- Margaret Fuller ed. by Brigitte Bailey
Nineteenth-Century Prose’s special issue on Margaret Fuller (1810–1850) is the eighth book-length work devoted completely or substantially to Fuller to be published within the last ten years—four biographies and four essay collections all more or less marking the two hundredth anniversary of her birth in 1810. This special issue is the equal of two earlier essay anthologies in size, scope, and innovative critical angles: Margaret Fuller and Her Circles (2013), also edited by Brigitte Bailey, with Katheryn P. Viens and Conrad Edick Wright and including studies by Bailey and by four of the nine contributors to this volume, and Toward a Female Genealogy of Transcendentalism (2014), edited by Jana L. Argersinger and Phyllis Cole, in which seven essays address Fuller’s life, writings, and influences. This special issue is a welcome addition to these studies and anyone writing on Fuller hereafter will need to have examined all of them.
Trying to weigh the collective and individual value of the pieces in this Nineteenth-Century Prose issue is difficult in this welter of studies. Scholars overlap in their areas of focus and have not generally had the opportunity to read what their cohorts are writing. In some cases, the essays in the current collection are parts of (or possibly surpluses from) larger comprehensive studies. Yet all offer worthwhile perspectives on topics old and new. [End Page 536] Their unity, in the editor’s words, comes from their emphasis on “Fuller’s participation in a transatlantic and often urban discursive world whose communications issued from the characteristic media of journalism and other periodical publications” (p. 2).
Charles Capper’s essay, an authoritative overview of the efforts to write Fuller’s biography over 160 years, began as the keynote address at the landmark 2010 Concord celebration of Fuller’s bicentennial; parts appeared previously in the Journal of Unitarian Universalist History in 2011. His running theme—a point clearly absorbed by most of the other essay-ists—is the need to recognize the resonance of Fuller’s life on a spectrum of contemporary issues; for Capper, these are her value as a theorist of a humanistic approach to gender relations, as a promulgator of the vocation of public intellectual, and as a model for the championing of human rights. The contemporaneity of Fuller’s impact is movingly instantiated in Bell Gale Chevigny’s retrospective of the stages of her forty-year engagement with Fuller, which this far-sighted, groundbreaking, and generous critic describes as a “double helix” (p. 237).
Fuller’s texts, by and large, have not received much precisely focused rhetorical criticism, but two essays in this collection deserve notice for the care with which they take up this mode of analysis. Albert von Frank’s close reading of Fuller’s first piece of journalism, an essay that appeared in the Boston Daily Advertiser and Patriot in 1834 (this Nineteenth-Century Prose issue is its first reprinting), offers a subtle and appreciative sense of the rhetorical strategies in negotiating various competing power structures underlying Fuller’s response to George Bancroft. Von Frank suggests that even in this early venture, Fuller comprehended the democratic potential of new journalism. Christina Zwarg’s fascinating reading of “The French in Algiers” (1845)—one of many of Fuller’s New York Tribune essays that remains understudied—suggests that Fuller anticipated the function of photography in newspapers. Zwarg discovers a “tempting temporal and telepathic relay” between Fuller and Walter Benjamin, mediated by their absorption in the ideas of Charles Fourier (p. 156). This acrobatic essay is one of the collection’s most innovative.
John Matteson’s essay on Fuller’s Summer on the Lakes (1844) might also be called a close reading in its determination to illustrate that the “disjunctures” of the work “form the very essence of the text,” which is the “result of her meditations on the unstable nature of consciousness and the discontinuities of the self” (p. 65). Several of Matteson’s observations are persuasive, particularly his suggestion that the book be read as...