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Inventing a feminist discourse: rhetoric and resistance in Margaret Fuller's 'Woman in the Nineteenth Century.'


When Margaret Fuller's Woman in the Nineteenth Century first appeared in the winter of 1845, few readers were prepared to accept her uncompromising proposition that "inward and outward freedom for woman as for man shall be acknowledged as a right, not yielded as a concession."(1) Elaborating arguments she had first encountered in Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Woman (London, 1792), Fuller insisted that because "not one man, in the million, ... not in the hundred million, can rise above the belief that woman was made for man," woman would have to "lay aside all thought, such as she habitually cherished, of being taught and led by men" (W25, 107).(2) Incorporating the platform logic of women's rights and antislavery activists like Angelina Grimke and Abigail Kelley Foster,(3) Fuller tersely observed that "those who think the physical circumstances of woman would make a part in the affairs of national government unsuitable, are by no means those who think it impossible for the negresses to endure field work, even during pregnancy, or the sempstresses to go through their killing labors" (W24). And, risking the charge of employing "language ... offensive to delicacy"(4) Fuller wrote graphically about women's sexual bondage in marriage, condemned male sexual license, and insisted upon society's moral obligations even to the "degraded" prostitute, comparing the prostitute's economic exchange of her body with "the dower of a worldly marriage" (W 133, 132).

To read Fuller today is to be impressed anew with the sheer revolutionary daring of her attempt both to question existing gender hierarchies and to disrupt accepted sexual practices. Unfortunately, the potential impact of her arguments was long ago obscured amid the reluctance of critics seriously to analyze the even greater daring of her rhetorical strategies. As a result, when the second wave of feminist theorists in the United States began to call for a pluralistic discourse that was both collaborative and noncoercive, they showed no awareness that Fuller had earlier responded to that same challenge. In an article published in 1979, for example, Sally Miller Gearhart expressed her fear that in the "attempt to change others," "any intent to persuade is an act of violence," and she called for "the womanization of rhetoric" as an antidote.(5) Three years later, in 1982, Jean Bethke Elshtain wondered "what sort of language, public and private, do feminists propose that women speak?"(6) And she further asked "what models for emancipatory speech are available?" (606). By the end of the 1980s, Elshtain's questions still had not been answered, prompting Marianne Hirsch and Evelyn Fox Keller to observe that "feminists in the late 1980s have become exceedingly accomplished at articulating theoretical positions on the basis of disagreement and opposition.... But with this mastery of disputation, has come a corresponding difficulty in treating other positions with sympathy and respect. The task of clearing space for multiple agendas representing conflicting interests," concluded Hirsch and Keller in 1990, "therefore poses a major challenge."(7) That none of these scholars - and not a single author included in the collection edited by Hirsch and Keller, Conflicts in Feminism - looked to Fuller as a potential source for (at least some) solutions, demonstrates how damaging the continuing critical response to Fuller's experimental method has been for feminism.

To be sure, most of the early reactions to Woman in the Nineteenth Century were predictable. The Boston-based social reformer Orestes Augustus Brownson opened his review by naming Fuller "the chieftainess" of the transcendentalist "sect," thereby confirming his growing disaffection from the religious radicalism of the New England transcendentalists and revealing, also, his continuing jealousy that Fuller had been chosen - instead of him - to edit their journal, The Dial.(8) Brownson's main objections, however, were theological. Writing in his own Brownson's Quarterly Review for April 1845, Brownson explained: "She says man is not the head of the woman. We, on the authority of the Holy Ghost, say he is" (MFR 22). Brownson's view was echoed by the book critic for the Charleston, South Carolina, Southern Quarterly Review, who flatly rejected Fuller's claim of woman's "perfect equality with man," declaring "this cannot be"(9) An unsigned series of articles that ran weekly throughout March 1845 in New York City's Broadway Journal challenged "the radical error of Miss Fuller's reasoning" as "directly opposed to the law of nature, of experience and revelation."(10) "The restraints which Miss Fuller complains of as hindering women," this reviewer continued, "are the restrains which Nature has imposed" (12). Charles F. Briggs, the ambitious young editor responsible for the series, then damned the entire book by characterizing it as "not sufficiently plain and direct" (11, its materials only "loosely arranged" (13).

