HAWTHORNE'S FULLER MYSTERY by Thomas R. Mitchell

HAWTHORNE'S FULLER MYSTERY

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A well-researched, persuasive reexamination of the paradoxical relations between two classic American authors. When Margaret Fuller died in 1850, she was regarded as one of the most important writers and activists of the time—a leading figure in Emerson’s Transcendentalist circle and the highest embodiment of the “New Woman” who entered the public arena to debate social and political issues. Yet in 1884, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s son, Julian, published a biography of his famous father that would destroy Fuller’s literary reputation until the 1960s. The popular book contained a short passage from Hawthorne’s journal in which he jeered at her Italian husband, who drowned with her and their baby in a shipwreck off the coast of Fire Island, and concluded that Fuller’s intellectual brilliance was a fraud, a thin covering for her true “defective and evil nature” (i.e., her alleged lustfulness). Julian used the virulent passage to present his father as an ideal middle-class husband who was an enemy of Fuller and her feminist ilk. Though the son’s glowing portrayal of Hawthorne has long since come undone, his version of Hawthorne’s hostility to Fuller held sway for remarkably long. In this well-argued and engaging book, however, Mitchell (Laredo Community Coll.) draws on extensive citations from both writers’ journals and letters, while also offering a close analysis of Hawthorne’s texts, to show that the truth of Fuller’s character was not as reported. Fuller and Hawthorne in fact enjoyed an intense, possibly intimate friendship for five years before she left Boston for New York (and later Italy). Both fascinated and repelled by Fuller’s brilliance and charisma, which he found seductive as well as threatening, Hawthorne was inspired by his passionate attempts to understand her, says Mitchell, to create many of his greatest female characters (e.g., Hester Pryne). In an impressive achievement, Mitchell captures the fiery temperament of each while also untangling their complicated friendship and its literary import.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 1-55849-170-8
Page count: 336pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1998




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