Nineteenth-Century Prose

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Vol. 42. 2 (Fall 2015)

Special Issue on Margaret Fuller; guest edited by Brigitte Bailey

Fall 2015 Cover

Brigitte Bailey, “Reintroducing Fuller: Periodical, Transatlantic, Urban” (1-16)

The current strong interest in Margaret Fuller focuses not only on her identities as a Transcendentalist and feminist but also on her writings as a transatlantic urban intellectual publishing in popular print media. This emphasis, aided by scholarly editions of her journalism for the New-York Tribune, highlights Fuller’s presence in the transformative decade of the 1840s, which saw an acceleration in periodical publishing, an intensified exchange of texts across the Atlantic, and an increasingly urban location of writing. Most of the essays in the present issue examine the ways Fuller inhabited transatlantic literary and periodical culture. They also include incisive analyses of her writing in other genres – such as her travel book – and of her development as an urban writer. Framing this new research are retrospective essays by Charles Capper and Bell Gale Chevigny, whose biographical and textual work were major forces in recovering Fuller and, therefore, enabling the ongoing scholarship represented in this special issue.

Charles Capper, “Margaret Fuller in Time” (17-42)

This essay searches for Margaret Fuller in multiple “lost times”: remembered, effaced, discovered, and rediscovered. It shows how in my biography I attempted to recover Fuller in “historical time” by embedding her life, writings, and lived experiences in the discourses and languages of Romanticism and Modernism. I conclude with a suggestion for how we might understand Fuller now in light of three transcendent concerns of our own time: gender relations, intellectual democracy, and human rights.

Albert J. von Frank, “Margaret Fuller, Brutus, and George Bancroft: A Journalist’s Beginnings” (43-62)

Margaret Fuller’s brief and very modest first publication, “Brutus,” appeared in the Boston Daily Advertiser and Patriot for 27 November 1834, and is here reprinted for the first time. Fuller’s trying-out of a public voice, specifically encouraged by her father, put her into conversation with George Bancroft as author of “Slavery in Rome” in a recent issue of the North American Review. While Fuller seems uninterested in the implications of the Roman context for judgments about American slavery (a matter that Bancroft himself treats only by indirection), she does challenge some basic assumptions about the uses of history and the (masculine) impersonality of professional scholarship. Fuller’s uninvited reply subverts Bancroft’s intended monologue, producing a dialogue as she deploys a scrappy popular newspaper against a cool, British-style quarterly journal. It becomes a multilateral conversation when the argument is joined by a mysterious “H” from Salem.

John Matteson, “Overcoming Fragmentation in Summer on the Lakes” (63-92)

In narrating her journey westward in Summer on the Lakes, Margaret Fuller confronted fragmentation on a variety of levels, from the anxiety of writing to the unstable nature of individual consciousness to shattering effects that Anglo-American settlers were producing upon the native societies on the frontier. Fuller responded to these disjunctures, not by trying to impose an artificial unity, but by weaving the theme of fragmentation and incompleteness into her book. In Summer on the Lakes, Fuller deliberately resists the expectations of form, presenting self, society, and the text itself as fragments and thus confirming that consciousness, country, and narrated experience can be accurately understood only in terms of their innate contradictions.

Charlene Avallone, “Margaret Fuller and ‘the best living prose writer,’ George Sand: A Revisionist Account” (93-124) 

On reading the works of George Sand, Margaret Fuller wrote she was “tempted” to take her own writing in a new direction, which critical tradition assumes meant fiction-writing – a direction that Fuller did not take. Analysis of Fuller’s sometimes enigmatic comments on Sand, along with readings of the two writers in tandem, shows Fuller most engaged rather by the French author’s experiments with generic forms, her impassioned prose style, and her progressive social thought. The texts of the woman that Fuller judged to be in some ways the “best living prose writer” offered models of prose “painting” in the forms of visionary fragment, travelogue, and literary journalism that stimulated Fuller as she shaped her own form and style in her Dial fragments, Summer on the Lakes, and her Tribune journalism. Yet Fuller responded with more ambivalence than is usually acknowledged to Sand’s progressivism and emancipation from convention.

Jeffrey Steele, “Reconfiguring ‘public attention’: Margaret Fuller in New York City” (125-154)

