Annie, the narrator of Miss Fuller, a fictitious adopted sister of Henry David Thoreau, explains, “All other destinations were known to be inferior toBoston—including New York,Washington, and London—with the possible exception of Concord…” Margaret Fuller, a friend of Emerson, Hawthorne, and the other Transcendentalists of Concord, repudiated that parochialism to her great cost.
This short novel begins with the news of her death in a shipwreck and Thoreau traveling to Fire Island in 1850 in hopes of finding her last manuscript amidst the debris. Author April Bernard, a poet, tells the complicated story of Fuller’s life as an editor, teacher, feminist, and foreign reporter. Fuller shocked her peers when she traveled to Europe. They did not read her New York Tribune dispatches: Americans had no business abroad, and certainly had no business marrying a Catholic Italian revolutionary aristocrat (all four attributes damning in themselves) and bearing his child at age 38. Fuller’s death was greeted with relief. The book doesn’t dwell on her accomplishments and failures but rather contrasts her life with Annie’s, and shows Annie’s response to Fuller’s life story. Young Annie reads Fuller’s Women in the Nineteenth Century, mostly taking away this line: “What concerns me now is, that my life be a beautiful, powerful, in a word, a complete life of its kind.”
For Annie, “the awkward, herky-jerky force of the essay, rather like an electric eel, twisting, brilliant, sparking—that, and the heat-lightning flashing and filling the window-panes—kept her awake until the dawn.”
This is a perfect read for book clubs or humanities classes: spare, elegant, and with a wealth of potential material for discussion—including Annie’s own desire to see the world, the sooty canary rescued early on, and Henry’s reaction to what he discovers in the sand. Recommended.