Margaret Fuller, author of Woman in the Nineteenth Century (1845),
was an integral part of the Concord, Massachusetts, writing community that
was comprised of Waldo Emerson, Henry Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Bronson
Alcott, Ellery Channing, and Henry Hedge, among others.
Fuller was born in 1810 at Cambridgeport, Massachusetts, and during her youth, she was the companion and confidante of William Henry Channing, James Freeman Clarke, and Frederick Henry Hedge of the Harvard Class of 1829 and the Divinity School Class of 1833.
Fullers lifelong friendship with Waldo Emerson began in 1836, and during the next two years, Fuller taught in Bronson Alcott's Temple School.
From 1839-1844, Fuller was known for her Boston Conversations for women, which she conducted as a series of questions and answers. She was editor, during some of these same years, of The Dial, a transcendentalist magazine founded by the Concord writers. By 1842, Fuller was anxious to move from editing other peoples works to producing her own original writing.
Fuller also promoted the theory of androgyny, and she was instrumental in reform work for women and the mentally ill during her New York City years (1844-1847) when she worked as literary critic for Greeleys New York Daily-Tribune. In 1847, she left New York for Rome where she was foreign correspondent for Greeleys paper and a political activist. She gave birth to a son, in 1848, fathered by Giovanni Angelo Ossoli, another activist.
In 1850, Fuller, Ossoli, and their son died by shipwreck off of Fire Island on a visit to the United States.
do not turn away from non-being. They knock on
silence for an answering music; they pursue meaninglessness until they can
force it to mean.
For years, in the silence of her irregular diaries, Margaret Fuller gathered ideas, made observations on her writing style, and listed topic suggestions for possible future writings, for bringing something new into being.
The inscription in Margaret Fullers brief 1836 gold-and-green diary reads: Memoranda of interviews, conversations, and public discourse which may seem to me worthy of being recalled some fair, contemplative summer day.
In 1840, Fuller inscribed her red-and-orange diary as follows: I propose to keep a record if ever to get through this life something may come of it.
She goes on to state what she wishes to write: a better formed book of fragments (sketches and short stories); a series of essays on the fine arts in the United States; a discourse on Petrarchs love letters. She mentions its proposed I should conduct a magazine, and feels her position of writing an introduction for the magazine (The Dial) will allow her to define the role of the critic. She also observes that her sketchy diary remarks may well serve as conversations for her West Street gatherings of women and continue to earn her an income
A woman of tact and brilliancy like me has an undue advantage in conversation with men, Margaret Fuller observes in another of her irregularly kept 1840 diaries. However, these men, who are charmed by her conversation, are surprised she doesnt write better. Thats because Ive had a lonely apprenticeship, she says, but she is determined she will write well, though never as well as I talk. Yet I wont be discouraged, for what men say is not gospel.
In her 1840 green-and-orange paisley book, Fuller writes, I will keep this book, and observes she must learn to be alive to sensuous as well as to intellectual stimulus, for language is growth.
But on August 10, 1842, Fuller writes Waldo Emerson a letter and says,
I am tired to death of dissipation. I do not enjoy it nor find any repose in mere observation now I long to employ myself steadily. I have no inspiration now, but hope it might come, if I were once fixed in some congenial situation. Should you like (,) it should be with you, that I should come and really live in your house a month, instead of making a visit I shall bring my papers, etc.
Well, now please to come, for this I have always desired that you will make my house in some way useful to your occasions and not a mere hotel for a sleighing or summering party.
Was Fullers request
of Emerson an affirmation of her willingness, finally, to become a creative
writer, to learn how to write, to submit to his guidance, and to acquire the
sense of purpose and fresh thought that she sought? Instead of essays and
criticism on other peoples writings, instead of observing and recording,
was Fuller ready to learn how to write a thought so passionate and alive,
that, like the spirit of a plant or an animal, it has an architecture of its
There is much, much in all of us No one ever calls it out of us, unless we are lucky enough to know very intelligent, imaginative, sympathetic people who love us and have the magnanimity to encourage us, to believe in us, by listening, by praise, by appreciation, by laughing.
When Fullers stay with Emerson was over, Fuller produced The Great Lawsuit: Man versus Men; Woman versus Women, Summer on the Lakes, and Woman in the Nineteenth Century. Her writing brought her fame in the United States and abroad. Was Margaret Fullers 1842 stay with the Emersons the climactic release in her creative journey?
The Creative Mind
The artist, like every human being, has a life comprised of eight stages:
infancy, early childhood, play age, school age, adolescence, young adulthood,
adulthood, and old age. For the artist, however, young adulthood and adulthood
are the most crucial steps and are to be interpreted as psychological ones
and not ones of physical maturation. In the creative (psychological) life
cycle, young adulthood is a time of sublimation, of redirecting libidinal
forces into psycho-social contexts.
It is a time of intimacy with the self. The artist recognizes his inner, but mostly unexpressed creativityand as it is a time of isolation, the artist fears remaining separate because being separate means being unrecognized and unproductive. In the creative (psychological) life cycle, adulthood consists of creativity and production versus self-absorption and decay.
