Margaret Fuller Book by Marshall

From TensegrityWiki
Revision as of 22:23, 11 April 2022 by Belmendo (talk | contribs) (2 revisions imported)
(diff) ← Older revision | Latest revision (diff) | Newer revision → (diff)
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Read here about the Pulitzer prize-winning book Margaret Fuller: A New American Life By Megan Marshall. The book relates to tensegrity research historically, as Margaret Fuller was a critical influence on Buckminster Fuller.


Margaret Fuller (1810 – 1850) played a critical role in the intellectual life of Richard Buckminster Fuller, as he first embarked on his course of research that led to his development of tensegrity. Megan Marshall's book illuminates her life and deepens our understanding of her writings and place in intellectual history.

Author's Bio

//This bio is quoted from the wikipedia article [2]//

Megan Marshall (born June 8, 1954) is an award-winning American scholar, writer, and biographer.

Her first biography The Peabody Sisters: Three Women Who Ignited American Romanticism (2005) earned her a place as a finalist for the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography.

Her second biography Margaret Fuller: A New American Life (2013) is a richly detailed account of Margaret Fuller, the 19th-century author, journalist, and women’s rights advocate who perished in a shipwreck off New York’s Fire Island. It won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography.


Marshall was born in Oakland, California. Her mother was a book designer; her father worked in city government. Marshall came East to attend Bennington College as a literature and music major, but left without finishing and later enrolled at Harvard College, where she studied with poets Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Fitzgerald, and Jane Shore. She earned a B.A. in 1977 and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa.

Before turning to writing, Marshall worked in the publishing industry and taught.

Her first book, published in 1984, was The Cost of Loving: Women and the New Fear of Intimacy, which examines the impact of the feminist movement on its followers.

Marshall is particularly interested in uncovering and exploring the lives of women who have been forgotten by traditional historians and biographers.

Supported by grants and teaching, she worked on the book The Peabody Sisters for nearly 20 years, reading original letters and documents as well as delving into the newspapers and literature of the era. The book focused on the lives of Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, Mary Tyler Peabody Mann, and Sophia Hawthorne. Her second biography is Margaret Fuller: A New American Life.

In a conversation in Radcliffe Magazine with author Margot Livesey, Marshall spoke about the connection between the two biographies: "I wrote The Peabody Sisters partly to prove that the New England Transcendentalists included other brilliant women besides Fuller. Then I discovered that during the 20 years I’d spent researching the Peabodys, Fuller had been largely forgotten. No one recognized her name anymore. This was a shock to me, and a loss I wanted to repair."

In addition to her books, Marshall writes occasionally for The New Yorker, Slate, The New York Times Book Review, The London Review of Books, and other publications. She was a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University in 2006-07, and writes book reviews for Radcliffe Magazine.

Marshall lives in Belmont, Massachusetts. Since 2007 she has been Assistant Professor in Writing, Literature & Publishing at Emerson College.

Book Excerpts

Below are excerpts from the book relevant to the intellectual history of Margaret Fuller as it affected Buckminster Fuller, who in turn was a founder of tensegrity research as we know it today. These quotes are all (c) 2013 Megan Marshall.


//Triangles are a critical part of RBF's geometry. In these excerpts we see the triangle as important to MFO.//

"In the journal Margaret kept... she [sketched]] two overlapping equilateral triangles to form a six-pointed star, encircled by a snake biting its own tail—the Greek ouroboros, or symbol of eternity. Rays of light emanated from the emblem... and she explained the image with these lines in verse: "

Patient serpent, circle round Till in death thy life is found, Double form of godly prime Holding the whole thought of time, When the perfect two embrace

Male and female, Black and white Soul is justified in space, Dark made fruitful by the light, And centred in the diamond Sun Time, eternity, are one.

//This frontpiece was published in her book.//

"Margaret transferred the symbol to the frontispiece of her book, one triangle white, the other shaded black. Whether or not readers understood the image, which appeared without the explanatory poem, its message of radiant unity galvanized Margaret’s narrative...."


