stories of two women who sought to escape an intolerable reality: the nineteenth- century German mystic Friederike Hauffe, Seeress of Prevorst, and the fictional Mariana, the rebellious boarding- school student whom...
34. Mother Power, Beastly Men,and Woman in the Nineteenth Century
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The complexity of human sexuality and gender was on Fuller’s mind as she revised “The Great Lawsuit” while vacationing with Cary from mid- October through November 1844 at Fishkill Landing (now Beacon, New York), a resort community on the Hudson River. In the quiet of her rented boardinghouse room, Fuller felt better situated than she had the previous summer during her restless journey ...
35. “What Is the Lady Driving At?”
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As Fuller in mid- November was finishing Woman in the Nineteenth Century at Fishkill Landing, she wrote her friend William Channing that she felt as if she had left her “foot- print” on...
Part Six: Professional Woman,Private Passion
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When Fuller in November 1844 went to New York City to work as a literary critic and social commentator for Horace Greeley’s New- York Daily Tribune, she meant to focus on her public career and less on personal relations. Though some friends thought journalism beneath her, Fuller hoped that in writing for a newspaper she might “soar and sing” in a way she had not before. Like the character Wilhelm ...
36. A Divided Life
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When Fuller in November 1844 went to New York City to work as a literary critic and social commentator for Horace Greeley’s New- York Daily Tribune, she meant to focus on her public career and less on personal relations...
37. Fallen Women and Worldly Men
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Once settled in New York, Fuller had meant to leave behind her personal conflicts. But walled off and denied, deep- seated archaic needs and early acquired patterns of behavior did not just vanish. From beneath the cool facade of a public- minded newspaper columnist...
38. The Garden’s Desecration
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As a way of excusing Nathan’s behavior, Fuller in her 2 and 6 April letters recalls how he had told her that he “had ‘only broken through the conventions of this world.’” Yet even as she wrote “only,” she made it clear to him that this word, too, carried great weight for her. Although she had defended in print the ...
39. Narcissistic Wounds and Imaginary Mystic Entities
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To make excuses for Nathan, Fuller blamed his behavior on a “demon,” on that evil yet fascinating power to which she had earlier confessed that she was herself sometimes “mysteriously” drawn, a “power most obvious in the eye.” Where was God...
40. Romantic Obsession
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Fuller’s letters to Nathan show how beneath the seemingly self- possessed presence of a highly visible public figure there can exist a separate self obsessed with a destructive private fantasy, which in Fuller’s case was fed by her reading of the Romantics, especially...
41. A Soul- Paralyzing Pain
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Though Fuller loved both women deeply, maybe the dreams also left her feeling a bit relieved. For in them she conveniently obliterated the two bothersome females who had failed, she felt, to love her adequately. However one interprets them, Fuller’s nightmares about her mother and friend reveal the depth of her...
42. A Trust Betrayed
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What could make such an intelligent woman behave as irrationally as Fuller did when Nathan left her? Knowing that when under stress she retreated to fantasy and her childhood pattern of yearning for her mother’s love and needing to please her father does not get...
43. The Dark Side of Her Lot
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Hints abound in Fuller’s writings that all was not right in the Fuller house when Margaret was a child. Indeed, it is unlikely that Fuller’s erotic encounter with Nathan would have so unsettled her had she not linked it with an emotionally loaded memory of an experience so painful to her that it was “unspeakable.” In her 8 October 1833 letter, Fuller, who had been visiting her Uncle Henry in Boston, tells ...
44. “Possessed of ” Her Father
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In the narratives Fuller created about her past that letters and other evidence suggest are emotionally if not factually true, she sees herself as a sensitive child taught by a severe, tyrannical father. In her 1840 autobiographical romance she calls herself “Poor child...
45. Yearning to Wash Her Soul of Sin
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In an 1839 fragment about her friend Elizabeth Randall, whose physician father had similarly subjected his daughter to an “unnatural taxing of her faculties,” Fuller says that if only Elizabeth had “grown up an unmolested flower by the side of some secret stream she had been a thing all natural . . . bloom and fragrance.” ...
46. The Ties That Bind
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Fuller’s need to please Nathan (“I am desirous to do as you desire,” she wrote him in May, after she knew he had deceived her) is reminiscent of her need as a child to please Timothy. That and the pain- riddled quality of her love for him suggest that scenes...
Part Seven: The Rising Tide of Revolution
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While Fuller was packing her bags for England, most of the European countries from France eastward to Russia were on the brink of revolution, an uprising of the people against their autocratic rulers. The two years leading up to the revolutions of 1848 were to see reform banquets ...
47. Passionate Players and Incendiary Social Conditions
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While Fuller was packing her bags for England, most of the European countries from France eastward to Russia were on the brink of revolution, an uprising of the people against their autocratic rulers. The two years leading up to the revolutions of 1848 were to see reform banquets ....
48. Entering the European Stage
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Before leaving for Europe on the Cunard steam packet Cambria with her reform minded philanthropist companions, Rebecca and Marcus Spring, Margaret wrote Cary on 20 July 1846 that she went “with a great pain” in her “heart.” Though such pain was...
49. Mazzini Enters
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On 1 October Fuller arrived in London to find no letters awaiting her. Her mood darkened further over the next six weeks for she could not see the sun for the coal smoke and fog hanging over the city. She was also depressed that she and the Springs could afford no more than “fourth or...