The artist must transcend his separation and meet with other artists, discuss ideas, share thoughts. The artist cannot survive in a vacuum. He requires a household or community of like-minded individuals in order to conceive, develop, and give birth to his distinctiveness. Through the influence of his peers, through his rejection of some of their ideas and through his reforming of their thoughts by mixing them with the freshness of his own mind, the artist finds a voice and subject matter of his own.
Therefore, Margaret Fullers initial years of writing (1836-1841), years of producing essays and criticism, years of editorship, and years of recognizing her desire in the chaos and confusion of her irregular diaries, can be compared to early adulthood, while her request for a five-week stay with the Emersons and their artistic guests served as her initiation into adulthood.
If, as Henry Adams said, chaos is the law of nature and order the dream of man, and if the imposition of order on a corner of chaos is the functionor the illusionof art, Margaret Fuller, in Concord, would begin imposing discipline on herself to find order and a voice of her own.
The artist requires creative courage. Creative courage is the capacity to move ahead in spite of despair, the capacity to listen to the self and to listen to the self speak to others. It is the capacity to mix with like-minded individuals.
But more importantly than possessing creative courage, the artist must have an encounter: he must open himself to influence. Without influence, he will have no creation. To be influenced, the artist must pay attention with his five senses, undergo active listening, must have waited for the fertilization and growth process (entrance to adulthood) to have begun to move in its own organic time
The artist must be caught up in, totally involved with, completely absorbed by his adulthoods environment and its inhabitants. The duration of the influence may be long or short, but it must be intense, and it is the center of the new creative work. The artist will then use everything at hand, will take possession of whatever he needs in his surroundings and will reconstruct and reshape it to fit his new creation.
Margaret Fuller, in Concord in 1842, met all the requirements of artistic preparation. She was ready for an encounter, ready to be influenced. She had the desire to balance her lonely apprenticeship, her isolation, by mixing with a community of like-minded individuals for an extended period of time. She was eager to listen to and talk with her major choice of influence, Waldo Emerson, and perhaps she had the courage to face the changes which would develop from their exchanges.
For centuries, the word influence has had a root meaning of inflow,
and the prime meaning of to be influenced means to receive
an ethereal fluid flowing in upon one from the stars and affecting ones
character and destiny.
Ben Jonson preferred the word imitation over influence and says imitation means to make a choice of one excellent man above the rest, and so to follow him till he grow so like him as the copy may be mistaken for the original.
One of Margaret Fullers first influences was Mary Wollstonecraft and
her work, A Vindication of the Rights of Women. Fullers father
had read Wollstonecraft while at Harvard and sought to educate his daughter
broadly. Although Fuller, in Woman in the Nineteenth Century, would
emphasize education for women as Wollstonecraft did in Vindication,
the tone of Fullers work is literary, hopeful, expectant, and expressive
of transcendentalism (every person must make his own world), while Wollstonecrafts
is angry, indignant, a rational yet heated defense of Womens Rights
and stamped with Lockes theory that man was a product of his environment.
Charles Fourier was another of Fullers influences; she subscribed to his ideas of androgyny, of diverse and equal employment for both sexes, and to his central psychological concept: a person who is thwarted grows sullen and mischievous, an outward expression of the internal war of the frustrated self.
Also, she was influenced by Goethes preoccupation with the individual. Madame de Staels presentation of a new image of woman in her novel, Corinne, as well as her critical studies of the influence of German literature, and literature as a product of a social environment, influenced Fuller. So, too, was Fuller influenced by George Sands personal lifestyle and her tales of the individual woman in her struggle against social constraints, and especially the constraint of marriage.
But the influence separating Woman from other feminist works, and the influence separating Fuller from other writers is transcendentalism, and of all of the figures associated with the transcendental movement, no one else affected Margaret Fullers thinking as much as Waldo Emerson did. With Emerson, Fuller shared a search for insight, intellectual and social independence, as well as an optimistic prophecy of a new age. Too, they shared a confident belief in moral change, intuitive knowledge, and emphasized each mans individualism, uniqueness, potential, and faith in the self. As Emersons disciple, Fuller used all of the arguments Emerson promulgated about the individual and applied them to women.
Fuller arrived in Concord seeking community, the next phase of her psychosocial development as an artist. She was a leader of Bostons West Street Conversations, she had been editor of The Dial, had written criticisms of other peoples writings, had translated the letters of two German girls, and in one night, earlier in 1842, she had written her own Credo about good and evil. But Fuller was a woman who wanted to write. She wanted to write something original. However, she lacked clarity about subject matter, and she lacked confidence.
Either in her bedroom downstairs in the Emerson house or in Waldo Emersons study, Fuller wrote a paper on Rhenish and Romaic ballads for a future issue of The Dial. She also did a piece on Tennyson. She read Emersons journals and letters at his insistence; she read Ellery Channings poems as well as those of Louisa M. Weston of Maine.
Fuller was determined to write something new, and by telling the truth about writing in her Concord diary, she demonstrated the courage needed to create. Waldo brought me the inkhorn and pen I began at once to write for him, but not with much success (August 17) I kept at my writing almost all day, but with small success. I cannot get hold of my subject in a way to suit me (August 19). What a happy day I cannot write about it (August 21). There is too much intercourse to write it down my writing thrives but ill, though I spend the appointed time at it (August 24). I have thoughts but no room or time to write them (August 28). This week has been much rain and by my little fire in the red room, I have written to some purpose. Yet today I feel chill about what I am doing (September 8). I could not go on with my own work (September 9).
