Margaret Fuller, Wandering Pilgrim

Meg McGavran Murray

A new biography tracing the “strange, dark, thorny paths” taken by America’s first full-fledged woman intellectual


"Has the potential to be one of the most controversial books published on Fuller, in the best sense of the term. Murray has done her research, and her ability to contextualize Fuller in her time and among her contemporaries is outstanding. Among the book's strengths are Murray's psychological probings of Fuller, sophisticated readings of Fuller's relations with Emerson, Nathan, and Ossoli, and her relating of Fuller's reading not just to her intellectual life, but to her emotional life as well. This will be an important work."
—Joel Myerson, coeditor of The Selected Lectures of Ralph Waldo Emerson

"This impressive, scholarly biography brings to life the joyless, anxiety-ridden child, the unattractive adolescent, and the verbally brilliant young woman in her twenties, who can support herself, through her twenties and into her thirties, teaching, conversing, and writing. Amazing that this protected prodigy should spend her last few years not only in poverty but in the midst of a raging Italian revolution, with a baby she could not acknowledge or care for, and in service to an emergency hospital for wounded and dying militia. Even when we know the story, this retelling keeps us glued to the book's pages. In these pages, perhaps for the first time from a feminist point of view, we see the intellectual Margaret Fuller, the writer of the United States' first feminist manifesto, warts and all as a passionate, strong woman, fully human. One realizes, as the tragic ending closes in, how great a loss was Fuller's needless death."
—Florence Howe, The City University of New York Graduate Center

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“How is it that I seem to be this Margaret Fuller,” the pioneering feminist, journalist, and political revolutionary asked herself as a child. “What does it mean?” Filled with new insights into the causes and consequences of Fuller’s lifelong psychic conflict, this biography chronicles the journey of an American Romantic pilgrim as she wanders from New England into the larger world—and then back home under circumstances that Fuller herself likened to those of both the prodigal child of the Bible and Oedipus of Greek mythology.

Meg McGavran Murray discusses Fuller’s Puritan ancestry, her life as the precocious child of a preoccupied, grieving mother and of a tyrannical father who took over her upbringing, her escape from her loveless home into books, and the unorthodox—and influential—male and female role models to which her reading exposed her. Murray also covers Fuller’s authorship of Woman in the Nineteenth Century, her career as a New-York Tribune journalist first in New York and later in Rome, her pregnancy out of wedlock, her witness of the fall of Rome in 1849 during the Roman Revolution, and her return to the land of her birth, where she knew she would be received as an outcast.

Other biographies call Fuller a Romantic. Margaret Fuller, Wandering Pilgrim illustrates how Fuller internalized the lives of the heroes and heroines in the ancient and modern Romantic literature that she had read as a child and adolescent, as well as how she used her Romantic imagination to broaden women’s roles in Woman in the Nineteenth Century, even as she wandered the earth in search of a home.

Page count: 552 pp.
18 b&w photos
Trim size: 6.125 x 9.25


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Meg McGavran Murray, until her recent retirement, taught English at Mississippi State University and, before that, at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. She is the editor of the essay collection Face to Face.