Today I’m reviewing Margaret Fuller: A New American Life by Megan Marshall for TLC Book Tours. As always, I am provided with a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.
From the publisher:
From an early age, Margaret Fuller dazzled New England’s intellectual elite. Her famous Conversations changed women’s sense of how they could think and live; her editorship of The Dial shaped American Romanticism.
Marshall tells the story of how Fuller, tired of Boston, accepted Horace Greeley’s offer to be the New York Tribune’s front page columnist. The move unleashed a crusading concern for the urban poor and the plight of prostitutes, and a hunger for passionate experience. In Italy as a foreign correspondent, Fuller took a secret lover, wrote dispatches on the brutal 1849 Siege of Rome, and gave birth to a son.
When all three died in a shipwreck off Fire Island shortly after Fuller’s fortieth birthday, the sense and passion of her life’s work were eclipsed by tragedy and scandal. Marshall’s inspired account brings an American heroine back to indelible life.
Before I read this biography, I was aware of the name Margaret Fuller but had no real knowledge of her life or accomplishments. And I am not usually drawn to biographies. However, Megan Marshall’s book, amazingly detailed but never boring, is one I would highly recommend. She paints a vivid picture of Fuller’s life, drawing from Fuller’s writings and the accounts of others.
Think of it: Fuller grew up in Cambridge, MA, the daughter of a lawyer and congressman who gave her a classical education in a time when Harvard, just down the road, didn’t admit women. She was brilliant and fiercely intelligent, described by some as a genius. She grew up with Oliver Wendell Holmes; she later counted Nathaniel Hawthorne and Ralph Waldo Emerson and the Alcotts as her friends. She edited some of Thoreau’s writings. She was most definitely a woman ahead of her time. As her world expanded, she left Cambridge for New York to work for Horace Greeley and the New York Herald Tribune as a columnist. Eventually, she went to Europe and worked as a foreign correspondent. All this in a time where women held the traditional roles of wife and mother and weren’t expected to do much more than that. Fuller’s heroines, however, were George Sand and Mary Wollstonecraft, women who disregarded society’s conventions as to marriage. Fuller sought more. She believed strongly in the rights of women. She championed the causes of those in need. She wanted to live a fully realized life and she did.
Perhaps her best known work was Women in the Nineteenth Century, which grew out of her famous Conversations, which were seminars for women. The Dial, a Transcendentalist publication, was started by Fuller and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Born in 1810, she died at the age of 40 – too young, by far. But in that time, she forged a life that few women of that time could have hoped to imagine. Megan Marshall’s book is beautifully written. She paints a vivid portrait of her subject and recreates that era for her readers in rich detail. We see and experience life in Cambridge, New York and Rome in the first half of the 19th century. We meet those people, some rather famous to us now, that Margaret counted as her friends and colleagues. We learn much about the social ills that Margaret fought to change. And most importantly, we learn about Margaret, whose fierce intellect and passionate embrace of life led her on a groundbreaking journey.
I find her utterly fascinating. And I thank Megan Marshall for writing such a brilliant biography.
About the author:
Megan Marshall is the author of The Peabody Sisters, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Her work has appeared the New Yorker, The Atlantic, New York Times Book Review, and Slate. A recipient of Guggenheim and NEH fellowships, Marshall teaches in the MFA program at Emerson College. She lives in Massachusetts.
If you leave a comment, you just might win a copy of this book! Make sure to leave your comment on this post. I will choose a winner on Thursday evening.