All of some days were spent walking in the woods; all of other days were spent writing. Evenings were spent walking with Waldo to Walden, and there was much excellent discourse and exhaustive analysis. Margaret Fuller felt she wanted to write something big, something bigger than she had ever written. She also wanted to remember this experience in Concord.
Some afternoons were spent walking with the other guests at the Emerson household. Fuller observed Ellery Channing as he walked through nature as though searching for clues to himself, while Thoreau, with notebook in hand, seemed to be searching for clues to the universe. One afternoon was spent reading Kant in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery and talking with Hawthorne of nature and Brook Farm. Some hours were spent in Lidians room where Lidian Emerson and Fuller spoke of young Waldos death. But beneath this faŤade of passing the days so idyllically, Fuller was beginning, through discourse, to acquire subject matter and confidence.
Concord was a center of the American Renaissance, and Ellery Channing was
an integral part of the Concord group. His influence ranged from minor
to major, from oblique to direct. He gave hours of freedom to Hawthorne, community
to Alcott, inspiration to Fuller, and genuine friendship to Thoreau and Emerson.
A guest in the Emerson household for most of 1842, Ellery Channing had been a careful, intelligent reader of Fullers writings for some time. I was struck with the length of the article about Bettine. I am glad it is so long. Your writings are most valuable in my eyes your writings are as much above the mass of written appearances, as the sun is above choice Channing wrote in a February 18, 1842 letter to Fuller. As Fuller did initially, Channing, too, created a mask behind which to write. He perceived that Fuller needed to rid herself of her mask (to his own artistic downfall, he did not see he needed to rid himself of his own sentimental one). Goethe and Bettine are well enough. I want to see Margaret Fuller herselfnot Gunderodenot others. But not always these, not forever German people and things. Why not American, why not what is here under our noses, wrote Channing in his March 20, 1842 letter to Fuller.
Fuller viewed Channing as a fellow transcendentalist in need of a community of like-minded individuals. Cambridge and its people seemed very strange this evening after the ideal, the true community life at Concord with Waldo and Ellery [I am] in community, wrote Fuller in her diary on September 17, 1842, upon her return to Concord after an afternoon visit in Cambridge. For human beings are not so constituted that they can live without expansion. If they do not get it one way, they must another, or perish, Fuller later wrote in Woman.
Channings conversations released creativity in others for he had intelligence and perspective, and he was verbally astute. In walking with Ellery, Emerson said, you shall always see what was never before shown to the eye of man. On August 18, 1842, Fuller wrote in her diary, This evening Ellery called me out to the/east/clover slip, from which there is a wide view over the meadows. The moon was nearly at full He got excited, as in painting a picture. Through his poetrys portrayal of harmonic colors and shapes in nature, Channing sought to affirm mans possibilities of intellectual growth. Ellerys dell is a sweet place, the path through most luxuriant ferns, the landmarks tall asters, and the natural seat just long enough, wrote Fuller on September 8 when she sought a restful, safe place to recompose and develop her thoughts and to talk with Elizabeth Hoar. Every relation, every gradation of nature, is incalculably precious, but only to the soul which is poised upon itself for it is in harmony with the central soul, Fuller wrote in Lawsuit.
The gain of creation consists always in the growth of individual minds, which live and aspire, as flowers bloom and birds sing, Fuller wrote in Woman about the development of thought in the individual. Thus Fuller learned to see society ideally as a reproduction of mans definition of harmony. Harmony exists in difference, no less than in likeness, if only the same key-note govern both parts.
When we found a snake in the path, Ellery said (on August 28) that it was the criticism in the universe handsome and adroit in its motion, but it made you cold. When the same community of life and consciousness of mind begins among men, humanity will have, positively and finally, subjugated its brute elements and criticism will have perished all will have entered the harmony of common growth. Channing realized that only he who had command of his own powers can make an impression of the world around him, can transform his potential into experience. He began by railing at me as artificial, wrote Fuller of Channing on August 28. Fuller later reinterpreted Channings theory of self-command in Woman: The highest ideal man can form of his own powers, is that which he is destined to attain. Whatever the soul knows how to seek, it cannot fail to obtain. Yet, also on August 28, Channing ridiculed Fullers constant idealism. But as an artist beginning to have confidence in herself, Fuller decided, I cannot but see, that what they say of my or other obscure lives is true of every prophetic, of every tragic character I must not let them disturb me.
Channing lamented over the spiritual and intellectual waste of most mens lives. Fuller saw for woman the type of ideal life Channing prescribeda chance to grow and think and unfold: What woman needs is not as a woman to act or rule, but as a nature to grow, as an intellect to discern, as soul to live freely and unimpeded, to unfold such powers as were given her when we left our common home.
