Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Review: "Margaret Fuller: A New American Life" by Megan Marshall

 Synopsis:  From an early age, Margaret Fuller dazzled New England’s intelligent elite. Her famous Conversations changed women’s sense of how they could think and live; her editorship of the Dial shaped American Romanticism. Now, Megan Marshall, whose acclaimed The Peabody Sisters “discovered” three fascinating women, has done it again: no biography of Fuller has made her ideas so alive or her life so moving.

Marshall tells the story of how Fuller, tired of Boston, accepted Horace Greeley’s offer to be the New York Tribune’s front-page columnist. The move unleashed a crusading concern for the urban poor and the plight of prostitutes, and a hunger for passionate experience. In Italy as a foreign correspondent, Fuller took a secret lover; wrote dispatches on the brutal 1849 Siege of Rome; and gave birth to a son.

When all three died in a shipwreck off Fire Island shortly after Fuller’s 40th birthday, the sense and passion of her life’s work were eclipsed by tragedy and scandal. Marshall’s inspired account brings an American heroine back to indelible life.

My Thoughts:  I will be completely honest, I had never heard of Margaret Fuller until reading this book.  After reading it I am really surprised that not only had I not heard of her, I had never heard of any of her written works.  

The author did a really good job of providing a thorough picture of Margaret Fuller's life.  Ms. Marshall used a lot of excerpts from Fuller's letters and from letters written by those who knew her.  Margaret Fuller is definitely one of the most fascinating American women I have read about.  It was neat to see a woman growing up in the early eighteen hundreds who was so incredibly well-educated and so ahead of her time.  It was so impressive that she was a serious columnist for the New York Tribune and that people were actually interested in her thoughts and opinions. I also thought it was really interesting that she had such close relationships with Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne and other famous Transcendentalists.  Considering that she lived such an exceptional life, it was so sad to see her come to such an early and tragic end.

While I do think the author provided a very thorough look at Fuller's life, the book seemed a little long winded and at times I was bored.  There was so much detail that it was a little overwhelming and I felt like sometimes more emphasis was put on the thoughts of Fuller's friends than on her and what was happening in her life.  The descriptions of the last year of her life was probably the most interesting; up to that point, things had been moving kind of slow.  Also, there were points where I had a hard time deciding if I liked Fuller: she was intelligent and confident but also incredibly moody and arrogant at times. 

Despite the fact that the book read a little slow, Margaret Fuller was an intriguing look at an incredible historical figure.  I will definitely try to read some more about Fuller and her unique life.  3 stars.

About the Author: 

  MEGAN MARSHALL is the author of The Peabody Sisters, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Her work has appeared in The New YorkerAtlanticNew York Times Book Review, and Slate. A recipient of Guggenheim and NEH fellowships, Marshall teaches in the MFA program at Emerson College.

 Check out other stops on the Margaret Fuller tour here!


  1. Like you I had never heard of Margaret Fuller prior to this book but it seems like I've missed out on learning about a wonderful woman.

    Thanks for being a part of the tour!

  2. I've been seeing this book and do think it looks really interesting, and one I'd probably enjoy. But still, after reading your review think I might wait on picking it up. Not that I don't think I'd enjoy parts of it, but knowing there's so many other books I want to read, think there's probably better options out there.

  3. Denise, I've just read and reviewed this book, so I'm now interested to see what others thought of this book. Your review is very different from my own! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this biography.


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