//MFO had a short stay in Chicago, though RBF was probably unaware of this.//

"For two weeks in Chicago, Margaret walked the sandy shores of Lake Michigan or kept to her boarding house, reading books on the Indians, while the Clarkes enjoyed their family reunion. The city of nearly eight thousand seemed to Margaret to have been founded solely 'for business and for nothing else,' yet there was an integrity to the Chicagoans’ single-minded pursuit of 'material realities.' The women, she noticed, 'do not ape fashions, talk jargon or burn out life as a tallow candle for a tawdry show.' Here James Clarke’s younger brothers Abraham and William had opened a drugstore, now firmly established after eight years in operation, a feat that would have been virtually impossible, she knew, in the congested shopping districts of Cambridge and Boston.

//MFO's observation echo closely RBF's own thoughts about Chicago and its focus on business. The female freedoms MFO noted would become more extreme by RBF's day, when the Flapper and Vamp captured the public imagination with their bold new fashions and gender-crossing activities.//

Personal Identity Crisis

//Given its importance in tensegrity research, Ms. Megan Marshall's rendering of the crisis by the pool is reproduced here in full.//

Margaret had Timothy’s bullheadedness too, so when he ordered her to go to church on Thanksgiving the year she turned twenty-one, this young woman who had six volumes of the godless Goethe’s complete works in her room, who “always suffered much in church from a feeling of disunion with the hearers and dissent from the preacher,” went only grudgingly, and sat in the family pew feeling a “strange anguish, this dread uncertainty.” She thought of her “unrecognized” powers, of how “the past was worthless, the future hopeless,” yet “my aspiration seemed very high.” She waited impatiently for the sermon to end so she could escape the confining space, the predictable worship service—“that I might get into the free air.” Church was no place for Margaret, nor for any woman who wished to lead, to be eloquent, to be heard.

She left the church and walked fast, almost running, over the barren fields stretching between Old Cambridge and the Port, her old neighborhood. She found a stream she’d observed in springtime as a rushing torrent, now “voiceless, choked with withered leaves,” yet, she marveled, “it did not quite lose itself in the earth.” She pressed on to a grove of trees surrounding a “pool, dark and silent,” a place that would serve for reflection, for resolution, as the late-afternoon sun shone out “like the last smile of a dying lover.” She stood still, yet her thoughts continued to race, casting her back to childhood, to her earliest awareness of her questing self. She recalled a day, just an ordinary day when “I had stopped myself . . . on the stairs, and asked, how came I here? How is it that I seem to be this Margaret Fuller? What does it mean? What shall I do about it?”

She began to remember “all the times and ways in which the same thought had returned,” how she had struggled “under these limitations of time and space, and human nature” to find the meaning of Margaret Fuller, and was struggling still. The torment, the uncertainty, the “earthly pain at not being recognized” had at last become intolerable. Could Margaret really hold to her vow not to seek “a positive religion, a refuge, a protection”? Not on this day. She looked around at the barren landscape, the reflecting pool, which may have yielded up the very picture of her misery—loose hair, disheveled dress, anxious face, neither pretty nor plain. She was tired of seeking and not finding, asking and not knowing. She wanted to leave her noisy questing “self” behind in that pool—not by tumbling in, like Narcissus, but by rising up. The answer came to her: “I saw there was no self; that selfishness was all folly . . . that I had only to live in the idea of the ALL, and all was mine.”

Margaret rushed home in the moonlight, stopping to offer a prayer in the churchyard she had fled just hours before, grateful for this epiphany—this “communion with the soul of things” —grateful to be “taken up into God,” to find her place in “the grand harmony.” She would bid farewell to the “epoch of pride,” move beyond her “haughty, passionate, ambitious” youth, and follow her father to whatever country village he chose, educate her brothers, inspire her sister, help her mother—and never again allow herself to be “completely engaged in self.” But it was a hedged bet, and deep down she knew it. Give up the self, so that “all” could be mine.

Focus on Deeds

//RBF famously remarked, 'philosophy must be mechanically applied.'//

When [James Freeman Clarke]] suggested to Margaret, in the fall of 1832, that she solve her problems by becoming a writer—“you are destined to be an author,” he had written; “I shall yet see you wholly against your will and drawn by circumstances, become the founder of an American literature!” —she was affronted that James “should think me fit for nothing but to write books.” If she were to “fulfil your prediction,” Margaret snapped, “it will be indeed ‘against my will’ and I am sure I shall never be happy.” Her “bias” was not toward writing, as he should have known, but “towards the living and practical.” Although she was always on the lookout for the work of those she considered serious women writers, Margaret had developed an abhorrence for the sentimental novels that seemed a woman’s best route to literary fame; she wrote James that she had little in common with “women authors’ mental history.”