Even those less hostile to Fuller's views could not accord her work unalloyed praise. In a generally laudatory notice for the same Broadway Journal Fuller's friend and the well-established feminist writer, Lydia Maria Child, tacitly agreed with her colleague Briggs by observing that while Fuller's style was often "vigorous and significant," the book as a whole "is sometimes rough in construction, and its meaning is not always sufficiently clear."(11) Similarly, the reviewer for the Christian Examiner complained that "the book lacks method sadly."(12) For him, it read more like "a collection of clever sayings and bright intimations, than a logical treatise" (26).

But it was Brownson who offered the most influential rationale for dismissing Woman in the Nineteenth Century. Complaining "we do not know what is its design" (MFR 19), Brownson joined other reviewers in emphasizing discomfort with the book's organization. Unlike the others, however, Brownson exploited Fuller's local reputation as an eloquent conversationalist in order to justify his view of the text's structural flaws. "The book before us ... is no book, but a long talk" (MFR 19), Brownson maintained. "It has neither beginning, middle, nor end, and may be read backwards as well as forwards, and from the centre outwards each way, without affecting the continuity of the thought or the succession of ideas. We see no reason why it should stop where it does, or why the lady might not keep on talking in the same strain till doomsday, unless prevented by want of breath" (MFR 19). Although Brownson found it necessary to devote seven full pages to refuting Fuller's arguments, his opening remarks had already effectively characterized the book for his own and subsequent generations: "As talk, it is very well, and proves that the lady has great talkative powers, and that, in this respect at least, she is a genuine woman" (MFR 19).

Brownson's accusation that Fuller had produced only written proof of unrestrained female volubility was (as he knew) one to which Fuller was acutely sensitive. Her most recent biographer, Charles Capper, reminds us that, only weeks after accepting the editorship of The Dial in 1840, Fuller confided to her private journal a recurrent concern regarding, in Capper's words, "the gap between her conversational talents and her writing abilities" (MF 339). After noting that her uncommon education had given her 'an undue advantage in conversation with men" - who were often surprised by such learning in a woman - Fuller expressed her abiding anxiety that "then these gentlemen are surprized that I write no better because I talk so well." "But," as she herself acknowledged, "I have served a long apprenticeship to the one, none to the other" (qtd. in MF 339).

Because Fuller corresponded with a wide circle and freely shared her journals with several of her closest friends-including transcendentalism's intellectual leader, the disaffected Unitarian minister, Ralph Waldo Emerson - her doubts about her writing were well known. In fact, Emerson himself contributed to the view of Fuller as a better speaker than writer when he composed his memoir of Fuller after her death in 1850. "In her writing she was prone to spin her sentences without a sure guidance, and beyond the sympathy of her reader," Emerson recalled. "But in discourse, she was quick, conscious of power, in perfect tune with her company."(13) Twentieth-century appraisals have tended to follow either Brownson or Emerson, or both. Vernon L. Parrington set the tone in 1927 when, following Brownson - who had stated that Fuller "has little artistic skill" MM 19) - he portrayed Fuller as "in no sense an artist, scarcely a competent craftsman."(14) In 1982 David M. Robinson again raised the question of Fuller's ability to control her text's "design" when he acknowledged that while she "did in fact achieve a good many high moments stylistically," she was nonetheless "often guilty of digression and obscurity."(15) just two years later, in his reading of Woman in the Nineteenth Century, William J. Scheick gave yet another nod toward Brownson when he noted that "Woman shares with other Transcendental works an acknowledgement of its oral heritage."(16)

Not even the renewed interest in Fuller that accompanied the second wave of feminist activism in the United States in the late 1960s succeeded in challenging the dominant view of Woman in the Nineteenth Century as devoid of system, method, or "design."(17) With the exception of Marie Urbanski's 1980 study, which reads the text "within the sermon framework," relatively few scholars troubled themselves to examine Woman in the Nineteenth Century (in Urbanski's words) "as a literary work from the standpoint of form, tone, and use of rhetorical devices.(18) Instead, as Robinson has observed, even into the 1980s, Fuller scholarship remained "heavily biographical, reflecting the general sense that Fuller's life and example far outweigh her work in importance" (MFT 83). Largely unchallenged in the current decade, this trend has permitted authoritative editions of Woman in the Nineteenth Century to go out of print, leaving us only the posthumous 1855 edition, ineptly cut and repunctuated by her brother, Arthur B. Fuller."(19)

