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Margaret Fuller: From Transcendentalism to Revolution based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
I was pleasantly surprised by this book, which was recommended to me by a member of my dissertation committee. I expected something dry and difficult to plow through. Instead, I found a book that is compulsively readable. Believe it or not, I have even set aside pleasure reading in order to read "just one more chapter" of this biography.Some of this has to do with the subject that Paula Blanchard is discussing. Margaret Fuller is often dismissed as an egotistical and unproductive member of the Transcendental movement. While Blanchard does not debate her egotism -- sometimes to a fault -- she does reveal an emotionally complex person behind the figure. Margaret Fuller, as Blanchard argues, was the first radical American feminist. She was highly educated, but at a young age her intense classical education was thwarted and replaced by attempts to socialize her into true femininity. In order to produce her Conversations, her "Woman in the 19th Century," and her work for the Transcendentalist journal The Dial, Fuller had to resist crippling headaches, common opinion, family crises, and her own self-doubt. Reading Blanchard's careful exploration of Fuller's various duties and challenges, it is no longer a wonder that Fuller did not produce more, but that she produced as much as she did.Blanchard does not attempt to paint her subject as perfect, sometimes to the point where I did not feel she was being entirely fair to Fuller. I suspect that Blanchard felt the need to appear unbiased; this is an understandable pressure, but sometimes made her criticisms of Fuller seem to come from out of nowhere. This could be seen as a positive statement about the biography, however; Blanchard reads Fuller's letters and her journals fully and completely, often letting excerpts stand for themselves, and the person she reveals is radically different from the woman known in popular narratives.One criticism I would level at Blanchard's writing is that the pieces are not always fully integrated. She loads down the openings of her chapters with historical and cultural context, without necessarily making it clear why it is important, or maintaining the flow from the previous chapter. With that said, Blanchard's writing is clear and interesting, never heavy, and features plenty of illuminating detail. She obviously knows Fuller backward and forward, and shows that knowledge through careful citation of the letters and journals.As a white woman academic, I identified with Fuller much more than I expected. I suspect that Native American and Black American readers might not enjoy the book as much as I did. Fuller was a moderate on the subject of slavery, and it is not often mentioned; Blanchard unfortunately adopts her subject's elegiacal tone when discussing the "vanishing Indian." In general, however, I would recommend it, even if the reader is not interested in Transcendentalism.