MINERVA AND THE MUSE by Joan von Mehren


A Life of Margaret Fuller
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 A competent academic work, by a freelance writer and scholar, on the eventful life of an energetic and outspoken intellectual and feminist of the 19th century. From early childhood, when she began studying Latin under the tutelage of her father, who was of the opinion that ``mediocrity is obscurity,'' Margaret Fuller (181050) grew into the energetic and sometimes abrasive woman who could ask her friend Ralph Waldo Emerson, ``Who would be a goody that could be a genius?'' In fact, it is partly for her connections with the Transcendentalists that Fuller is remembered, and her ideas may well have been aired beyond her own writings: In 1839, one observer noted that Emerson's lectures were ``fractions of [Bronson] Alcott, [Unitarian minister Timothy] Dwight, and ´ Miss Fuller.'' The popular and influential Conversation classes she held for women in Boston provided ideas for her writing as well as a much-needed income--income she was not receiving from the hard work she was putting in as first editor of the Dial, a philosophical and literary journal. It was for this journal that Fuller wrote the article that, in expanded form, became Woman in the Nineteenth Century, her feminist magnum opus, of which von Mehren delicately notes, ``She felt under no obligation to be strictly coherent.'' In her writings, Fuller addresses poverty and the double standard as contributing to prostitution, warns women not to enter marriages in which they would be too dependent, and argues that a woman should be able to try her hand at any occupation that appeals to her. Even when Fuller got her long-awaited chance to travel to Europe in 1847, her visits to guidebook attractions were set against the background of local poverty and political turmoil; unfortunately, this account is of the sort that offers more details on that turmoil than on Fuller's reactions to it. Von Mehren fails to capture the dynamism of her subject, who never quite emerges as a full-blooded person.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-87023-941-4
Page count: 536pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 1994


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