Finding Margaret Fuller

Finding Margaret Fuller

by Allison Pataki
Genres: Fiction / Historical / General
Published on March 19, 2024
Pages: 416
Format: eARC Source: Netgalley

Young, brazen, beautiful, and unapologetically brilliant, Margaret Fuller accepts an invitation from Ralph Waldo Emerson, the celebrated Sage of Concord, to meet his coterie of enlightened friends. There she becomes “the radiant genius and fiery heart” of the Transcendentalists, a role model to a young Louisa May Alcott, an inspiration for Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Hester Prynne and the scandalous Scarlet Letter, a friend to Henry David Thoreau as he ventures out to Walden Pond . . . and a muse to Emerson.But Margaret craves more than poetry and interpersonal drama, and her restless soul needs new challenges and adventures.

And so she charts a singular course against a backdrop of dizzying historical drama: From Boston, where she hosts a salon for students like Elizabeth Cady Stanton; to the editorial meetings of The Dial magazine, where she hones her pen as its co-founder; to Harvard’s library, where she is the first woman permitted entry; to the gritty New York streets where she spars with Edgar Allan Poe and reports on Frederick Douglass. Margaret defies conventions time and again as an activist for women and an advocate for humanity, earning admirers and critics alike.

When the legendary editor Horace Greeley offers her an assignment in Europe, Margaret again makes history as the first female foreign news correspondent, mingling with luminaries like Frédéric Chopin, William Wordsworth, George Sand and more. But it is in Rome that she finds a world of passion, romance, and revolution, taking a Roman count as a lover—and sparking an international scandal. Evolving yet again into the roles of mother and countess, Margaret enters the fight for Italy’s unification.

With a star-studded cast and sweeping, epic historical events, this is a story of an inspiring trailblazer, a woman who loved big and lived even bigger—a fierce adventurer who transcended the rigid roles ascribed to women and changed history, all on her own terms.

I had never heard of Margaret Fuller and that is a shame. Everyone else in this story is such a famous person in early American history that I found myself comparing Margaret Fuller to Forrest Gump. She was part of the world of so many literary figures in the 1830s and 1840s in New England but she is unknown now.

The story starts with her being invited to be a houseguest of Ralph Waldo Emerson because he is fascinated by the story of a woman who was raised to be as educated as a man. There she meets his handyman, Henry David Thoreau. She befriends his neighbors, the Alcotts, especially their daughter, Louisa May.

She was a single woman who was trying to support herself and send money to her widowed mother and her siblings. It was harder for her to do as a writer because she didn’t have the family money of Emerson and it was illegal for women to earn money by giving lectures. She wrote several bestselling books. She ran a discussion group that charged admission. It included upper class women like the wife of newspaper publisher Horace Greeley and a young Elizabeth Cady Stanton. She encouraged them to look at new ways that women could be seen in society. Eventually she became the editor of the Transcendentalist writers’ magazine.

Horace Greeley’s wife was so impressed by her that she encouraged him to hire her for his New York paper. She wrote pieces on women’s rights, including interviewing prostitutes in prison and women in asylums. She advocated for abolition. He also sent her as the first American foreign correspondent to Europe where she also became America’s first war correspondent when she was trapped in a war in Italy.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton credited her with the ideas that led to the Seneca Falls convention. She should be so much more well known.

This book was wonderful for reintroducing this woman to modern audiences. Like a lot of historical fiction I’ve read recently, I feel that the writing is mainly “this happened and then this happened and then this happened.” In a life as full of activity as this one I can see how that is necessary but it isn’t the most interesting writing to read. It was very slow to get into and I almost abandoned the book. That’s probably in part because I always was bored reading Emerson and didn’t care for reading about him. I happened to look at Fuller’s wikipedia page though and realized what an interesting life I was about to read about though so I stuck with the book. I’m glad I did. Pick this one up to find out all about her including all the things that she did that I didn’t even touch on in this post.