And she was right. What man with similar powers of reasoning and speech would have been advised to confine his ambitions to the printed page?

Self Thinker

Her questing would never end, and she must learn to “be my own priest, pupil, parent, child, husband, and wife.”

Ordinary genius

Margaret Fuller maintained that all human beings are capable of great accomplishment, that “genius” would be “common as light, if men trusted their higher selves.” Still, she was always mindful of her own extraordinary capabilities. “From a very early age I have felt that I was not born to the common womanly lot,” Margaret wrote to a friend as her thirtieth birthday approached.

Goethe was her hero

//Just as MFO found her inner striving expressed in Goethe, just so RBF found his inner strivings expressed by MFO.//

“It seems to me as if the mind of Goethe had embraced the universe,” she wrote to James. “He comprehends every feeling I have ever had so perfectly, expresses it so beautifully.” She read with such absorption that “when I shut the book, it seems as if I had lost my personal identity.” .... Margaret’s unfocused striving and rankling frustration over family obligations found answering chords in Goethe’s Romanticism.

God as Beauty

//MFO expresses RBF's own thoughts on God.//

If she had faith at all it was in “Eternal Progression” and in “a God” (not the God, or even God) that was synonymous with “Beauty and Perfection,” she wrote to George Davis.

Conversations vs. Thinking Out Loud

//RBF's Thinking Out Loud is not exactly MFO's conversations, but they are highly similar in their focus on oral dialog and active listening.//

She borrowed [an]] idea from Bronson Alcott, who since losing his Temple School had taken up an itinerant “Ministry of Talking,” as he called it, leading conversations for adults on the spiritual topics that had gotten him into trouble in the classroom—and getting paid for it. Margaret determined to try the same with a class of adult women in Boston.... She asked both Sophia Ripley and Elizabeth Peabody to help her gather a “circle” of women “desirous to answer the great questions. What were we born to do? How shall we do it?” Too often, Margaret observed, thinking perhaps of her mother or the aged women in the Groton cabin, it is only when “their best years are gone by” that women begin to ask these questions—too late to profit from the answers. Margaret had been asking the “great” questions of herself since childhood—“How is it that I seem to be this Margaret Fuller? What does it mean? What shall I do about it?”—struggling “under these limitations of time and space and human nature” to find answers. But in adulthood the scope of her questions had widened to take in all women, as she recognized how much even her answers had to do with her sex.


Of course many women signed on just to hear Margaret Fuller talk. Waldo Emerson, who’d been treated to her sallies over dinner, in his parlor, and on walks in the Concord woods, considered Margaret’s “the most entertaining conversation in America.” James Clarke also thought Margaret’s verbal powers unequaled: her speech was “finished and true as the most deliberate rhetoric of the pen,” but always had “an air of spontaneity which made it seem the grace of the moment,—the result of some organic provision that made finished sentences as natural to her as blundering and hesitation are to most of us.”

If she’d been a man, Margaret might have become a popular lecturer, perhaps even more successful than Waldo....


...superlatives when it came to describing Margaret’s talk: “all that was tame and common vanish[ed]] away in the picturesque light thrown over the most familiar things by her rapid fancy, her brilliant wit, her sharp insight, her creative imagination, by the inexhaustible resources of her knowledge.”


"[Her father Timothy Fuller,]—that “man of business, even in literature,” as Margaret later wrote, who “demanded accuracy and clearness in everything: you must not speak, unless you can make your meaning perfectly intelligible to the person addressed; must not express a thought, unless you can give a reason for it, if required; must not make a statement, unless sure of all particulars.”

Greek Roots

//MFO taught Greek myth: Apollo, Venus, Psyche, Cupid, Minerva; RBF returned to Plato, Euclid.//

Peace The Goal

//Compare with Utopia or Oblivion.//

The possible future: a changed world, with women as powerful as men, resulting in peace among nations. This was the sort of vision Margaret had hoped her class might contemplate, before it was too late for them to reach for it.

No Belief Just Knowledge

She wrote, "When disappointed, I do not ask or wish consolation,—I wish to know and feel my pain, to investigate its nature and its source.” She acknowledged herself “singularly barren of illusions” for a nineteen-year-old and unwilling to have “my feelings soothed” by religious dogma.

Fiercely Independent

Timothy's father, a stubborn-minded minister turned politician, had refused to vote in favor of the U.S. Constitution because the document had not banned slavery. Being “too independent” was a Fuller family trait.