50. Mickiewicz Enters
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Paris was vibrant in December 1846 with middle- class discontent with the “citizen king,” Louis- Philippe, who had come to power in August 1830, as well as with worker enthusiasm for the socialist schemes of Saint- Simon and Fourier. Trudging through the mud coating the sidewalks and clinging tenaciously to the cobblestones of Paris’s...
51. On to Lyons and Italy
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Though Fuller liked the “great focus of civilized life” in Paris, she still felt like a stranger in “this region of wax lights, mirrors, bright wood fires, [and] shrugs,” in the perpetually overcast city with only one day of nice weather from mid- November until late...
52. On to Rome
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Fuller enjoyed the boat ride down the coast from Leghorn to Naples, especially since on it she happened to meet “a Polish lady,” one of Mickiewicz’s former lovers, of whom there was apparently an impressive number. One suspects it was in part Fuller’s meeting Countess...
53. Ossoli Enters
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It was springtime in Rome, where a pagan earthiness exudes from every rock and ruin, and Fuller, in tune, felt her body pulsate and open to the sun, like the orange blossoms whose fragrance lay heavy in the air. On her journey through life she had at last attained “an awesome clarity” about herself, and she was ready now for an adult relationship. She...
54. To Marry, or Not to Marry?
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Fuller’s words created a scene her American readers could see, thus helping Greeley sell papers and earning for herself even greater respect as a reporter. “The stream of fire,” she wrote, “advanced slowly with a perpetual surge- like sound of voices; the torches fl ashed on the animated Italian faces”: “Ascending the Quirinal they made it a mount of light. Bengal fires were thrown up, which cast their red ...
55. Do As the Romans Do
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Leopold II was busy realizing Metternich’s fears. Indeed, he had “dared to declare himself ‘an Italian Prince’” and to grant the formation of a national guard, an armed unit under the command of the ...
56. Roman Winter
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From 16 December 1847 until mid- March 1848 rain fell in torrents, making it seem like night in Fuller’s apartment on a street of high houses that blocked such scant light as might otherwise have crept in through her window; she found she needed to light the lamp when she arose in the morning. In daylight hours, a lethargic Fuller had...
57. More Rain and Revolutionaries’ Conflicting Aims
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Th e wave of revolutions that hit Europe in the winter and spring of 1848 was tidal; sweeping over the countries of Europe, it lifted ordinary people like pebbles to great heights of excitement and fervor before it dropped them abruptly on reality’s shore a year later. Caught up in the wave was Fuller, who sent dispatches home with news...
58. Personal and Political Rebellions
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“Pour, pour, pour again, dark as night,” Fuller lamented near the end of her January 1848 dispatch. Bored with the rain, people came to her parlor to visit, such as Henry Hedge in early March. Hedge, who knew Fuller when she was spending hours dressing—even using a horsehair pad to minimize the disparity in shoulder heights...
59. A Love Higher than Law or Passion
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After sending off dispatch 24 in May 1848, Fuller prepared to leave for the Abruzzi Apennine mountains to wait out her pregnancy and write a history of the Italian revolution. Before leaving she wrote Emerson she was sorry that he would miss meeting Mazzini...
Part Eight: Apocalyptic Dreams and the Fall of Rome
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The conflicting sides of Fuller’s personality—the millennial- minded mystic and the pragmatic pilgrim set on soul- or self- possession—persisted in her as the situation in Rome grew increasingly tense. Confronted with the reality of ...
60. Harsh Reality and Apocalyptic Dreams
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The conflicting sides of Fuller’s personality—the millennial- minded mystic and the pragmatic pilgrim set on soul- or self- possession—persisted in her as the situation in Rome grew increasingly tense. Confronted with the reality of revolution, she was divided...
61. The Lull before the Storm
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Fuller here suggests that she, like Peter, has returned to Rome to off er her life in attestation of her faith in her own radical vision of liberty, adding that “the only dignified course for the...
62. Deceit and Treachery
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All indeed would not end well for Fuller or the Roman republicans. Even as she prepared to leave for her March visit to Rieti, Fuller was twining with her duplicitous words a net of lies about herself from which there would be no exit. For under the Roman Republic, Fuller had to obtain from the Office of Public Security a document that was in effect a passport. One biographer says she gave her name ...
63. The Fall of Rome
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The way of treachery was dark, indeed, in a world where men’s words did not match their actions and hence were empty of meaning. Expecting the worst, Fuller on 22 May (the day before her thirty- ninth birthday) wrote a dolorous letter to Richard noting that—...
64. Last Illusions
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Despite the death and destruction in Rome, Fuller was able to hold fast to a few illusions. Like any mother, she had her hopes for her baby. No sooner had Rome fallen than she was writing Cass pleading with him to give her counsel as to how to escape Rome. She felt she would ...
65. A Wayward Pilgrim Journeys Home
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For these many reasons, her friends contended, Fuller should go to Le Havre and travel by packet. Yet nothing now could change her mind. Fuller chose to go home on the Elizabeth with a full understanding of its dangers. She also knew that, in having given birth to a baby without having written home specifics about a marriage, she had, as she says in a 10 May letter to William Story, “acted with great ...
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pp. 493- 515
Page Count: 552
Illustrations: 18 b&w photos
Publication Year: 2008