While many urban essayists focused upon descriptions of city streets, Fuller – following in the footsteps of her friend Lydia Maria Child – was interested less in recording the sights of the city than in measuring the limits of urban vision. Dedicated to social change, she supplemented vision with multiple organs of perception – the heart, the soul, and the imagination. Resisting the obvious temptation to focus only on visible spaces of the city, Fuller reveals that the image of the “urban panorama” as a continuous spatial field is a fiction that sutures the social and political divisions. As she confronted the discontinuous spaces of the modern metropolis, Fuller moved far beyond spectatorial observation – which objectified the persons and places visible in an urban panorama – to include aspects of urban experience that were discontinuous or invisible. Focusing on the links between public awareness and social change, Fuller began adapting to urban life Transcendentalist models of individual self-reliance. In place of the self-reliant individual tapping into and utilizing the unconscious energies of the Oversoul, she dramatized herself as the journalist whose public reflections brought to the surface unseen political energies located in the communal psyche of the body politic. This process of political investment depended upon Fuller’s keen understanding of what she termed “public attention” – the field of communal interest generated through texts focusing shared concern onto specific cultural issues and problems. Molding public attention, Fuller’s New-York Tribune essays doubled vision, lifting readers above the sights of the city, by supplementing the immediacy of experience with parallel planes of reflection. She models for her readers processes of compassionate witnessing that bring the poor and institutionalized into the perceptual field of middle-class urban consciousness. In the process, she breaks down barriers that relegated the disabled, insane, and criminalized to preserves cut off from the city’s collective gaze, creating a modified form of Transcendentalist idealism that I term “sentimental Transcendentalism.” This mode of writing surpasses merely visual modes of representation by measuring the distance between visible urban realities and invisible standards of response. It creates a ‘stereoscopic’ overlay by pairing visible scenes with imagined analogues – whether models of sympathy, imaginary vistas, or historical echoes. The resulting double exposure places Fuller’s readers in two places at the same time – in the immediate, visible city and in a ‘virtual city’ available to the mind’s eye.

Christina Zwarg, “Quotation, Simile, Photograph: Margaret Fuller on The French in Algiers” (155-180)

In this essay I focus on an obscure New-York Daily Tribune column written by Margaret Fuller and published roughly two weeks before her well-known review of Frederick Douglass. Fuller’s review of Lucy Duff Gordon’s translation shows not only her range in topic (in this case, a consideration of French colonial practice) but also how she writes through the moment when Walter Benjamin’s famous “aura” was losing ground against modern modes of production. The extended quotations juxtaposed in Fuller’s review have about them a visual or dramatic quality, as if Fuller reaches forward toward the inclusion of photographs in newspaper reports. Yet the odd resemblance she establishes between the passages reaches backward toward the narrative disruptions of the epic simile. A great deal is at stake in these associations, both for our understanding of Fuller and for our thinking about the critical tools of Walter Benjamin, whose reading habits blend nicely with Fuller’s. Both took an interest in the utopian theories of Charles Fourier, both found efficacy in the task of the translator, and each geared their social critique to the seismic shifts shaping the cultural productions of their day. Fuller’s citations from The French in Algiers target those attributes for which Benjamin will later fault the newspaper itself: the reduction of life’s collective texture and experience to mere “information” for shallow consumption. Yet given Fuller’s unique attentiveness to events in Europe and at home, she does so across a broader cultural horizon, making it possible for the emancipatory dreams of Abd-el-Kader and Frederick Douglass to flash up momentarily in each other’s company on the front pages of the New-York Daily Tribune.

Fritz Fleischmann, “Margaret Fuller’s Socialism” (181-210)

This essay reflects on Fuller’s “socialism” within and against some of the historical stipulations that constitute the socialist tradition. While her known writings lack an explicit political economy, they make important contributions to an understanding of the ends and means of democratic revolution in her time. Fuller’s analytical methods are marked by inclusiveness, mutuality, and a comprehensive concern for the individual as well as the category. If one strips the term “utopian” of its Marxist opprobrium, Fuller may well be considered a “utopian socialist.”

Marina P. Kizima, “Margaret Fuller’s Reception in Russia in the 1850s” (211-236)

The article offers a close look at the publications that introduced Margaret Fuller to the Russian public. The analysis is based on the Russian press of the 1850s, particularly the reviews of one book: R.W. Emerson, W.H. Channing, and J.F. Clarke, eds., Memoirs of Margaret Fuller Ossoli (1852). These reviews appeared in three leading Russian magazines of the time and were the first publications on Margaret Fuller in Russia. The analysis proves that the culture of the young American republic aroused great interest, and Fuller was seen as a representative figure. Fuller’s Russian contemporaries made a serious attempt to understand her; their effort is not always successful, as they are limited by the cultural differences between the two countries and their own prejudice and censorship. Nevertheless, some of their observations show a keen insight into Fuller’s work and her contribution to American culture.

Bell Gale Chevigny, “Forty Years with Margaret Fuller (237-272)

Mutual interpretation – one of Margaret Fuller’s signature values – has marked the history of her reception ever since her revival in the 1970s. In these forty years, Fuller scholarship has kept pace with­ – or led – emerging trends in feminism, literary theory, and ways of delineating fields of study. I sometimes fancy that she and I are a double helix spiraling around these lively years. This period has dynamically altered the figure Fuller cuts and has changed my political and intellectual life as well. My forty-year love affair with Margaret Fuller has often been broken off, but it fires up again as she reappears – or I seek her – in new guise.

