Sarah Margaret Fuller (1810-1850)
Contributing Editor: Joel Myerson
Classroom Issues and Strategies
Students have problems with Fuller's organization of her material and
with nineteenth-century prose style in general. The best exercise I have
found is for them to rewrite Fuller's work in their own words. My most
successful exercises involve rewriting parts of Woman in the Nineteenth
. Students are amazed at the roles given to women in the nineteenth
century and wonder how these women endured what was expected of them.
I ask students to reorganize the argument of Fuller's work as they think
best makes its points. This process forces them to grapple with her ideas
as they attempt to recast them.
Major Themes, Historical Perspectives, and Personal Issues
Transcendentalism, women's rights, critical theory, gender roles, profession
of authorship, all are important themes in Fuller's writing.
I give a background lecture on the legal and social history of women
during the period so students can see what existing institutions and laws
Fuller was arguing against.
Comparisons, Contrasts, Connections
Woman in the Nineteenth Century
"Self-Reliance" and Thoreau's
for the emphasis on individual thought in the face of a society
that demands conformity; Child's
novels for depictions of gender roles; Sarah
Grimké's Letters on the Equality of the Sexes; Frederick
for the way in which another outsider speaks
to a mass audience. Summer on the Lakes
: Emerson's "The American
Scholar" for a discussion of literary and cultural nationalism.
Questions for Reading and Discussion/Approaches to Writing
The topics I've received the best responses to are:
1. Compare "Self-Reliance" or Walden
to Woman in
the Nineteenth Century
as regards the responsibilities of the individual
within a conformist society.
2. Discuss whether Zenobia in Hawthorne's
The Blithedale Romance
is a portrayal of Fuller, as some critics
3. Compare or contrast Fuller's ideas on critical theory to Poe's
4. Compare Fuller's solution to the assignment of gender roles to Chopin's
in The Awakening
in Sister Carrie
5. Compare the ways in which Fuller and Douglass attempt to create a
voice or authority for themselves in their narratives.
Read Robert N. Hudspeth's chapter on Fuller in The Transcendentalists:
A Review of Research and Criticism
, ed. Joel Myerson (NY: MLA, 1984)
and see Myerson's bibliographies of writings by and about Fuller; also
read in Hudspeth's edition of Fuller's letters.