A splendid selection of letters from the pen of our first prominent feminist intellectual (1810–50).
From his comprehensive six-volume Letters of Margaret Fuller (1983–94, not reviewed), Hudspeth (English/Univ. of Redlands) has culled items that illuminate the extraordinary dimensions of Fuller’s restless mind and capacious heart. Friend of Emerson, Thoreau, Bronson Alcott, Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and Poe, Fuller established a peerless reputation for literary criticism in a male-dominated world. Her literary gifts emerged early. At eight she wrote to her father, “If you have spies they will certainly inform you that we are not very dissipated.” There are formal letters (to Alcott, applying for a teaching job), playful ones (to friends), newsy missives (to her parents), encouraging and admonitory letters (to her siblings—“I hope that you will not forget your resolves about study . . .”), and lyrical passages describing sunsets, waterfalls, and works of art (although she was unimpressed by Niagara: “I got quite tired at last of seeing so much water in all ways and forms”). When Emerson hired her (at no salary) to edit the Dial, she revealed her ability as a working professional, fully confident and willing to reject even an essay submitted by Thoreau (“I never once feel myself in a stream of thought,” she commented, “but seem to hear the grating of tools on the mosaic”). In Europe at the end of her life, she wrote knowledgeably about politics and wittily about the difficulties of travel. There are passionate letters, as well—to her friend Caroline Sturgis, to James Nathan (whom she loved, only to be rejected), and to the Italian man who fathered her child and may have married her.
A powerful reminder that Fuller’s death by shipwreck was a tragic loss not just to her loved ones but to American literature. (8 b&w illustrations)