Channing, as a poet, was not a direct competitor to Fuller. As he was not an essayist or a critic or an orator, Fuller could respond to him without defensiveness, and could absorb some of his freshness. [Waldo] does not read Es poems well [Waldo] neutralizes[s] what is so delicate, so subtle in its nature. This journal entry of August 25 also hints of Fouriers theory of androgyny by suggesting the feminine delicate part of Channings mind as displayed though his work. I wish I could retain Ellerys talk last night: it was wonderful absurd as was what he said on one side, it was the finest poetic inspiration on the other. Fullers mind moved from Channings words to fresh speculation on duality and androgyny. Instead of composing rebuttals as she did with Emerson and Hedge, Fuller thought, tested her ideas, and clarified her thoughts. Later, in Woman, Fuller wrote, Male and female represent the two sides of the great radical dualism. But, in fact, they are perpetually passing into one another. There is no wholly masculine man, no purely feminine woman.
Channing and Fuller saw literature as expressive of life containing both good and evil, life worth living. On September 19, Fuller wrote in her diary, [Ellery] said Mr. E. is quite wrong about books: He wants them all good, now I want many bad Literature is not memely [sic.] a collection of gems, but a great system of interpretation.
The androgynous qualities of Channings poetry along with his theory that every man had the potential for intellectual and spiritual growth were applied directly by Fuller to her subject of woman in the nineteenth century. Fullers Lawsuit and Woman themselves are systems of interpretation. As a result of Channings influence, Fuller learned to look past lifes immediacy and surfaces to the less obvious realities of womans predicament in the nineteenth century. She went beyond Channings advice to write about things American and instead wrote about all women in all ages as a way of interpreting the mostly stifled American woman in the nineteenth century. In Appendix D of Woman, Fuller included Channings poem, Reverence, for its wisdom and beauty and description of woman as mans companion. By observing Channing, Fuller found the determination to voice her truest concerns about women, literature, and reform; she found the same freeing determination that had prompted Channing to seek new values in rural America in Concord.
Henry Hedge, a Unitarian minister in West Cambridge, and then in Bangor,
Maine, from 1829 to 1850, was an established figure among the Concord transcendentalist
group. It was Hedge, along with Fuller, who had initiated, through conversation,
the Transcendentalist Club in 1836. In 1840, Hedge had been considered for
the role of editor of The Dial, the clubs literary magazine.
In 1842, Henry Hedge was a frequent visitor in the Emerson household
Hedge possessed a love of intellectual discourse. On September 17, 1842, Fuller noted in her Concord diary that Hedges conversation with Samuel Ward and Waldo Emerson is glassy and elaborate in manner, but when he is alone with her, his talk changes, becomes full of soul, the tones of his voice entirely different. We had an excellent talk on all the great themes before men at this present.
The development of the mind and the role of the scholar in society were Hedges special interests. One of Hedges major theories that the difference between the learned man and the unlearned man consisted in different arrangement of knowledge to both, would be reinterpreted by Fuller in Lawsuit and then in Woman to demonstrate that all people had the inclination and potential to change. (Here, too, is a suggestion of Channings theory that he who has command of his own powers can turn potential into experience.) No doubt, a new manifestation is at hand, a new hour in the day of man. We cannot expect to see him a completed being, when the mass of men lie so entangled in the sod yet something new shall presently be shown after life of man, for hearts crave it now, if minds do not know how to ask it. It should be acknowledged that [women] have intellect which needs developing, that they should not be considered complete otherwise.
Hedge was concerned with the dualities of the scholar: the scholar found his knowledge in private (the writer/artist finds his need to write in private), then sounded out his findings in society (the writer/artist temporarily joins community to find confidence and further subject matter).
By 1842, Hedges emphasis on the reclusiveness of the scholar had changed to the importance of the scholars growth and influence being determined by community. He felt the scholar would be stifled if shut off from similar blood, eradicated if shut off from time with the self. If any individual live too much in relation, so that he becomes a stranger to the resources of his own nature, he falls after a while into a distraction, or imbecility with a society it is the same minds must find help in self-impulse or perish, wrote Fuller in Lawsuit. Hedge also believed that religion forms mans mind, whether or not man accepts the religion he was born into. H. emphasized the Church and the Race, wrote Fuller in her diary on September 17. In Lawsuit, she wrote, There is but one law for all souls, and, if there is to be an interpreter of it, he comes not as man, or son of man, but as son of God. It is the birthright of every being capable to receive it, the intelligent freedom of the universe, to use its means, to learn its secret with God alone for their guide and their judge. The intellect is to be cultivated because the Power who gave a power, by its mere existence, signifies that it must be brought out towards perfection, Fuller wrote in Woman.
At the same time, on September 17, Fuller, a writer and thinker now gaining confidence, decided religion was in her own heart. What is done here at home in my heart is my religion I belong nowhere. I have pledged myself to nothing I have my church where I am by turns priest and layman. In Woman, she wrote Religion (I mean the thirst for truth and good, not the love of sect and dogma)
On September 18, Fuller listened to Hedges sermon given in Brookline and found it wonderful to hear a student of German literature and philosophy speak, wonderful for a disciple of Hegel to preach, and to encourage the good in oneself. Thus, Fuller felt reassured to use Goethe as examples in her own writings. Those who know him [Goethe], see, daily, his thought fulfilled more and more, and they must speak of it In Woman, Fuller wrote, Germany did not need to learn a high view of woman; it was inborn in that race, and Goethe, Fuller felt, wrote deeply and truthfully of woman.
