This summer the Margaret Fuller Society is sponsoring a panel, “Margaret Fuller: Westward to the Lakes, Eastward to Europe,” at the 82nd Thoreau Society Annual Gathering in Concord, MA. Phyllis Blum Cole will be chairing the panel.
Below offers you a preview of the panel’s papers. We hope to see you in Concord!
Albena Bakratcheva (New Bulgarian University) will be presenting “‘Wherever the Hog Comes, the Rattlesnake Disappears,’ or ‘Sic Transit Gloria Ruris’: Fuller and Thoreau on Civilization and/as Extinction.” In her Summer on the Lakes in 1843 Margaret Fuller regretfully foresaw that the settlers’ “mode of civilization will, in the course of twenty, perhaps ten, years, obliterate the natural expression of the country.” Such would be Henry Thoreau’s concern ever since (if not even before) he set off to Walden Pond in 1845; year after year this concern would only intensify, with Thoreau witnessing how “the wild fruit of the earth disappear before civilization” and “the whole country becomes a town or beaten common,” as noted in the 1858 Journal. Both authors considered the tendency of our civilization inevitable. This paper will focus on the proto-environmental thinking/awareness indicated by Margaret Fuller’s Summer on the Lakes (her only work of the kind) and will try to envision such direction of discourse as suggesting (and itself providing) a certain immediate intellectual/literary context in which Thoreau’s own environmental imagination will very shortly thrive and triumph.
In “Margaret Fuller’s Radical Optimism: Westward to the Mexican-American War, Eastward to the Italian Revolution” Christina Katopodis (Transformative Learning in the Humanities, City University of New York) considers connections between Fuller’s response to the Mexican-American War and the Italian Revolution, looking especially at her letters from 1846-1850, as well as her commentary on abolitionists such as her 1845 review of Frederick Douglass’ Narrative. Katopodis frames Fuller’s more political writings within the context of her radical optimism, revisiting arguments about Fuller as a democratic theorist made by Charles Capper and David M. Robinson. Katopodis argues that Fuller’s radical optimism shaped the political movement that was American Transcendentalism, pushing her contemporaries further in the direction of social justice as the movement’s ultimate goal. Moreover, today, we stand to learn from Fuller’s radical optimism—optimism as a choice one must make daily in the face of adversity and oppression, a kind of early American pragmatism that is inherently activist in nature, as Katopodis contends.
Gerard Holmes (University of Maryland) in “George Sand’s Consuelo Novels and Margaret Fuller’s Improvised Work-Life” argues that Fuller’s adoption of a wandering, and ultimately revolutionary, persona as she traveled across Europe is informed by her reading of George Sand’s 1841 novel Consuelo and its 1843 sequel La Comtesse de Rudolstadt, and by meeting Sand in 1847. Long out of print in English and dismissed by English-language critics by the end of the nineteenth century, Consuelo was profoundly important to New England writers even before its first American translation in 1845. Fuller read the two novels in French, and discussed them in a January 1845 essay about contemporary French fiction. She then reviewed Consuelo in translation twice, first during its serial publication in the Brook Farm-produced periodical The Harbinger, in 1845, and when published by the prestigious Boston firm William Ticknor and Co. the next year. In the 1846 review, Fuller called Sand “the best living French writer, and in some respects the best living prose writer.” Consuelo was deemed important by Fuller and the Brook Farmers not only artistically, but also in promoting associationist social reform. Fuller wrote in 1846 that the “great influence” of Consuelo would be in recording “some of the mystical apparitions and attempts to solve some of the problems of the time.”
In her presentation on “Heroes, Legends, and Sex: Narrative Structure in Fuller’s Sumer on the Lakes,” Megan Spring (Florida Atlantic University) will argue that traditional narrative structure is inherently phallic, mimicking the sexual experience of a heterosexual man while Fuller’s narrative structure in Summer on the Lakes is reminiscent of the female orgasm. Through this argument, Spring analyzes Fuller’s unsystematic style in Summer, most often a point of contention for many literary scholars and a reason why she isn’t better known. Thus, Spring asserts that through Fuller’s narrative structure in Summer, she subverts an inherently patriarchal America by asserting an American cultural identity specifically for women in the 19th century prior to her most famous work, Woman in the Nineteenth Century.