NWSA Journal 15.2 (2003) 171-175
[Access article in PDF]
"My Heart Is a Large Kingdom": Selected Letters of Margaret Fuller edited by Robert N. Hudspeth. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2001, 336 pp., $29.95 hardcover.
Transfiguring America: Myth, Ideology, and Mourning in Margaret Fuller's Writing by Jeffrey Steele. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2001, 330 pp., $34.95 hardcover.
Over the last three and one-half decades of research and recovery, Margaret Fuller has increased in stature as a central actor among United States Transcendentalists: her life and thought both expand and surpass most other transcendentalists. The two volumes here--selected letters and an imaginative biography--admirably complement each other. In the one, Fuller herself provides instant reactions to the moments of her life through letters edited by Robert N. Hudspeth; in the other, Jeffrey Steele [End Page 171] offers "an analysis of the imaginative events shaping the contours of her career and the emergence of her social activism" (ix).
Hudspeth has condensed six volumes (1983-1994) of Fuller correspondence into this one volume of selections, each section beginning with a brief editorial overview. Hudspeth, in his "Preface," notes that this volume "has the virtue of being the first--and only--collection of her letters based solely on the actual manuscripts written in her hand" (x). Additionally, he provides biographical sketches of Fuller's correspondents, meticulous explanatory footnotes concerning references and allusions within the letters, a bibliographical essay, and an accurate index, especially important for referring to a volume of letters. Seven portrait illustrations also appear, as well as a facsimile page from one letter.
The first section--"I. Hold on in Courage of Soul: 1818-1839"--includes letters documenting Fuller's growth from childhood to maturity: letters consider her reading and translation of German literature, her first series of "Conversations" (to which Boston women subscribed in 1839), and her loves, first for a distant cousin George Davis and then for Samuel
G. Ward, who became the husband of her dear friend Anna Barker. Letters to her female friends, as to Caroline Sturgis, exemplify what Carroll Smith-Rosenberg has labeled the "female world of love and ritual" (1975). Section "II. Nature Has Seemed an Ever Open Secret: 1840-1844," covers her 1840-1842 Dial journal editorship with Ralph Waldo Emerson; three "Conversation" series in 1841, 1842, and 1843; and the travels informing her Summer on the Lakes, in 1843 (1844). Letters in section "III. The Field Which Opens Before Me: 1845-1847," provide accounts of Fuller's New York journalism for Horace Greeley's newspaper Tribune--250 pieces reaching an audience of 50,000 readers, the revision of her 1843 Dial essay "The Great Lawsuit. Man Versus Men. Woman Versus Women" into Woman in the Nineteenth Century (1845). Letters also document her love for the German businessman James Nathan and her European travel during 1846-1847 (with Marcus and Rebecca Spring as tutors for their son), about which she wrote dispatches for the Tribune. Section "IV. A Time Such as I Always Dreamed Of: 1848-1850," concerns Fuller's Roman years--her involvement in the Italian Revolution, reports about its progress to the Tribune, her relationship with the nobleman Giovanni Angelo Ossoli (to whom she wrote in Italian: Hudspeth provides English translations), and the birth of their son Angelo in 1848.
The Selected Letters provides in Fuller's own words her familial and erotic sympathies over her lifetime, her intellectual breadth and depth, her wide readings in multiple languages, and her social and cultural development well beyond a parochial New England initiation. It complements Steele's analyses in Transfiguring America where the letters offer concrete examples of Fuller's writing; Steele lifts us into a realm of understanding the development of Fuller's imaginative mythology. In ten chapters, his [End Page 172] study analyzes "the imaginative events shaping the contours of her career and the emergence of her social activism" (ix). Steele's introduction clarifies basic concepts of idolatry, mourning, and ideology. For example, Steele...