In 1842, Hedge was concerned with the benefits of reform, and saw a true reformer as one who accepted the souls eternal process and worked cooperatively with it. Beginning on page 329 in Woman, Fuller gives sympathetic understanding in her concern for the reform of prisoners, prostitutes, and the mentally ill. Hedge felt guidance from past thinkers strengthened modern mans attempts to highlight reforms needs. Fuller, in Woman, included examples of womens circumstances in history to spotlight the needs of women in the nineteenth century.
Hedge believed in cultivating the self first in order to produce a better society. In Woman, Fuller wrote Could you clear away all the bad forms of society, it is vain, unless the individual begins to be ready for better. There must be a parallel movement in these two branches of life. By cultivating the self, Hedge felt, man could apply his beliefs equally to penal reform, education, womans suffrage, and the anti-slavery movement. Fuller wrote in Lawsuit, As the friend of the Negro assumes that one man cannot, by right, hold another in bondage, so should the friend of woman assume that man cannot, by right, lay even well-meant restrictions on women. When man has educated himself, cultivated his inner self as prescribed by Hedge, Fuller felt we would have every arbitrary barrier thrown down; We would have every path laid open to woman as freely as to man.
Hedges belief in self-cultivation and his belief in the individuals potential to change and thus understand womens need for freedom influenced Fuller most in her new creative works, Lawsuit and Woman. Hedges theory of the scholars need to balance a lifestyle comprised of isolation and community influenced Fullers new confident approach to the writing life.
In her Concord diary of 1842, Fuller depicted Lidian Emerson as a woman close
to hysteria most of the time. She viewed her as an example of Fouriers
concept that the thwarted person grows mischievous and sullen and so outwardly
expresses his inner misery and frustration. Fuller endeavored to separate
Lidians opium-induced fits from her true fits of jealousy. Lidians
son, Waldo, died in January of 1842; in August, Lidian was still in mourning,
of course. And in August, Lidian was also enduring a swollen face as a result
of dental operations and so was taking opium for her nerves and her pain.
Fuller was sympathetic with Lidian, and on August 17, she wrote that when
Lidian came in to see her and wept for the lost child
and she liked to have me. However, Fuller was harshly
critical of the Lidian who was jealous of her husbands friends and who
did not try to rise above her feelings of isolation in her marriage. She was
critical, too, of Lidian because she did not try to understand her husband's
need of only friends who loved discourse and so inspired him. Women
can't bear to be left out of the question. And they don't see the whole truth
about one like me, wrote Fuller in her diary about her friendship with
Fullers critical tone toward Lidian can be felt in Fullers published writing. Fuller thought Lidian should be like other women, who are considering within themselves what they need that they have not, and what they can have, if they find they need it. In Woman, Fuller irately hopes for the time when inward and outward freedom for woman as much as for man shall be acknowledged as a right, not yielded as a concession. Fuller wishes for all self-pitying and inwardly miserable women the same opportunity she wished for Lidian: Grant her, then for a while, the armor and the javelin. She admonishes, then reminds the time is come when Eurydice is to call for an Orpheus, rather than Orpheus for Eurydice: woman needs now to take her turn [to lead].
On September 2, Lidian asked Fuller about her evenings spent with Waldo. I said I was with Ellery or Henry [Thoreau] both of the evenings and that W. was writing in his study, wrote Fuller in her diary. Were women free, were they wise fully to develop the strength and beauty of women [they would] not complain, Fuller suggests in another reply in Lawsuit. Fuller saw Lidian as unhappy, but dutifully accepting her husband's ways. She is too amiable to wish what would make me unhappy, and too judicious to wish to step beyond the sphere of her sex, the trader says of his Lidian-like wife in Woman.
Fuller saw Lidian as a self-made victim, as a woman who did not try to change and therefore she deserved no sympathy or respect. Yet in Lawsuit, Fuller contritely says of her harsh criticism of some women, it is love that has caused this [her criticism], love for souls, that might be freed could the idea of religious self-dependence be established in them, could the weakening habit of dependence on others be broken up.
On September 19, Fuller wrote that nothing makes me so anti-Christian and so anti-marriage as these talks with L. She lays such undue stress on the office of Jesus and the demands of the heart. The lot of woman is sad, wrote Fuller in Woman. She is constituted to expect and need a happiness that cannot exist on earth She will be very lonely while living with her husband. On page 298 of Woman, Fuller suggests that women, Lidian-like women who are good mothers and dutiful wives, should be allowed to be their husbands intellectual companions. I would have her [woman] free from compromise, from complaisance, from helplessness, because I would have her good enough and strong enough to love one and all beings, from the fullness, not the poverty of being.
Lidian Emerson and Margaret Fuller also knew some moments of closeness. They spent the evening of September 9 together waiting for Ellery Channing to return from Naushon where he was visiting his former love, Caroline Sturgis, and both Lidian Emerson and Fuller seemed to understand Ellery's need to visit Caroline even though his wife, Ellen, was due at the Emerson household at any hour. On September 25, Fuller and Lidian Emerson had a thorough talk and Fuller said, I shall never trouble myself anymoreit is not just to her. But I will do more attending to her, for I see I could be of real use. Later in Woman, Fuller wrote I believe that, at present, women are the best helpers of one another.
