Transfiguring America: Myth, Ideology and Mourning in Margaret Fuller's Writing

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Transfiguring America is the product of more than ten years of research and numerous published articles on Margaret Fuller, arguably America's first feminist theorist and one of the most important woman writers in the nineteenth century. Focusing on Fuller's development of a powerful language that paired cultural critique with mythmaking, Steele shows why her writing had such a vital impact on the woman's rights movement and modern conceptions of gender.

This groundbreaking study pays special attention to the ways in which Fuller's feminist consciousness and social theory emerged out of her mourning for herself and others, her dialogue with Emersonian Transcendentalism, and her eclectic reading in occult and mythical sources. Transfiguring America is the first book to provide detailed analyses of all of Fuller's major texts, including her mystical Dial essays, correspondence with Emerson, Summer on the Lakes, 1844 poetry, Woman in the Nineteenth Century, and New York Tribune essays written both in New York and Europe.

Starting from her own profound sense of loss as a marginalized woman, Fuller eventually recognized the ways in which the foundational myths of American society, buttressed by conservative religious ideologies, replicated dysfunctional images of manhood and womanhood. With Woman in the Nineteenth Century, after exploring the roots of oppression in her essays and poetry, Fuller advanced the cause of woman's rights by conceptualizing a more fluid and equitable model of gender founded upon the mythical reconfiguration of human potential. But as her horizons expanded, Fuller demanded not only political equality for women, but also emotional, intellectual, and spiritual freedom for all victims of social oppression.

By the end of her career, Steele shows, Fuller had blended personal experience and cultural critique into the imaginative reconstruction of American society. Beginning with a fervent belief in personal reform, she ended her career with the apocalyptic conviction that the dominant myths both of selfhood and national identity must be transfigured. Out of the ashes of personal turmoil and political revolution, she looked for the phoenix of a revitalized society founded upon the ideal of political justice.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Jeffrey Steele's Transfiguring America is one of the most original, brilliant, and important scholarly books it has ever been my pleasure to read. Steele brings us the profound account of Margaret Fuller's achievement that she has deserved, but not received, since her death 150 years ago, an account sensitive to the depth of her psychic pain, alert to the complexity of her sublimation, and receptive to the boldness of her feminist vision."—Larry J. Reynolds, editor of Woman in the Nineteenth Century
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780826213464
  • Publisher: University of Missouri Press
  • Publication date: 8/6/2001
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 344
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Jeffrey Steele is Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is the author of The Representation of the Self in the American Renaissance and The Essential Margaret Fuller.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Idolatry, Mourning, and Ideology 1
1 Escaping from Rome: Ideological Resistance and Mythmaking in the "Autobiographical Romance" 25
2 Visions of (Di)Anna: Finding "the Oracle in Woman" 47
3 Lunar Flowers: Exploring the Diving Feminine 65
4 Pursuing "Leila": The Languages of the Goddess 83
5 Creating Harmony: Psychological Mythmaking in "The Great Lawsuit" 105
6 Charting Disharmony: The Flawed Literary Personae of Summer on the Lakes 135
7 Soul "Swathed in Body": Grief, Rebirth, and Transformation in the 1844 Poetry 167
8 Saving Iphigenia: The Cultural Work of Woman in the Nineteenth Century 209
9 Re-Forming the Social Body: Molding Public Attention in New York 228
10 Phoenix Rising: The Transfiguration of Italy (and America) 262
Bibliography 295
Index 311
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