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In A Brown Study, 15

August 27, 2016

Our friends have stories: their lives are partially disclosed books. Nathaniel Hawthorne knew men and women who were interesting in their own way. Margaret Fuller (1810-1850), prodigy and misfit, was one such acquaintance, not particularly liked but admired for her originality. He used some of her persona in the fictional women he invented.

Margaret’s father, Timothy Fuller, encouraged her to read and took her education in his hand. By age five she was reading literature, and at age six she was learning English and Latin grammar to please her father. He praised her accuracy. Few fathers considered the education of girls important, expecting them to become obedient and dutiful wives and mothers.She was aware of her exceptionalism and desired the opportunity for all of her sex to learn and have the rights of men before most American women had thought about it.

Brilliant and brash, Margaret rose to prominence as the leading woman in the transcendentalist movement. She believed women should be free to assert themselves and they need not be subjected to domestic drudgery. Margaret visited Brook Farm regularly, but she never joined, probably because she disliked physical labor, preferring to read and write. “Utopia is impossible to build,” she wrote a friend. She did however board a cow there.

Hawthorne wrote about the cow, calling it “a transcendental heifer” that he found fractious and apt to kick over the milk pail. He suggested somehow the cow had made herself ruler of the herd and behaved in a very tyrannical fashion. “She is not an amiable cow,” he remarked to his wife Sophia, and wondered if the cow’s character traits resembled those of her mistress.

Margaret was charmed by Hawthorne (and other husbands), and Hawthorne loved to be charming.Upon visiting Nathaniel and Sophia, Margaret took a boat ride with him one afternoon and wrote in her journal, “I feel that he might be a brother to me than ever with any man before.” She expressed delight in the marital relationship of Hawthorne and Sophia and greatly admired their baby daughter.

Margaret Fuller was an independent woman at a time when few women had that liberty. She wrote columns on literature and social reform for the New York Tribune. She published a book on American feminism, interviewing prostitutes for her research, and then she went to Europe as a foreign correspondent where she wrote a book about the Roman Revolution. She became pregnant by an Italian nobleman whom she married. Three and a half years later she, her husband and her three year old son Angelo were returning to New York when, in the midst of a hurricane,  their ship struck a sandbar off Fire Island, broke apart and sank. Although close to shore, the little family did not survive the disaster.

Our friends have stories, too.                   -to be contd.


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