Lidian Emerson clarified for Fuller the role of the self-pitying woman in the nineteenth century. Such a woman was too meek to disobey her husband and endeavor to become his intellectual companion. Yet it is through Lidian that Fuller realized only other women and truly educated men such as Henry Hedge could help all women.
Emerson as an Ingredient
Fuller sought Emerson as her mentor during her first Concord stay of three
weeks in 1836. During the next five years as her critical writing abilities
developed, she became his discerning audience and also stimulated his reading.
During Fullers five-week stay in 1842, her choice of Emerson as her
primary influence turned their relationship into one of creative equals. Fuller
and Emerson had been friends for several years. True friendship produces self-reliance,
Then the influence of anyone with him [Emerson] would be just in proportion to independence of him, wrote Fuller on September 2. By observing others, man understands and trusts himself; by observing others, man is influenced, felt Emerson. But conversation was the core of genuine friendship, said Emerson: The office of conversation is to give me self-possession A safe and gentle spirit spreads out in order before me his own life and aims Straightway I regain, one by one, my faculties, my organs. For Emerson, conversations became journal entries, and these in turn became essays. Written at the top of Margaret Fuller's 1842 Concord diary, in pencil, is: Will Mr. E mark the parts he intends to use. After Mr. E has used this, I would like it again. Portions of Fuller's Concord journal were later used by Emerson in his sections of The Memoirs of Margaret Fuller.
Emerson's influential concept of self-reliance especially was reiterated and broadened by Fuller in Woman. Based on Harold Bloom's theory of influence, I suggest Margaret Fuller adapted Waldo Emerson's concept of self-reliance and made it her own as follows: First, Fuller misreads Emersons concept of self-reliance. Misreading means not understanding completely or misinterpreting passages, and so Fuller takes a swerve on Emersons words and makes them into her own. Mans self-reliance becomes womans self-reliance in Lawsuit and Woman and Fuller applies the term so richly to women and their need to break with constraints that her adaptation of the concept sounds better. Because her adaptation sounds better, she makes it appear that Emerson had not developed his concept enough. However, in order to handle her adaptation, Fuller has to empty herself of her adulation for her influence. Fuller then opens herself to the power of self-reliance as though it is not Emersons concept but is a truth which was always just beyond Emerson and accessible to anyone capable of perceiving it. Fullers use of self-reliance obliterates the uniqueness of the concept in Emersons work. Next Fuller attains a state of solitude, psychological and creative, separates herself from others by returning to Cambridge on September 25, and thus truncates her precursors endowment. Lastly, Fuller confidently holds her concept of self-reliance open now to her precursors, uses it in her own Lawsuit and Woman, and it seems as though Emerson has not influenced Fullers theory of self-reliance, but that Fuller herself developed the concept for her specific use. For a somewhat different take on the topic, see W.J. Bates The Burden of the Past and the English Poet.
Emerson, Fuller & The Courage to Create
Art, for Emerson, is speaking and writing. Action or life itself is the raw
material of the intellect, said Emerson, and language is the medium which
converts thought or raw material into utterance. Utterance is speaking or
writing. Utterance is literature or art. Literature serves mankind by making
them think and reveals for them what they havent seen.
Emerson and Fuller both enjoyed rhetorical conversation, which is a presentation and critical judgment of individual interpretation for revising and extending shared knowledge. It is the art of the effective and persuasive use of language. On September 21, Fuller wrote in her diary: My time to go to him [Emerson] is late in the evening. Then I go knock at the library door, and we have our long word talk through the growths of things with glimmers of light from the causes of things. Their rhetorical conversations, as well as their letters, were used for generating lectures and texts. Fuller and Emerson searched each other for the best thoughts as resources for writing: in their conversations, they would discuss, utilize each other, sound and teach each other, but never merely enjoy. A writer must look for the best thought and use it wherever its to be found. On September 1, Fuller wrote in her diary, There seems to be no end to these conversations we [Emerson and Fuller] enjoy them, for we often get a good expression.
Emerson, through conversation, taught Fuller how to refine her thought and writing. But he stops me from doing anything and makes me think. When she knew how to thinkhow to convert raw material into utteranceFuller also knew how to write and about what to write
The coldness of the Emerson household from August 17 to September 25, 1842, was due, in part, to the death of the Emersons firstborn which helped to cause some of the isolation of Waldo Emerson from his wife. Each of them had chosen a different form of bereavement. Due to this isolation, Emerson placed emphasis on the friendships of that summer and so in Channings words, got on agreeably with everybody, [but could] not establish a personal relationship with anyone. Fuller attributes Emerson's coldness to his god, which was truth, while her god was love. On September 1, after Emerson read verses to Fuller, Fuller named Emersons life Dichtung und Wahrheit, (poetry and truth) because Emerson cared only for the immortal essence which can be distilled from facts. Thus Fuller seemed to attribute Emerson's coldness to his idealism during his bereavement, [Emerson believes he] will meet him [young Waldo] again to me he [young Waldo] seems lost that is [my] weakness. Pure love, inspired by a worthy object, must ennoble and bless, the love of truth, the love of excellence will have power to save you, Fuller wrote later in Woman to assure timid women that independence would not necessarily lead them into prostitution.