Truth, before identity crisis

Aged 14. Although Margaret’s account of Mariana is fictional, it derives from genuine suffering Margaret endured but never revealed to anyone outside the school. Five years after she left Miss Prescott’s academy, she was still writing to her teacher of “those sad experiences,” which continue to “agitate me deeply.” And still grateful to Miss Prescott, “my beloved supporter in those sorrowful hours.” Her memory of “that evening subdues every proud, passionate impulse,” Margaret wrote: “Can I ever forget that to your treatment in that crisis of youth I owe the true life,—the love of Truth and Honor?”

Margaret’s tale of Mariana has many elements of popular morality tales of the time: a high-spirited, nonconforming girl is “tamed,” inducted into womanhood and its gentler ways. Yet Margaret’s story has a twist. Mariana’s “fiery life” may have “fallen from flame,” but it is not extinguished: the embers remain, banked coals that burn steadily or may be reignited. The lesson she learns is not submission but perseverance when faced with ill will, and authenticity: she “could not resent, could not play false.” These are the qualities Margaret thanks Miss Prescott for in her letter: “the love of Truth and Honor.”

Tragic Experience of Infant Girl

...crowd around a writing desk with the absent Timothy foremost in their minds—his demanding presence felt across the miles. Missing from this tableau is Julia Adelaide, the “soft, graceful and lively” much-adored second-born daughter who died four years ago, just past her first birthday, when Sarah Margaret was three years old. The abrupt loss, the never-forgotten moment when the baby’s nurse, tears streaming, pulled Sarah Margaret into the nursery to view her sister’s tiny corpse in all its “severe sweetness,” shocked the older girl into consciousness. “My first experience of life was one of death,” she will write years later—so that even now, as she takes her infant brother in her arms and cedes the pen to her mother, she feels alone.

She who would have been the companion of my life” was “severed from me”: Julia Adelaide might have been Sarah Margaret’s ally in their father’s more “severe” than “kind” school. Julia Adelaide’s death too was far more “severe” than “sweet,” for in the following months Margarett was also severed—or withdrew—from Sarah Margaret, growing “delicate” in health as her grief turned to depression. The sorrowing mother spent hours in her garden, working the flower beds or simply sitting among the fragrant roses, fruit trees, and clematis vines, turned away from her living daughter. And then the brothers came, first Eugene and then William Henry. In dreams, Sarah Margaret sees herself joining a procession of mourners “in their black clothes and dreary faces,” following her mother to her grave as she already has her sister. She has been told, but does not remember, that she begged “with loud cries” that Julia Adelaide not be put into the ground. She wakes to find her pillow wet with tears.


But at nineteen-turning-twenty, the pain was intense, made all the worse by the sudden death of her youngest brother, Edward, the ninth Fuller child, born the year before on Margaret’s eighteenth birthday. The boy had been assigned to her special care, “given” to her then as “my child.” Her mother had too many others to care for, and Margaret was nearly as old as her mother had been when she agreed to marry Timothy Fuller. In the fall of 1829, as the infant Edward grew weak from an unknown illness, Margaret shared the night watches, carried the boy in her arms to soothe him “while night listened around,” did her best to answer the “pleading softness of his large blue eyes” with reassurance in her own. This wordless communion at life’s precipice yielded “some of the sweetest hours of existence.” Although the trial was not enough to cause Margaret to reconsider her brave renunciation of the comforts of faith, she envied Edward his freedom from suffering when “at last . . . death came.” Margaret’s first awareness of life had been the death of her sister Julia Adelaide; she left childhood behind when George Davis failed to answer her “aching wish” and her brother Edward died in her arms.

Drop First Name

//How curious! Sarah Margaret becomes Margaret; Richard Buckminster becomes Buckminster.//

By now, January 16, 1820, she has written many more letters to Timothy, signed them “Your affectionate daughter, Sarah M Fuller” or “S M Fuller” or “Sarah-Margaret Fuller.”

When the men and women of Transcendentalism began to speak of her as simply “Margaret,” dropping her surname, she was pleased; for better or worse, she had truly become “Margaret alone,” as she had insisted her father address her so many years ago.

By letter, the friendship with her former pupil [Cary Sturgis]] deepened as Margaret began signing herself first with the shorthand “S.M.F.,” then “M. F.,” and finally, “M.”

