New book: The Lives of Margaret Fuller, by John Matteson ’83 (W.W. Norton)
The author: An English professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York, John Matteson won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize in biography for Eden’s Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father. He also is the deputy director of the Leon Levy Center for Biography in New York City.
The book: In this biography of the controversial Margaret Fuller (1810-1850), Matteson traces her short but complex life and explores her legacy. The leading female of the transcendental movement, Fuller was editor of the United State’s first avant-garde literary magazine, a literary and social critic, the first regular foreign correspondent for an American newspaper, and the author of a major feminist book, Woman in the Nineteenth Century, which became a bestseller. Eventually she met an uneducated Italian nobleman when she was in Rome. At age 40, Fuller, her husband, and their son died in a shipwreck on their return to America.
From the book: “A person of such ambition almost always encounters great resistance, and to achieve her self-creation, Fuller paid a tremendous price in pain, in poverty, and in ridicule. She also met with resistance in the form of self-doubt; in the limitations of a body that could not always support the incessant activity of her mind; and in the stubbornness of a world that reacted to contain and counterbalance any force that violated its rule of mediocrity. Such a person is always a work in progress, always restless, never final.”
Review: Library Journal called the biography a “great read.” It “draws a fairly complete picture of her environment and time” and makes “the subject come to life. Through Matteson’s easy narrative style and presentation of Fuller ‘as a series of identities,’ readers can begin to understand her drive and her flaws.” A critic for The Boston Globe, wrote, “Matteson’s portrait of Fuller, given depth and sheen by a treasure trove of letters, is unfailingly intelligent, nuanced, and intriguing, a story of tragic might-have-beens.”
Read more: PAW’s story on Matteson in the June 11, 2008 issue of PAW.