The subject of marriage was discussed most by Fuller and Emerson as Emerson was working on an essay on marriage. Ask any woman whether her aim in [marriage] is to further the genius of her husband, and she will say yes, but her conduct will always be to claim a devotion that will be injurious to him if he yields, said W. Emerson on September 1. In a true union of equals, however, a wife and a husband would further each others calling and well-being. Such a woman is the sister and friend of all beings, as the worthy man is their brother and helper, Fuller wrote in Woman. Yet if a woman wished to live alone, her thought may turn to the centre, and she may [enter] into the secret of truth and love, use it for the use of all men, instead of a chosen few.
Lidian hoped that Waldo's character would alter, that he would be capable of intimacy, but on September 2, Fuller wrote that it will never be more perfect between them. And so it is from the qualities lacking in the Emersons marriage that Fuller built her four-point union of equals theory in Woman. At the initial level in such a union, the man and the woman have a relation of mutual esteem, mutual dependence. The man might be called a good provider, the woman might be called a good housekeeper. They care for each others needs. At the next level is mutual idolatry or physical attraction. At the third level is intellectual companionship which has become more and more frequent wrote Fuller in Woman. Men engaged in public life, literary men, and artists In our country, women are, in many respects, better situated than men. Good books are allowed, with more time to read them. Not unfrequently, [women] share the same employment [as men] as the intellectual development of women has grown. The fourth and highest grade of marriage union, is the religious, which may be expressed as pilgrimage toward a common shrine. This includes the other [three].
On September 9, Waldo talked with Fuller of his latest thoughts on marriage. That marriage should be a covenant to secure to either party the sweetness and the handsomeness of being a calming, continuing, inevitable benefactor to the other, seems to summarize Fullers four-point union of equals theory. On August 24 and September 18, Waldo Emerson and Fuller talked much about Emersons new poem, Saadi. Emerson admired Persia's poet, Sadi, because of his preference for practical wisdom. Also, both men loved solitude. Both men appreciated society but sought to dwell alone as individuals, or in isolation, in society.
On August 24, after discussing Saadi with Fuller, Emerson said he will no more plague himself with the mysteries of another sphere from his. This may be interpreted as Emerson's self-permission to enjoy isolationism, and not to feel guilty about his own marriage, about his preference for writing and thinking. Saadi, for Emerson, is one acceptance throughout, said Fuller in her diary on August 24. She equated Emersons tone of acceptance to one of his journal-keeping habits: Whenever in his journal he speaks of his peculiar character and limitations he has written in the margin, Accept. On September 18, Fuller cried over the new lines Emerson added to Saadi As Saadi, the joygiver, can also walk in grief, said Fuller in her diary. At this time, Fuller, by borrowing Emersons theory of acceptance, likewise may have granted herself permission to love solitude and individualism, writing and thinking. By recognizing the artists joy and grief inherent to isolationism and community, Fuller gained confidence as a thinker and a writer. She acquired the courage to believe she would not be pitied as a madwoman, not shrunk from as unnatural. For women of genius, even more than men, are likely to be enslaved by an impassioned sensibility. The world repels them more rudely, and they are of weaker bodily frame.
Thus, Fuller had finally found the courage to create.
Fuller's borrowing of Emerson's concept of self-reliance, the evolution of her four-point union of equals theory, and her learning how to think (through conversation) were Fullers primary gains from Emersons influence.
The Sum of These Parts
Ellery Channing, Henry Hedge, Lidian Emerson, and Waldo Emerson are to be
credited most for providing Fuller with conversation and dialogue on philosophical
concepts and contemporary social conditions. After five weeks of such exposure
to her peers in Concord, Fuller was freed, through her friendships. For
Emerson, friendship becomes a process whose end is freedom.
She returned to Cambridge to rest, to assess her subject matter. She left Concord because the sense of community there made her confident that she thought as well as her peers, that she had her own perspective. She felt confident that she had advanced beyond Emersons studied love of nature and his inability to go forth and learn of the world.
She had advanced beyond Channings capriciousness and artistic flaws beneath his conversational stance, advanced beyond Hedges controlled transcendentalism and thoughts on reform. She had interpreted Lidian Emersons shortcomings as representative of so many women.
I suggest that the Concord setting fulfilled its mission as household during Fullers initiation into adulthood and that Fuller completed the creative cycle. Fuller had an encounter by opening herself to influences, and she fed her encounter with discourses and analyses and rhetorical dialogues. She found her subject matter and so gained confidence in her ability as a writer. She then claimed her own vision, as separate from her major influences. She rejected the community setting, and acknowledging my own path, left the setting to return to Cambridge for rest (rest serves to release the artist from intense efforts and inhibitions, so the creative impulse can now fully and easily express itself). In Cambridge she readied herself for the early draft of her artwork ("Lawsuit" which would become Woman).