The problem with this cumulative critical consensus is that it commits us to believing that the only woman invited as an intellectual equal into the Transcendental Club of Emerson, Frederic Henry Hedge, George Ripley, Bronson Alcott, and the other reform-minded Harvard trained intellectuals of the day - and urged by these same men to take up the editorship of The Dial - was somehow incompetent. That a person generally reputed to have been among the best read and the best educated of her generation - responsible for first translating and introducing Goethe and Schiller to American audiences - could not control "the succession of ideas." That the critic and journalist who won praise from her contemporary and fellow New York journalist, Edgar Allan Poe, for a "style [which] ... is one of the very best with which I am acquainted," could not write clearly.(20) That the child who delighted in the descriptions of Congressional debates in her father's letters from Washington, and the woman who would "ready myself to sleep" by poring over the debates transcribed in the Congressional Record ,(21) could not design an argument. That an individual trained in both classical and contemporary rhetoric, who had taken the initiative to form a rhetoric class for senior girls at the Greene Street School in Providence, Rhode Island, could not compose a "logical treatise." And, further, this consensus asks us to accept Fuller's anxieties about her writing skills as authoritative critical judgments when, in truth, every woman author of the period - British and American - larded her letters, journals, and published book prefaces with apologies for her ineptitude with the pen. Fuller was hardly the only woman of her era to complain that in "fulfilling all my duties" to family and society she had lost the precious time required for concentrated writing "and a literary existence."(22)

Rather than repeat critical judgments that have served to suppress the truly radical nature of Fuller's text, and rather than accept a consensus so loaded with implausible conjectures, it is time to probe Fuller's rhetorical intentions and to measure her book against these. For if we take seriously Fuller's injunction to her female readers that they set aside the habit "of being taught and led by men" (W107), then we understand that Fuller wanted not only to put forward a radical critique of all "arbitrary barriers" to women's free development (W158). Additionally, as a woman speaking for women, she needed to put forward a treatise that would not simply replicate the strategies that might have been employed by any of her well-intentioned male contemporaries. After all, as she stated repeatedly in Woman in the Nimth Century, the time had come for women to give over merely following male models and, instead, find "out what is fit for themselves" (W51).

In the arena of public oratory, Fuller knew that a few brave women were already beginning to explore just such possibilities. From her own observations and from the reports she had read about the powerful female antislavery lecturers of her day, Fuller concluded that women like Angelina Grimke and Abigail Kelley Foster, "women who speak in public, if they have a moral power ... invariably subdue the prejudices of their hearers' (W 98). A letter from one of her many (male) correspondents, quoted approvingly in Woman in the Nineteenth Century, suggests that Fuller also agreed that the female antislavery speakers were better able to reach their audiences than were their male peers. As her correspondent phrased it, the women brought 'the subject more into home relations" than did the men because the men, by contrast, "speak through, and mostly from intellect, ... which creates [combat] and is combative" (qtd. in W 99). It was precisely that "combativeness" that Fuller sought to avoid, even as she attempted - through what her contemporaries called 'the affluence of her illustrations"(23) - to bring her subject "more into home relations." The result was the text that Brownson would aptly characterize - albeit for all the wrong reasons-as "a long talk."


Scholars have repeatedly recognized a connection between Fuller's teaching at the Greene Street School, her subsequent formalized "conversations" for adult women in the Boston area, and the development of her original essay, "The Great Lawsuit: Man versus Men. Woman versus Women," which appeared in the July 1843 issue of The Dial and was then expanded into Woman in the Nineteenth Century.(24) Most studies see Fuller's eighteen months at the Greene Street School as an interlude during which "she practiced on the schoolgirls of Providence a progressive style of teaching that she would later apply to the prominent women of Boston."(25) Other studies suggest that, both during the Greene Street period and throughout the Boston conversations, Fuller "was developing her own formative attitudes" towards women's issues which would then find expression in her essay and book.(26) Even more important, in my view, is the considerable evidence that, beginning with her decision to use Richard Whately's Elements of Rhetoric(27) in a course for the senior girls at Greene Street and continuing through her readings in Plato's dialogues to prepare herself for her first Boston conversation series, Fuller was consciously trying to fashion a set of rhetorical strategies appropriate to the emerging feminist consciousness of her era.

