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Margaret Fuller: Books & Poems

Instructor: Susan Nagelsen

Susan has directed the writing program in undergraduate colleges, taught in the writing and English departments, and criminal justice departments.

Margaret Fuller was born in 1810 in Cambridge, Massachusetts and is often considered America's first feminist. Her work covered many genres from poetry to essays to books. In these works, we can see her intellect and ability for conversation.

Early Life and Education

Margaret Fuller was nothing short of unique for her time. Her father, Timothy Fuller, longed for a boy, so he educated her as if she were one. She was home schooled until age fourteen. Margaret had a sharp intellect, but people found her abrasive. Her education was cut short when her father moved the family to a farm, forcing her to educate her siblings. While this may have slowed her education down, nothing could put a damper on her curious mind. She continued learning on her own, and when she was able, returned to school.

Margaret Fuller
Margaret Fuller

Early Literary Career

After meeting Ralph Waldo Emerson, Fuller began to host her famous ''conversations,'' discussions designed to compensate for the fact that most women had little or no way to continue their educations. Fuller and Emerson were among the founders of The Dial, a magazine devoted to transcendentalist views, where she was also a contributor and editor. Fuller was right in line with the transcendentalists who pushed hard and loudly for social reform. They were staunch abolitionists who thought slavery was inexcusable. They were disgusted by the treatment of women, and Fuller wrote extensively about the subjugation of women and women's rights. Her involvement with The Dial magazine launched her career as an essayist and poet.

Books

Fuller's first book, Summer on the Lakes, published in 1843, represents her travels through the Midwest. More importantly, it gives us a glimpse into her thought process as she moved from Emersonian views on Transcendentalism to develop her own. Her observations on nature are acute: 'The perpetual trampling of the waters seized my senses. I felt that no other sound, however near, could be heard, and would start and look behind me for a foe.'

In 1845, Margaret Fuller published her most renowned book, Woman in the Nineteenth Century. In it she suggests that women and slaves have more in common than one might think. She writes that while women may appear to be free, they are indeed controlled by men. Women can't vote, can't own property, and they are stuck in the role of housewife. She writes, 'Yet, then and only then will mankind be ripe for this, when inward and outward freedom for Woman as much as for Man shall be acknowledged as a right, not yielded as a concession.' She is suggesting equality for men and women in all areas of their lives--a heretical idea in the 1840's. This book went beyond equality for women: It begged for their lives to be more than just an extension of their husbands. Fuller wanted women to achieve spiritual, emotional, and intellectual self-actualization.

Poems

Fuller wrote a lot of poetry, though she did not publish many poems. In many of these, we see her transcendentalist views just as we do in her prose. Her poem ''Flaxman'' is a prime example: 'We deemed the secret lost, the spirit gone/Which spake in Greek simplicity of thought...Absorbed in the creations of thy mind/Forgetting daily self, my truest self I find.'

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