THIS IS THE BEST KIND of historical fiction — the kind that dives right in. With very little explanation or introduction, the reader finds herself in July of 1850. The Thoreau family has just received news that their friend — the brilliant, controversial writer, journalist, and feminist Margaret Fuller — has been killed in a shipwreck off the coast of Fire Island. Her Italian husband and two-year-old son have also been killed. Henry travels down to look through the wreckage in the hopes of finding the manuscript she was working on, “History of the Italian Revolution.” Henry’s exuberant younger sister Anne remembers Miss Fuller — her curious mind, her full figure, her appetite for life. She was a woman many men found threatening; one called her “excessively educated.” Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Herald Tribune published her columns and her books but refused to advance her money. Nathaniel Hawthorne tragically kept her correspondence from his wife, Fuller’s dear friend, Sophie.
Miss Fuller is a rich insight into the intellectual camaraderie and competition among the Transcendentalists. The story fairly bursts from the pressure of the early feminists striving to be heard at home, abroad, and in the hallowed halls of academia.
The heart of the novel lies in the letters that Margaret Fuller wrote to Sophie Hawthorne. Bernard has imagined (really, channeled) these letters so fully, capturing Margaret Fuller’s courage and her insecurity, her breathless curiosity and her wisdom. In many ways, this is the most robust portrait we have of Fuller because Bernard uses fiction to fill in the gaps between Fuller’s own words and the perceptions of others that history has tossed us.