Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Margaret Fuller, Emerson, and time-travel


First there is this from The Writer's Almanac:

Today is the birthday of writer, literary critic, and woman of letters Margaret Fuller (books by this author), born in Cambridgeport, Massachusetts (1810). She was the first of eight children, and a precocious child. Her father - a Harvard-educated lawyer and politician - had hoped for a son. Even though girls received very little in the way of formal schooling in those days, he insisted that Margaret receive the very best education. He homeschooled her rigorously for several years and then sent her off to the Boston Lyceum for Young Ladies. She took after her father in forcefulness and drive, but he was a demanding and cold teacher, and she suffered from migraines, nightmares, and depression. She wasn't popular at school, mainly because she came across as a tactless know-it-all. A lot of her bluster was a front for her insecurity, which she revealed in her journals. "I shall always reign through the intellect, but the life! the life! O my God! shall that never be sweet?" She felt that she was cursed with "a man's ambition" and "a woman's heart," but later wrote that the ambition was necessary to keep her heart from breaking.

In 1832, her childhood friend James Freeman Clarke suggested to Fuller that she might channel her passionate nature into writing. And just a few years later, in 1835, she met Ralph Waldo Emerson (books by this author). Their personalities could not have been more different, but they ended up being very close friends for the rest of Fuller's life. Being in Fuller's company, Emerson once said, "is like being set in a large place. You stretch your limbs & dilate to your utmost size."

It was also in 1835, the year she met Emerson, that Fuller's father died. She went to work as a teacher to help support her family, even though she had been planning to write a biography of Goethe, in whom she had a passionate interest. She did take Clarke's advice and published her first book, Summer on the Lakes, in 1844. Her most famous work is Woman in the Nineteenth Century (1845), in which she argues that women should not be constricted by gender roles in their choice of career, but should rather be allowed to do work that appeals to them. "Let them be sea-captains, if they will," she wrote.

Fuller hosted a series of parlor discussions that she called "Conversations." They were on various topics, from literature to education to philosophy, and only open to women. Fuller's real purpose, besides education, was to enrich the lives of women. She ran these conversations for five years, and then she felt she needed a change of pace, so she moved to New York and went to work as a reporter for Horace Greeley. Greeley gave her a front-page column in his New York Tribune, and she later became the paper's first female editor. In 1846, Greeley sent her to Europe as a foreign correspondent. She ended up in Rome, covering the Italian revolution, and that's where she met Giovanni Angelo Ossoli, a nobleman who had been disinherited by his family for his radical sympathies. They began an affair, and may have even secretly married after Fuller became pregnant.

She was returning to the United States with her lover and their toddler son, Nino, when a hurricane forced their ship onto a sandbar off of Fire Island, New York. The whole family lost their lives in the shipwreck.

And there is this personal postscript:

The lives and times of Margaret Fuller, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and their contemporaries fascinate me. If I could time-travel and begin life again elsewhere, I would choose Emerson's neighborhood in the mid-19th century. 

Now, though, here is a question for you: Where would you begin again if you had the time-travel opportunity?



10 comments:

  1. I'll be interested in your approach to time travel, Tim. As for me, the here and now is good.

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    1. Margot, I can escape the here and now via books; my mind bends, and I fly away every now and then, and perhaps someday I will never come back (i.e., my mind will give up on reality and surrender to the complete and irreversible psychosis of fantasy, escape, and beyond).

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    2. Tim,

      Where would I go with my time machine: to wherever and whenever one goes following "Once upon a time. . ."

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    3. Yes, Fred, so only someone's imagination sets the limits on where and when? Hmm.

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    4. Tim,

      I think Momaday would agree with me.

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  2. I have a fondness for certain periods — the High Middle Ages, the Paris of La Boheme, and Emerson's New England. But the absence of modern medicine makes none of them attractive enough to want to visit them.

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    1. Indeed, Frank. You make a great point. I just last night read about medical treatments in the 19th century. Yikes! The mortality rate for surgeries and hospitalizations was mind boggling.

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  3. It would be Fun to take walk with Thoreau, except that he's reputed to have knocked off14 to18 miles at a shot.. I've always wondered about
    That: I walked a marathon once and it's a very long way; so I look askance at descriptions of walks of that length... People imo tend to exaggerate...

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    1. Mudpuddle, yes, 14 to 18 miles seems a bit much given the average walking speed of human beings (i.e., 3-4 mph?).

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  4. Though I am not sure what time I would choose to start over agin in, Margaret Fuller, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau are thinkers that seem very worth knowing.

    I will likely spend the next couple of hours think about what I would say to them if I had the chance to join in there conversations.

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