Margaret Fuller: A New American Life
by Megan Marshall. 496 pages. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $30.
Even though it was 1 a.m. and I already knew how this biography would end, I couldn’t bring myself to abandon Margaret Fuller in a shipwreck, clinging to her baby as a wild storm raged around her. So I read on.
Besides, I wanted to know how a certain scandal would play out.
Already a published author, an outspoken feminist, and the founding editor of The Dial (where she fixed a stern eye on the writings of Emerson and Thoreau), Fuller eventually became America’s first woman war correspondent. While covering the Roman revolution for Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune, she began a secret love affair with a soldier in the republican army, Giovanni Angelo Ossoli.
Ah, romance! Soon a son was born. It was several years before Margaret mentioned little Angelo–or his father– in her letters back home. When she finally did, it was because she planned to return to America, bringing them with her. In the 1840s? You can imagine the reaction.
Friends wrote immediately, urging her to please stay put in Italy. Ever bold, she advised them not to “feel anxious about people’s talk concerning me. It is not directed against the real Margaret, but a phantom.” As she wrote in a letter to her mother, “I will believe I shall be welcome.”
Perhaps not. Many of her closest friends later told each other that it was better that she and her new family had died in the shipwreck—better than being forced to face the inevitable rumors and rejection that would greet her in America. Little Angelo (known as Nino), Giovanni and Margaret did not survive the storm.
It was a relief to read that others would have welcomed her more warmly. They clearly knew the “real Margaret”: Among the letters Margaret Fuller never received was an invitation to preside over a convention convened by Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton in Seneca Falls, New York.