Fuller had never anticipated a career in teaching. Through her early twenties, she had continued to read widely among the European romantics, preparing to become a professional writer, and publishing three early pieces of literary criticism in the June, August, and December 1835 issues of the liberal Unitarian Journal, Western Messenger (see MF 146-50). But with the unexpected death of her father in the autumn of 1835, the twenty-five-year-old Fuller found herself suddenly responsible for her own support as well as that of her widowed mother and her six younger siblings. During the winter of 1836-37, she taught briefly in Bronson Alcott's Temple School in Boston, but then left - both because the work kept her from her own reading and writing and, more importantly, because local disapproval of some of Alcott's experimental teaching methods was causing the school to fail, and Alcott could no longer pay her salary. When Hiram Fuller (no relation to Margaret) offered her a position at his newly established Greene Street School in Providence, Rhode Island, Fuller could not refuse. Hiram Fuller was offering the munificent annual salary of $1000 and the promise of a teaching schedule light enough to permit her to continue with her own intellectual pursuits.

By the time she took up her duties, however, her schedule proved heavier than anticipated and, by July 1837, Fuller was writing her brother, Arthur, that she was responsible for lessons "in composition, elocution, history, three classes in Latin, ... two classes in Natural philosophy, and one in Ethics" (Letters 1: 289-90). She would later add a class in French, a class in English literature for the senior girls, and, for this same group, she also took it upon herself to develop a course in rhetoric. Consistent with conventional nineteenth-century gender role expectations, the boys at Greene Street were being trained both in rhetoric and in elocution and, twice monthly, they were expected to speak - or declaim - before the rest of the school. While Fuller had no intention of training her senior girls for this kind of public declamation, she did want to employ the study of rhetoric to overcome the restraints of feminine modesty and provide each student practical tools with which to communicate clearly what was in her mind."(28)

In a letter dated 20 December 1837, a nineteen-year-old from rural Massachusetts, newly enrolled in the Greene Street School, reported to her parents that "[Miss Fuller] formed a class in rhetoric to-day, which I have joined, and which with her, I think will be made very useful and interesting. We are to recite once a week in Whately's Rhetoric" (qtd. in MFK 135). But the weekly recitations in this class were not to replicate the rote memorization that characterized the boys' training. Instead, they were to involve a sharing of ideas through "pleasant conversation" (qtd. in NM 136). Fuller was trying to develop in her charges both intellectual discipline and independence of mind: "One of the girls asked her if she should get the lesson by heart. |No,' said she, |I never wish a lesson learned by heart, as that phrase is commonly understood. ... I wish you to get your lessons by mind' She said she wished no one to remain in the class unless she was willing to give her mind and soul to the study, unless she was willing to communicate what was in her mind, ... that we should let no false modesty restrain us" (qtd. in MFK 135). Fuller intended the students' exchanges to be 'social and pleasant," but as this young correspondent well understood, there was no question that she and the others would be "exerting ourselves" (qtd. in MFK 135).

A month later, writing to her parents on 18 January 1838, this same student again highlighted the conversational nature of the rhetoric class: "I am studying Whately's Rhetoric, which I like very much because we have such pleasant conversation. The lessons are long and hard, and require a good deal of study. In connection with that study, we write definitions of words, which, though difficult, is very useful. The first we wrote were definitions of Logic, Rhetoric, and Philosophy, as these words were suggested by the conversation" (qtd. in MFK 136). Whately's goal for the "School-boy" for whom his text was intended - like Fuller's goal for each of her senior girls - was to qualify him for "uttering his own sentiments" in a natural manner (ER 257). In order to develop facility in the rhetorical strategies he was recommending, Whately suggested that students become accustomed to "rational conversation" (ER 222). Clearly, Fuller had taken this to heart, utilizing conversation as a method for generating calls for definition and accuracy in the group's shared pursuit of the meaning of words and ideas. In good Whatelian fashion, in other words, Fuller was insisting upon clarity and lucidity in expression and, at the same time, teaching her charges to inquire together into topics of mutual interest.

