Although Fuller was also a prolific writer – she was an editor for The Dial (the influential publication that Emerson called his “antidote to narrowness); the acclaimed author of “Woman in the Nineteenth Century” (sometimes called the first serious work of American feminism); a columnist hired by Horace Greeley to work as the first literary editor at the New York Tribune; and one of American journalism’s first foreign correspondents – she is rarely read today. (Even in her time, some readers struggled to embrace her work. One unkind wag noted that the transcendentalists “read Dante in the original Italian, Hegel in the original German ... and perhaps the hardest task of all, Margaret Fuller in the original English.”)
But Fuller’s life, fortunately, is greater than the sum of her words. A born-and-bred New Englander, she was profoundly influenced by her rather bumptious father Timothy – later a US congressman – who homeschooled young Margaret so rigorously that Matteson calls her “in her time, the best read woman in America and the one most renowned for her intelligence.”
Matteson, who won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize in biography for “Eden’s Outcasts,” his examination of the lives of Louisa May Alcott and her father Amos Bronson, presents Fuller with insight and nuance. In her own words, Fuller was an “odd and unpleasant girl” whose brilliance won her more rejection than acceptance. As a young woman, she became an earnest if often graceless seeker of truth, and Matteson is respectful as he chronicles her breakthroughs and her struggles as she urgently pursues both philosophical truths and personal acceptance.