Thursday, March 21, 2024

Finding Margaret Fuller by Allison Pataki evokes an unjustly overlooked American intellectual's life

Historical fiction can restore neglected figures to their rightful place in the public consciousness, and Pataki’s (The Magnificent Lives of Marjorie Post, 2022) sweepingly urgent, inspiring novel about the astonishing life of Margaret Fuller aims to do just that.

American feminist writer, Transcendentalist thinker, journal editor, foreign correspondent: Fuller was all of these and more, blasting through gender-based barriers insufficient to deter a woman of her intelligence and ambition. The prologue dramatizes her friends’ reaction to her tragic early death in a shipwreck in 1850, but while a sense of what-might-have-been permeates the story, readers will emerge with even greater amazement about her accomplishments.

Using first-person narrative, Margaret explores her relationships with Ralph Waldo Emerson and his circle in Concord, Massachusetts, enticingly described as a pastoral New England paradise blossoming with creative thought. Her itinerant quest for belonging is driven partly by financial insecurity.

From Nathaniel Hawthorne to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, a vibrant cast of mid-nineteenth-century luminaries comes alive alongside Margaret, who follows her desire to create original works and take action. Her salon-style “Conversations” in Boston galvanize their female participants, and in faraway Italy, Margaret finds love, political purpose, and a spiritual home. An invigorating journey of a brilliant woman always striving to achieve her potential.

Allison Pataki's Finding Margaret Fuller was published by Ballantine on March 19th; I wrote this review for Booklist's Feb. 15th issue. The quote below from Poe is used as an epigraph to open the novel.

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