Although as a student at Miss Prescott's School in 1824 Fuller had been assigned another widely read text - Hugh Blair's Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres (London, 1783) - when it came to her own class, she preferred Whately. First published in England in 1828 and then issued in a Boston edition in 1832, Whately's Elements of Rhetoric originally had been composed as a manual for divinity students while Whately (who was later to become archbishop of Dublin) served as the principal of St. Alban's Hall in Oxford. As an introductory manual, it was "designed principally for the instruction of [the] unpracticed" (FR iv) - which is clearly what attracted Fuller.

Unlike his influential predecessor, Blair - who defined rhetoric as a science concerned both with rules for composition and with rules for the critical appraisal of literature - Whately omitted literary considerations altogether and treated rhetoric not as a science but rather as a set of procedures for "Argumentative Composition, generally, and exclusively" (ER 5). Burdened neither by theories of human understanding nor by analyses of what constitutes truth in argument, Whately's Elements of Rhetoric, as he announced in his Introduction, was an "instrumental' text (ER 4). It concentrated on the systematic application of specific rules and procedures for developing and organizing an argument. As long as the central function of logic was not ignored, moreover, Whately expected his "rules" to be applied neither rigidly nor inflexibly. "Instead," as Ray E. McKerrow has pointed out, Whately's rules functioned more as guides which "may be abandoned whenever greater advantage results from a different approach."(29)

Having been educated by her father in the classical rhetorical tradition, and having resisted the assignment of Blair at Miss Prescott's school because she preferred "Cicero's oratory" (MF75), Fuller should have found Whately relatively elementary. And yet, in January 1838, Fuller wrote to a friend that she was not only reading and teaching Whately's Rhetoric but also "thinking it over with great profit to myself" (Letters 1: 322-23). It was part of a larger pattern of activity that marked Fuller's eighteen months in Providence.

On 9 August 1837, just two months after her arrival, Fuller defied gender proprieties by attending the otherwise all-male state Whig caucus - not because she had any interest in the issues, but because she wanted to hear the two main speakers, State Representative John Whipple and Rhode Island's most popular orator, Congressman Tristam Burges, former Brown University professor of oratory. As a woman, she had difficulty gaining entrance; and news of her attendance later horrified Hiram Fuller, Greene Street's circumspect principal. Disturbed by neither, Fuller recorded in her journal acute observations of the speakers' style, manner," and oratorical devices (see MF 213). For the same purpose, she took every opportunity for brief visits to Boston and Cambridge, attending a variety of lectures, including some by her friend Emerson. And in the spring of 1838 she herself participated in a series of debates at Providence's Coliseum Club on the subject of the progress of Society" (see MF242-43). The rhetoric class for senior girls and her study of Whately were thus part of an increased engagement in the practical application of rhetorical principles and in what Capper has called "her by now well-ingrained fascination with public oratory" Am 213).

Despite the generous salary, the pleasures she experienced in teaching were not enough to sustain Fuller. The heavier schedule had taken its toll on her health, and she repeatedly complained to correspondents of insufficient time and energy for work on her translation of Johann Peter Eckermann's Conversations with Goethe in the Last Years of his Life (see MF253). She also missed the more sophisticated intellectual activity of Boston and Cambridge. Accordingly, in December 1838, after three terms at the Greene Street School, Fuller resigned her position and rejoined her family in their current home in Jamaica Plain, a suburb of Boston. "I do not wish to teach again at all," she wrote a friend. And yet, in that same December 1838 letter, she confided that she was "not without my dreams and hopes as to the education of women" (Letters 1: 354).

