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ESSENTIAL, PORTABLE, MYTHICAL MARGARET FULLER Mary Loeffelholz Margaret Fuller s career and reception illuminate as strikingly, perhaps , as those of any other nineteenth-century American woman writerthe gendered assumptions and strategies behind periodization in the writing ofliterary history. As feminist critics of the past twenty-odd years have argued, Fullers place in the construction of American Transcendentalism, or the "American Renaissance," has alwaysbeen strongly conditioned byher gender; she has been variously omitted, referred to in passing as a token woman or derivative mediator of the ideas of Ralph Waldo Emerson, or (in a once popular, now dated metaphor) elevated to the position of "priestess of Transcendentalism"—a metaphor that curiously sacralized but still preserved her presumed role as a vessel of the period s presiding, generative male spirit. "A handmaiden to major talents , a sole female figure in the frieze ofminor Transcendentalists," in Bell Gale Chevigny s 1976 critical summation of this reception history,1 this Fuller still appears now and then in accounts of the period; witness the Fuller of Michael Colacurcio s massive 1991 review essay on American Renaissance literaryscholarship , who "always hovered at the edges of the Concord group, of course."2 Of course. Through these same twenty-odd years, however, Fuller has proven difficult to assimilate into new feminist periodizingconstructions of nineteenth-century American "womens culture." Ann Douglass uncomfortable idealizing 1977 gesture toward Fuller as a lone female exception to the "feminization ofAmerican culture,"3 however vigorouslyDouglass evaluation of that "feminization" has been challenged by subsequent feminist readers, has tended to predict Fullers still anomalous standing, frequently as prophet rather than priestess, in feminist literary historiesof nineteenth-century U.S. womens literatureand culture . Chevignys 1976 demand that "we reverse the usual practice ofseeing Margaret Fuller as a fascinatingexception to the condition of American women of her time" has gone largely unanswered and would still be so even if we further 160 : MARY LOEFFELHOLZ qualified Chevignys "American women" as middle-class white women, New England women, and women of letters.4 It is not clear that the explosion of recent scholarship on Fuller has entirely changed the situation; there may still be more individualbiographies of Fuller than, say, chapter-length or other extended treatments ofher in broader feminist literary-historical studies. It may even be more common these daysto encounter Fuller in critical studies otherwise entirely devoted to male writersthan in feminist work on nineteenth-century women's writing.5 For all the brilliantfeminist work that has been done both in nineteenth-century women's culture and on Fuller herself, an anxiety of exceptionalism still lingers around the figure of Margaret Fuller in feminist literary scholarship, coupled with a deep anxiety over critical anachronism and identification. The problem with Margaret Fuller in the writingof feminist literary history is both that we fear she istoo unlike other (middle-class, white, New England) literarywomen ofher period and that she is too like "us," if us means late-twentieth-century feminist literary intellectuals , mostly similar to Fuller in respect to race and class, who probably can't help sharingFuller swill to believe that intellectual laborcoincideswithpersonal self-realization. The titles of three recent (or recently reissued) anthologies in which Fullers work is conveniently available—The PortableMargaret Fuller, The Essential Margaret Fuller, The Woman and the Myth —suggest (in their own professionally conventional ways) both the hopes and the fears prompted by "our" identificationswith Fuller.6 The troubled courses of Fuller s reputation in general accounts of antebellum American literature and her visibility in feminist literary scholarship have certainly intersected from time to time in various of our disciplinary practices, and such intersections have become more frequent of late. Outright omission of Fuller s life and work in general literary histories of mid-nineteenth-century American literature, or in specialized studies with some generalizingambitions, is rarer now than twenty years ago. Meanwhile, however, some of the literaryhistorical berths into which Fuller might most readilybe eased have come under fire. The Concord center around which Fuller is generously supposed to have "hovered" has lost much of its power to stand by synecdoche for the whole of antebellum American literature. Not only the "American Renaissance" but "American" literature as such is noisily in crisis as a category. As some of my own metaphors here would imply, this crisis has more often been represented in spatial than in temporal terms, as an affair of borders, centers, margins, and the outward expandability of the canon. Of course, the spatial terms in which the crisis ofAmerican literature...


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