A letter from one woman to another washes ashore. This letter details the adventurous, fantastic, revolutionary life of Margaret Fuller. But will her words unite or divide? Will anyone read her letter at all?
Bernard (Romanticism: Poems, 2009, etc.) juxtaposes two lives, two paths taken by very different 19th-century women, one conventional and the other extraordinary. Attending one of Margaret Fuller’s famed Conversations, Anne Thoreau, Henry’s adopted younger sister, is first preoccupied by her own plain dress and awkward manners. Yet Anne is quickly entranced by the charismatic Fuller with her bold call to each woman to embrace her inner Minerva, her own feminine wisdom that should stand alongside masculine wisdom. Fuller’s early feminism both attracts and frightens Anne. Indeed, the disapproving eyes of not only conventional society matrons but also her own professed friends, the men of the Transcendentalist Concord circle, shadow her constantly. After serving abroad as one of the first women foreign correspondents, Fuller and her family tragically drown as their ship founders off the coast. Henry rushes to the wreck and finds, among other things, a letter to Sophia Hawthorne. When he contacts the Hawthornes, however, Nathaniel, disturbed by reports of Fuller’s unconventional behavior, refuses to allow Henry to deliver it. Intrigued by the tale, Anne begins to wonder more about Fuller. Only after her children have grown and Henry himself has died does Anne seek out and read Fuller’s heartbreaking letter. The thrill of being an intrepid reporter, Anne discovers, is tempered by financial strains and illness. The price is steep, yet Fuller’s accounts of love and adventure justify the cost of her unconventional life, making her watery death much more tragic.
Bernard skillfully contrasts the public and private sides of Fuller, crafting a book with rich imagery, emotional depth and a poetic rhythm.