Fuller's encounters with the poorly prepared senior girls at Greene Street had reinforced her sense of the inadequate educational opportunities for women. At the same time, the practical strategies she had gleaned from Whately, combined with her continuing fascination with all forms of public discourse, now prompted her to consider some means by which "to systematize thought and give a precision in which our sex are so deficient" (Letters 2: 87). Her plan, as she described it in an August 1839 letter to Sophia Ripley, was to organize a series of weekly meetings for "well-educated and thinking women" which would forge intellectual community ("supplying a point of union" in Fuller's words) and, as well, "answer the great questions. What were we born to do? How shall we do it?" (Litters 2: 86-87). Alluding to the pedagogy she had employed in the rhetoric class for senior girls, Fuller declared her "confidence" in her project because "in former instances I have been able to make it easy and even pleasant to twenty five out of thirty to bear their part, to question, to define, to state and examine their opinions" (Letters 2: 88). As she had at Greene Street, Fuller would ask her conversation participants to throw off "the garb of modesty" in order to openly state their impressions and consent to learn by blundering" Letters 2: 87-88).

"Of course," as Capper emphasizes, "these were not |conversations' in the ordinary sense. The ideal of a conversation as a critical intellectual method derived from Plato," whose Socratic dialogues Fuller had been recently rereading, and from the "great Romantic talkers" like Mme. de Stael, Coleridge, and Goethe (MF 296). Closer to home, Fuller had witnessed Bronson Alcott's efforts to utilize conversational dialogues as a teaching tool at his Temple School (later adapting some of his techniques for her Greene Street classes). And, more recently, as Fuller was aware, "Alcott . . . had launched a series of moderately successful traveling conversations in various towns in eastern Massachusetts" (MF 296). The conversation thus became for Fuller both a mode of feminist activism and a modest source of income.

Beginning in November 1839 and continuing through May 1844, each fall and spring Fuller conducted a series of conversations on different subjects, ranging widely from mythology through philosophy and the arts. Elizabeth Palmer Peabody's Boston bookstore was sometimes the site; at other times George and Sophia Ripley offered their front parlor. For a fee of ten dollars (later raised to twenty) for each three-month series, Boston area women found a forum for the investigation and exchange of ideas. Although few series enrolled more than twenty-five, the participants changed often enough that, by 1844, Fuller had counted in her conversations most of Boston's female writers and activists, as well as the wives and daughters of the area's most prominent men. Some participants came from as far away as Providence and New York.

With one exception, no detailed record remains of these conversations.(30) That exception is young Caroline Healey Dall's transcription of ten conversations that she attended, beginning in March 1841, on "The Mythology of the Greeks and its Expression in Art" - the only series to which Fuller admitted men. Because the men included well-known personages like Emerson, who tended to dominate discussion, the Dall transcription cannot stand as an accurate index to Fuller's strategies when only women were present. For, with the first conversation on March 1, a pattern emerged which only occasionally gave way in subsequent meetings: the ten males take up far more of the verbal space than do the twelve women present. The results were frequent digressions into areas interesting only to one or another of the men. After the second week's meeting, in a typical observation, Dall recorded that "Emerson pursued his own train of thought. He seemed to forget that we had come together to pursue Margaret's."(31)

If Dall's chronicle portrays Fuller as often arch in her attempts to restrain a loquacious male, sometimes irritated, occasionally impatient, and even capable of sharp retort, her chronicle also suggests features of Fuller's behavior that may have surfaced more prominently when only women were present. To elicit greater participation from everyone in the group, Fuller understated her own expertise on a subject. To maintain focus and continuity, she habitually recapitulated the main ideas of a discussion at the end of the evening's conversation and, again, at the beginning of the next. Fuller's ready wit and sense of humor are also apparent. And, perhaps most important to Fuller, she never found herself "haranguing too much" - an early fear that she had expressed in her August 1839 letter to Sophia Ripley Letters 2: 88). Instead, despite the men's tangents and interruptions, Dall's transcription shows us a Fuller determined to enact the role she had first proposed for herself in these conversations: "truly a teacher and a guide" Letters 2: 97). As Fuller had explained at the first meeting of the initial series, she was not there "to teach anything,' but "to call ... out the thought of others" (qtd. in MF296).

The magnetic intensity of Fuller's personal presence, upon which so many of her contemporaries commented, no doubt contributed substantially to the success of the Boston conversations. Additionally, her easy familiarity with literature and philosophy in several languages, along with her reading and teaching in formal rhetoric, now came together to enable her to awaken the enthusiasms of the conversation participants. From the platform orators she admired, she had learned something of the "manner" of public presentation and even an occasional argumentative strategy. From Whately she had imbibed the importance of "the skilful arrangement' of thought (ER 28). And from Plato, especially in his early dialogues, she had taken the courage to raise questions for which there might not be sure answers. "I have been reading Plato all the week," she informed Emerson as one series began, "hop[ing] to be tuned up thereby" (Letters 2: 104). Her vast education supplied the ground upon which she would open a subject' and offer as good a general statement as I know how to make" (Letters 2: 88). But her study of rhetoric had supplied her with the practical tools for "select[ing] a branch of the subject and lead[ing] others to give their thoughts upon it" (Letters 2: 88).