Inspirational Teacher

//When given charge of young students, MFO teaches them to think and express themselves in classic humanities. RBF teaches expression in structure and energetic dynamical capabilities.//

She accepted Bronson Alcott’s offer of employment but delayed starting until December, gathering a brood of older teenage and young-adult women for classes in French, German, and Italian literature, many of them former pupils of Elizabeth Peabody in her advanced world history classes. But Margaret won them over in an entirely different way. Margaret was, by disposition, more galvanizer than teacher. She was proud of her “magnetic power over young women,” as she described her ability to draw pupils “into my sphere.” She saw to it that within three months the beginning German class was translating twenty pages per lesson, the advanced language students reading whole volumes of Goethe and Dante. But the “sympathy and time” she offered in sometimes taxing amounts to a handful of the girls, particularly Caroline Sturgis, the high-spirited daughter of the China-trade baron Captain William Sturgis and youngest sister of Margaret’s girlhood friend Ellen, pointed her teacher-student relationships in the direction of deeper friendship. In truth, Margaret never liked the formal relationship of teacher and pupil, which reminded her too much of her straitened circumstances. It was best to be paid for what she might have done anyway: befriend and inspire.


//Look at Greene Street School.// Margaret felt “a happy glow, that many minds are wakened to know the beauty of the life of thought. My own thoughts have been flowing clear and bright as amber.” Teaching had brought “the unfolding of powers which lay comparatively dormant in me,” as well as in her students.

Charles Eliot Norton

//Cute coincidence--RBF will be Norton Professor at Harvard.//

" of her neighbors on Professors’ Row, Charles Eliot Norton."

Technology Not Enough

//RBF and MFO not exactly aligned on technology. RBF finds sublime truth in the creation of improved design artifacts.//

Margaret was a skeptic on the topic of progress and a proponent of reform. She found “incompleteness” in the reasoning of her more optimistic Coliseum Club colleagues, as well as in the arguments presented at the Transcendental Club session devoted to the same subject—“a meeting of gentlemen” she had attended “a few months since.” She allowed that society as a whole may have improved, but what of the individual? The very signs of progress others pointed to—innovations such as the railroad and the steamship—created or exacerbated “immense wants” in the individual: “the diffusion of information is not necessarily the diffusion of knowledge,” she explained, and “the triumph over matter does not always or often lead to the triumph of Soul.” And “when it is made over easy for men to communicate with one another, they learn less from one another.” It was time to “reassert the claims of the individual man.” The signs were plain, in the increasing numbers of “men tired of materialism, rushing back into mysticism, weary of the useful, sighing for the beautiful.”


Margaret saw aesthetic culture as a means of personal transformation, even transcendence.... the life-affirming, soul-uplifting aspects of music, art, and literature—the “everlasting yes” that “breathes from the life, from the work of the artist..."

Mystical Leanings

Margaret had originated her own unified theory of the soul as both male and female.... [F]ulfilling one’s dual nature made the soul complete, an active agent in society, ready to answer the question “What were we born to do?”

In her journal she confessed, “I grow more and more what they will call a mystic. Nothing interests me except listening to the secret harmonies of nature.” She composed the story of the Magnolia....

Margaret [wrote]] a prose meditation she called “The Magnolia of Lake Pontchartrain.” ... What might a female become if allowed by an adoring male to bloom on her own? ... “I had no mine or thine, I belonged to all, I could never rest, I was never at one.” As a bounteous orange tree, hers was the conventional woman's fate, so well described by Sophia Ripley. It was also Margaret’s, as family caretaker, schoolteacher, Conversation instigator, and nursemaid to The Dial’s sometimes “laggard and lukewarm” contributors.

But chill weather and exhaustion bring the orange tree’s death—and subsequent rebirth under the influence of that higher feminine power, “the queen and guardian of the flowers.” “Take a step inward . . . become a vestal priestess and bide thy time in the Magnolia,” the frozen tree is told. “I was driven back upon the centre of my being, and there found all being,” the Magnolia concludes her tale. Contrary to Margaret’s long-ago Thanksgiving Day epiphany, that burst of self-renunciation while still under her father’s command, here it was possible to find both self and “All.”

Links and references

[1] Official webpage on her 2013 Biography of Margaret Fuller

[2] Wikipedia entry on Megan Marshall,

[3] NY Times review of the book,

Read more about Personal identity.