Margaret Fuller: Journalist, Critic, Transcendentalist

This program is rebroadcast from March 14, 2013.

America’s first feminist. The 19th century’s journalist, critic, transcendentalist, adventurer, Margaret Fuller.

The only known daguerreotype of Margaret Fuller, by John Plumbe, 1846. (Wikimedia Commons)

The only known daguerreotype of Margaret Fuller, by John Plumbe, 1846. (Wikimedia Commons)

Margaret Fuller was a woman in full in an age when most American women were still utterly creatures of hearth and home.  In the 1830s and ‘40s, when the country was still young and woodstoves needed tending, Margaret Fuller was diving into the life of the mind and into the world. Running with Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne.  Running ahead of Virginia Woolf, Georgia O’Keefe, Amelia Earhart.  Of Edith Wharton.  Hemingway.  A proto-feminist.  Transcendentalist.  Adventurer.  Revolutionary.  Free-thinker. This hour, On Point:  a new biography lights up the remarkable life of Margaret Fuller.

-Tom Ashbrook


Megan Marshall, author of “Margaret Fuller: A New American Life.”

From Tom’s Reading List

The New York Times “Fuller knew everyone, not just Emerson and Thoreau but the young Oliver Wendell Holmes and Nathaniel Hawthorne as well. When she donated a cow to Brook Farm, the utopian commune founded in the 1840s in Massachusetts, Hawthorne liked to call it the ‘transcendental heifer.'”

The New Republic “Ultimately Marshall chose to write Fuller’s story ‘from the inside, using the most direct evidence—her words, and those of her family and friends.’ Just as Fuller’s critical publications were ‘hybrids’ that included ‘personal observation’ and ‘confessional poetry,’ Marshall chose to use fictional techniques to enhance the ‘lights and deepen the shadows’ of Fuller’s life. She wanted to tell the fullest story of the Fuller story, ‘operatic in its emotional pitch, global in its dimensions.’ Shaping her narrative like a novel, Marshall brings the reader as close as possible to Fuller’s inner life and conveys the inspirational power she has achieved for several generations of women.”

The Nation “In America, celebrated public intellectuals who are women have, most often, been admitted to the ranks of high cultural regard only one at a time, and never without qualification. In the last century, for instance, the spotlight fell on Mary McCarthy in the 1940s and Susan Sontag in the 1960s, each of whom was smilingly referred to by the public intellectuals of their times as the ‘Dark Lady of American Letters.’ In the first half of the nineteenth century, although a fair number of her sex among abolitionists and suffragists were brilliant, it was Margaret Fuller, world-class talker and author of the influential treatise Woman in the Nineteenth Century (1845), who stood in the allotted space, alone in a sea of gifted men, most of whom chose to denature her—she thinks like a man—as they could not believe they had to take seriously a thinking woman.”

Excerpt: “Margaret Fuller: A New American Life”

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