Peter Betjemann, “Transnationalism’s Territories: The Nation, the World, and the New American Literary History” (273-282)

This essay reviews two books (author Leslie Elizabeth Eckel’s Atlantic Citizens and editor Tom F. Wright’s collection The Cosmpolitan Lyceum) as part of a larger movement in nineteenth-century American literary studies to examine individual writers and movements as part of a larger, translational community where writers were influenced by, and in turn influenced, contemporaries across the Atlantic. Both authors focus on discrete, delimited times and places to interrogate cosmopolitan forces of American culture. Although readers will not find broad interpretive claims about transnationalism, both volumes are valuable for what they offer in terms of biographical analysis of important and neglected figures in American literature and culture. Wright’s volume suffers at times from a lack of cohesive focus, a problem often found in collections by different hands. Eckel’s book is strong in its analysis of Emerson, Douglass, Fuller, and Longfellow, but weak in considering other writers (Whitman among them). However, both Wright and Eckel deal with an issue important for scholars interested in transnationalism: Whether expressions of “internationalism” simply served as a way to mask imperialist desires on the part of American speakers and writers. These volumes illustrate that scholarship on the nineteenth-century United States has moved toward a more comprehensive view of the nation in dialogue with the world and are harbingers of a new form of close analysis of familiar and less-familiar figures from this era.

Daniel Bivona, “Travel and Transformation: Exploration, Tourism, and the Threat of Disease in Nineteenth-Century Travel” (283-298)

The implications and effects of the growing popularity of travel in nineteenth-century Britain are the subjects of books by Jessica Howell (Exploring Victorian Travel Literature), Michele Strong (Travel and the ‘Civilisation’ of the Victorian Working Classes), and Tim Youngs (Beastly Journeys: Travel and Transformation at the Fin de Siecle). The three studies offer novel approaches to telling the story of nineteenth-century travel: as mass educational experience for the working classes (Strong), as imperialist exploration of lands Europeans feared for reasons of health and wellbeing (Howell), and travel as a form of “metamorphic” writing that explored fears of human regression through contact with alien lands and cultures(Youngs). These studies expand notions of what constitutes “travel” and why travel should be seen in its double role as a disruptive harbinger of a troubling modernity in the late nineteenth-century and as an inviting experience of exciting confrontation with cultural novelty.

Sven Ove Hansson, “The Multifaceted Politics of John Stuart Mill” (299-314)

This review essay challenges interpretations of John Stuart Mill’s political philosophy expressed by Frederick Rosen in Mill, going beyond works Rosen examines to take into account Mill’s early works and nineteenth-century political discussions with which Mill was familiar and engaged. Five concepts that Rosen discusses are challenged: Mill’s attitude toward the possibility of tyranny by the majority (a notion Rosen misrepresents); his stance toward democracy (which must be considered in light of Mill’s own definition and understanding of the term, not later notions); the accusation that Mill was a socialist (which, in his own day, was often synonymous with being in favor of democracy); Mill’s fear of a dictatorship by the proletariat (for which, despite Rosen’s claims, no evidence exists in Mill’s writings); and his views on monoculturalism (which are difficult to discern because the notion is a contemporary issue of which Mill would have been ignorant). Despite Rosen’s shortcomings, however, his book is considered a reasoned and balanced contribution to Mill scholarship.

Andrew Thompson, “George Eliot, Early and Late” (315-322)

This review essay assesses two recently published studies that examine the public image of George Eliot early and late in her career: Fionnuala Dillane’s Before George Eliot: Marian Evans and the Periodical Press and Kathleen McCormack’s George Eliot in Society: Travels Abroad and Sundays at the Priory. These books are linked thematically by their interest in Eliot’s attempt to shape her public image. Dillane argues that, early in her career, Marian Evans was limited in the control she had in this area, as journalistic constraints, coupled with a reticence for being interviewed, made it difficult for her to influence public opinion. McCormack demonstrates how, in the last decade of her life, Evans was able to use her travels and the salons that she and George Henry Lewes held at their home to become known to a wide circle of literary figures and intellectuals. McCormack’s study is especially important because it changes impressions of her created by earlier scholarship, especially Gordon Haight’s biography, and demonstrates that, far from being a social outcast, in her last years Evans was immersed in society and used her social connections to shape her public image.

Kimberly DeFazio, “The Critic as Accountant” (323-344)

Published soon after his controversial study Distant Reading (2013), Franco Moretti’s The Bourgeois: Between History and Literature (2013) has generated similar controversy for its argument that the concept of the bourgeois can best be understood by close reading of prose generated concurrently with the rise of the “middle class” and the consistent movement away from realist writing to a more evocative – and evasive – prose that masks the true problems of class inequalities. This essay provides a critique of The Bourgeois, not only summarizing Moretti’s major points but challenging his readings of specific texts and his larger conclusions about the causes and effects of the post-Enlightenment rise of the bourgeois as the dominant social class. Evidence from many important Marxist critics, including Marx, Engels, and Lukacs, as well as theorists such as Derrida, is offered to refute many of Moretti’s conclusions. The essay concludes with an assertion that Moretti’s work is in part a return to material relations that de-materializes the material and advances a mode of reading that supports capitalism.

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