Further Conversations with Fuller and Other Fearsome Females

Daguerreotype of FullerIn my last blog post, I mentioned Margaret Fuller’s pedagogical approach, particularly her resonant comments on student participation as I was preparing for the new semester. Her biography became essential holiday reading for me, however, because Fuller had become an increasing presence in my life over the fall semester. Her work occupied two full weeks of an American literature seminar I was taking and, perhaps more invasively, one of my closest friends and colleagues, Katie Kornacki, was finishing her dissertation on Fuller. (I’d like to think significant swathes of later chapters are indebted to my excellent company at our local branch of an ubiquitous coffee chain and the cups of tea I made while we both beavered away in my dining room, but I did come rather late to the party.) Her project is entitled “Margaret Fuller’s Conversations: Self and Other in Nineteenth-Century Literary and Intellectual Culture” and I had already decided to blog about the irony of terming a collegiate discussion about Fuller and her followers’ practices a “defense” (do I need to start hunting for a suit of armor for that auspicious day?) before the actual contents of that defense themselves turned to the question of blogging.

Katie and her committee spent much of the defense discussing the after image of Margaret Fuller—the “ghost” Henry James was so haunted by—and her legacy throughout the nineteenth century as women continued to converse, compose and campaign. Proposals for a coda to the book that Katie’s dissertation will hopefully become looked to the twenty-first century, including current dramatic and performance-based interpretations of Fuller and her work, as well as the digital age as itself a culmination of the diffuse print culture of the nineteenth century, the Transcendentalist urge to journal, and the long desired forum for women to articulate their own consciousness. I am primarily an academic blogger but I know many women, particularly those who are the primary care givers for their children, who find intellectual and social fulfillment through an online, creative presence. In many ways, I feel this blog, my own safe haven in “The Ivory Tower” to which I invite the world, unites my lived experiences as a teacher and researcher with those more traditionally associated with my “personal” life as a woman, friend, daughter, mentee and so on.

As I watched Katie command what is ostensibly her own trial-by-combat in order to enter the profession, it was not only with pride but with a building sense of reassurance. The vulnerability of the graduate student, an apprentice researcher and under-recognized employee, has led to the type of union movement we now have at UConn and to the contours of the discussion over pre-professionalization I took part in today as part of a practicum required by my department. We feel somewhat besieged with demands without appropriate compensation or acknowledgment for our attempts to meet those. And so it was with unremitting joy that I celebrated with the soon-to-be Dr. Kornacki because I had witnessed her as an expert that day: open to suggestions from interested and informed advisors but ultimately someone in possession of the authority gained through unrelenting research and intellectual engagement, an authority that was palpable in that room and reflected in the attitudes of those around her, despite their lengthier CVs. As I try to remain sane while juggling articles, conferences and classes, it is refreshing to have my own Fuller-like figure as an inspiration. I had seen the struggle of years and I rejoiced in the triumph of an hour.

As Elizabeth Peabody reports from Margaret Fuller’s introductory comments at the very first “Conversation”,

We should probably have to go through some mortification in finding how much less we knew than we thought—& on the other hand we should probably find ourselves encouraged by seeing how much & how rapidly we should gain by making a simple & clear effort for expression.

These are the wise words I will try to keep in mind as another semester gathers momentum and so I share them with you.