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Resources for American Literary Study 26.2 (2000) 139-158

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Prospects for the Study of Margaret Fuller

Larry J. Reynolds
Texas A&M University

When Robert N. Hudspeth published his informative 1984 bibliographic essay on Margaret Fuller, he pointed out a host of deficiencies in existing Fuller scholarship. Few well-edited, authoritative texts of her writings were available and there was only one reliable anthology, Margaret Fuller: Essays on American Life and Letters (1978), edited by Joel Myerson. Extant biographies, though plentiful, lacked solidity and accuracy. As Hudspeth put it, "[D]ates are often wrong, people are misidentified, . . . titles of books come out garbled, and almost no one publishes a set of notes worth the effort" (182). In the area of criticism, reductiveness and inaccuracy prevailed. Surveying some 140 years of books and articles on Fuller, Hudspeth found only a dozen worthy of strong commendation: five treating Fuller and German literature (Braun, Slochower, Collins and Shelley, Pochmann, and Durning); three on Fuller as critic (Burton, Ebbitt, and von Frank); and one each on Fuller's relations to transcendentalism, Emerson, mythology, and social reform (Robinson ["Margaret Fuller"], Strauch, Richardson ["Fuller and Myth"], and Chevigny [Woman and the Myth], respectively). Since the appearance of Hudspeth's grim assessment, the state of Fuller studies has improved dramatically, led by Hudspeth's own scrupulously edited six-volume edition of Fuller's letters, published during 1983-94. In the past twenty years, as Fuller has gained canonical status, the scholarship surrounding her has become ample and distinguished; it now includes six new anthologies, a number of authoritative editions of Fuller's works, two substantial biographies, and an abundance of illuminating criticism. As I will point out in this essay, considerable editorial, biographical, and critical work remains to be done, but there is now a solid foundation upon which to build.

In the area of bibliography, Fuller has long been well served by the pioneering efforts of Myerson, whose descriptive primary bibliography of 1978 and annotated secondary bibliography of 1977 provide full, detailed, and reliable compilations of works by and about Fuller. Myerson supplemented his primary bibliography in 1996, and his secondary bibliography in 1984 and 1998, covering Fuller criticism through 1995. Hudspeth's bibliographic essay, though dated, still provides a [End Page 139] useful introduction to past work on Fuller, and Bell Gale Chevigny's introduction to her revised edition of her classic The Woman and the Myth includes a helpful overview of the "most useful or stimulating" (xxiii) scholarship on Fuller published between 1976 and 1994. The annual American Literary Scholarship chapter "Emerson, Thoreau, Fuller, and Transcendentalism," written by David M. Robinson since 1989, also provides valuable yearly updates on criticism about Fuller (who made it into the chapter title in 1992).

To date, six new paperback anthologies are available for classroom use: The Essential Margaret Fuller, edited by Jeffrey Steele; the Portable Margaret Fuller, edited by Mary Kelley; Woman in the Nineteenth Century and Other Writings, edited by Donna Dickenson; Chevigny's revised and expanded The Woman and the Myth; Eve Kornfeld's Margaret Fuller: A Brief Biography with Documents; and a Norton Critical Edition of Woman in the Nineteenth Century, edited by me. Each has its particular strengths and limitations, depending on one's needs. The Steele volume, which includes Summer and Woman in their entirety, with detailed annotations, plus selected prose and poetry, lends itself well to literary and rhetorical study. The Chevigny volume, with its wide selection of materials by and about Fuller, is well suited to readers interested in Fuller's life and milieus. The Norton Critical Edition of Woman, of course, provides multiple aids to interpretation, such as source materials, early reviews, and modern critical essays. Myerson has written a useful review-essay comparing the first four of these classroom texts ("The Canonization").

Other Fuller texts recently reprinted in authoritative editions include Summer on the Lakes, in 1843, edited by Susan Belasco Smith; a selection of Fuller's New York journalism, edited by Catherine C. Mitchell; and all of Fuller's Tribune dispatches from Europe...