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Book of the Week — Woman in the Nineteenth Century

“We have waited here long in the dust; we are tired and hungry; but the triumphal procession must appear at last.” — Margaret Fuller

Woman in the Nineteenth Century…
Margaret Fuller (1810-1850)
New York: Greeley & McElrath, 1845
First edition
HG1154 O8 1845

From the preface: “A reproduction, modified and expanded, of an article published in “The Dial, Boston, July, 1843’, under the title of ‘The Great Lawsuit. Man versus Men: and Woman versus Women’.”

Publisher Horace Greeley encouraged Margaret Fuller to turn this article into a full-length book. She did, increasing the text by about one third. Greeley published it as part of his “Cheerful Books for the People” series. It sold for 50 cents a copy.

Sarah Margaret Fuller Ossoli, better known as Margaret Fuller, was a journalist, critic and women’s rights activist. She was the first full-time female book reviewer in American journalism. An active member of the transcendentalist movement, she became the first editor of its publication The Dial in 1840 before joining the staff of the New York Tribune under Horace Greeley in 1844. By the time she was in her 30s, Fuller had earned a reputation as the best-read person in New England, male or female, and became the first woman allowed to use the library at Harvard College.

Henry David Thoreau liked the Woman in the Nineteenth Century, praising its “rich extempore writing, talking with pen in hand.” William Cullen Bryant wrote, “the thoughts it puts forth are so important that we ought to rejoice to know it read by every man and woman in America.” Not everyone liked Fuller’s philosophy, however. Edgar Allan Poe called it “a book which few women in the country could have written, and no woman in the country would have published.” He was particularly offended by its “unmitigated radicalism.” Nathaniel Hawthorne, once a friend to Fuller, was also critical of Woman, as was his wife, who wrote, “I did not like the tone of it…I think Margaret speaks of many things that should not be spoken of.”

The book went on to become one of the major works of the American feminist movement. It was and is still often compared to Mary Wollstonecraft’s earlier A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. In 1855 George Eliot wrote a very favorable comparison of the two. Fuller’s work reached across the Atlantic and spoke to women all over Europe. Nearly one hundred years after the American Revolution, the French Revolution, and other political changes in the Western world, women still battled for independence from tyranny.

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