Woman in the Nineteenth Century
Orestes Brownson, in his quarterly review in April, 1845, said that Woman
in the Nineteenth Century has neither beginning, middle, nor end
and may be read backwards as well as forwards. However, Woman's
basic structure is that of a sermon which is appropriate, because its message
is hortatory. Its ostensible formlessness and exhaustiveness are due
to its dual nature. Within the sermon framework or form (probably influenced
by the sermons of Hedge, the orations of Emerson), Woman includes the spiraling
and optimistic transcendentalist literary form (probably influenced by the
essays of Emerson and the poetry of Channing). Woman developed from
Lawsuit, but forty-nine pages of new material were added.
Woman's structural framework reflects mostly the sermon or oration. Within the framework, Fuller positions her ideas on liberating women and men. Fuller begins her work with the classic exordium. Using German and Latin quotations, and preliminary conciliation, her proposition is not introduced until the tenth page woman needs her turn, improvement in woman's lot can aid in reformation of men. Her sermon topic is announced: Be ye perfect. Having established her thesis, she continues with partitio and presents her analysis in a debate style: she raises men's popular arguments about womens rights and then rebuts them. To accentuate points, she employs her conversational questions-and-answers approach.
In a digresio, Fuller presents all that is known of woman and her story through myth, folklore, the Bible, literature, history, and the social circumstances and environment of her own time. She concedes that women have some power, but want freedom from men to learn about the universe themselves. In the form of a reprehension she admonishes men who refuse to grant women freedom, men who call strong women manly, and women who misuse what power they have.
Woman next takes the form of an applicatio in a departure from the main argument. She admonishes women to save themselves in the present time, explore themselves, become self-reliant. In a peroration, Fuller outlines the major points of her argument and of her vision of the harmonious world that an ideal man/woman relationship would bring. She addresses a prayer to God, prophesies a day of glory, and admonishes to cherish hope and act. She closes with Biblical poetry, and envisions (so shalt thou see what few have seen). When recognized and appreciated as a sermon form, her work has thematic and structural soundness.
The transcendental influence on Woman's form is detectable through the movement of her treatise which is not parallel, but is soaring and circular. It is an unfolding from the subconscious, a form of spiraling thought patterns. Another of its transcendental qualities is the concept of the individual as the center of the world and seeking enlargement in the universe. Fuller uses her own experience and observations as representative of the experience of all women. And she begins her text with we changes to I after fifteen pages, and later reverts back and forth between we and I. This is a transcendentalist point-of-view technique.
Woman's tone is conversational. The text questions and answers (like Emerson and Fuller, like Channing and Fuller). It is sometimes dramatic with breathless phrases as though someone is talking. Her writing sounds as if she is talking to a small group and studying the reaction of her audience.
From her Concord influences, Fuller received not only the seeds of the messages and ideas she set forth in Woman, but also the seeds of the form her writing style took.
Would Margaret Fullers writing have had the same impact had she not been led through the creative process by Emerson during her five-week stay in Concord in 1842? Margaret Fuller offers answers herself in her letters. In an August 25, 1842 letter, she writes to William Channing,
What did you mean by saying I had imbibed much of his [Emersons] way of thought? I do indeed feel his life stealing gradually into mine, and I sometimes think my work would have been more simple, my unfolding to a temporal activity more rapid and easy, if we had never met. But when I look forward to eternal growth, I am always aware that I am far larger and deeper for him ...
Emerson and Fuller often exchanged letters, room-to-room, to assist with their writing, during Fuller's Concord stays. In a September 1842 letter, she writes Emerson,
Yet I deeply wish to keep some record of these days; for if well done, though not as beautiful and grand, yet they would be as significant of the highest New England life in this era, as Plato's marvelous Dialogues were of the life of Attica, in his time.... Nor are ours inferior in quality to that. But, alas, I cannot reproduce this life, while I am in it...
From Cambridge, on October 16, 1842, Fuller writes Emerson:
I can hardly believe that it is a month this day since I passed a true Sabbath in reading your journals and Ellery's book, and talking with you in the study. I have not felt separated from you yet... I understand the leadings of your thoughts better and better, and I feel a conviction that I shall be worthy of this friendship.
I suggest that Margaret
Fullers 1842 stay with the Emersons was the climactic release in her
creative journey. In Concord, she adapted influence, learned that art is produced
through a balance of isolation and community, gained confidence as a writer,
acquired subject matter and writing style, and consummated the creative cycle
from encounter to breakthrough or first draft. Through her completion of these
five processes and through her subsequent fame for Lawsuit/Woman,
Fuller emerged as a commanding writer and as a representative intellectual
of the nineteenth century.
Margaret Fuller had freed the artist within.
Fuller, Margaret. bMS Am 1086 Boxes 1-3, Miscellaneous: Fuller Papers, Book of Extracts, S.M.F. Ossoli. Cambridge: Houghton Library.
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Ueland, Brenda., If You Want to Write. Saint Paul: Graywolf Press, 1987.
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[Editor's Note: A fully annotated
version of this article is availabe in the PDF
edition of Critique.]
Allegra Wong has a BA in English Literature from Wheaton College (Norton), and has done extensive graduate work in English and American literature and language at Harvard University. Her poetry and prose have been published in numerous journals including The Montserrat Review, 3rd Bed, Modern Haiku, Brevity, The Paumanok Review, Writer Online, and Oyster Boy Review. She teaches at Writers On The Net, is creative writing moderator at SayStuff.com, lives in Boston, and has one son.