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‘The Lives Of Margaret Fuller’

Pulitzer Prize-winning author John Matteson begins his gripping biography of Margaret Fuller with, “[She] was, in her time, the best-read woman in America and the one most renowned for her intelligence.”

"The Lives of Margaret Fuller" by John Matteson. (Courtesy of W. W. Norton & Company)

(Courtesy of W. W. Norton & Company)

As Matteson tells us, Fuller was a brilliant writer, a fiery social critic, an ardent feminist and a leading female figure in New England’s transcendentalist movement, counting the likes of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Edgar Allen Poe among her friends. She edited America’s first avant-garde intellectual magazine and was the first foreign correspondent, male or female, for an American newspaper.

In spite of her many achievements, Matteson writes, “if the ordinary person knows one thing about Margaret Fuller,” it’s “how her life came to an end.”

Fuller’s was a spectacularly tragic death: At the age of 40, she was returning from Europe with her Italian husband and their baby boy. The small ship they were on was within sight of Fire Island, New York, when it ran aground. People on the beach watched and did nothing as the waves battered the boat, which broke apart and sank. Most of the passengers made it to shore, but Margaret Fuller, her husband and their baby perished.

Why is a woman of such impressive accomplishment and brilliance and former fame remembered mostly for the way she died? And why is it worth knowing the full measure of who Fuller was today? Matteson answers both of those questions and many more in his biography of the extraordinary woman.

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