Those same strengths came together once more, as Fuller prepared her first formal "Argumentative Composition." Her long apprenticeship in initiating what Whately had called "rational conversation" prompted her to try a bold experiment, however. Instead of relegating the conversation to an exclusively oral exercise, Fuller would simulate its components in a written treatise. In so doing, she chose her rhetorical devices carefully, emulating the female antislavery lecturers by bringing her "subject more into home relations" and by eschewing "combativeness."


While Fuller had first encountered the dialogue as a pedagogical device at Alcott's Temple School, it was not until she began using Whately at Greene Street that she found the means to convert dialogue into a full-fledged conversation aimed at probing received wisdom and arriving at collective reassessments. And while Fuller's letters indicate that she consulted Plato throughout the years of the Boston conversations, characteristic Whatelian recommendations - like understating one's own command of a subject, recapitulating complex arguments, and the judicious use of humor - are clearly evident in Dall's account of the spring 1841 conversation series. Not surprisingly, echoes of Whately's phrasings can also be detected in both the Dial essay and in Woman in the Nineteenth Century, suggesting that as Fuller attempted her first "Argumentative Composition," Whately continued as an influence.(32) Elements of Rhetoric was not only the rhetoric manual Fuller knew most intimately, however. In addition, as Fuller was aware (and Whately readily acknowledged), it was a highly derivative work, offering a compressed compendium of rhetorical practice from Aristotle, Cicero, and Quintillian through George Campbell's Philosophy of Rhetoric (London and Edinburgh, 1776) and Hugh Blair's Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres (Dublin, 1789), with copious quotations from and references to each. As such, to read Fuller's text against Whately's allows us easily to measure what Fuller was prepared to accept - and, no less important, what she felt bound to reject - from the entire rhetorical tradition then available to her.

More to the point, Whately's "System of Rules" (ER 15) was specifically designed for Fuller's present purpose. Her goal, after all, as she began the Dial essay, was to prompt readers to their own independent discovery of a "truth" to which Fuller was herself already deeply committed. And for Whately, as for most eighteenth- and nineteenth-century rhetoricians, "the process of conveying truth to others" constituted the very heart of "the Rhetorical process" (ER 23). The divinity students for whom Whately's text was originally intended, we recall, were being instructed in the practical strategies for leading their prospective parishioners to the revealed truths of Christianity.

Fuller, of course, had a different truth to convey. Defining men and women as "the two halves of one thought" in the preface to Woman in the Nineteenth Century, she then explained: "I believe that the development of the one cannot be effected without that of the other. My highest wish is that this truth should be distinctly and rationally apprehended, and the conditions of life and freedom recognized as the same for the daughters and the sons' (W vi). In urging readers toward their own rational apprehension of this truth, Fuller sought to replicate the rhetorical situation in which she was experiencing her greatest success: the weekly meetings in which women "have time, patience, mutual reverence and fearlessness eno' to get at one another's thoughts" (Letters 2: 118).

In order to mimic the polyphony of conversation, Fuller's treatise on women's rights introduced a variety of voices - her own, the autobiographical Miranda's, her anonymous correspondent's, and even the wholly fictive irritated trader" determined to maintain authority over his wife (W 18-19). The spontaneity of conversation was captured in Fuller's direct addresses, as when she suddenly changed course by informing the reader that she had already brought forward" enough on a subject to satisfy her point (W49). To suggest the give and take of contested positions, Fuller offered a panoply of conflicting views of women by including lengthy selections from a variety of authors-a speech by John Quincy Adams (W 128-30), a poem by the young transcendentalist, William Ellery Channing (W 177-79), and a passage from the French essayist, Suzanne Necker (WI47), among others-even where she did not wholly agree with the point of view expressed. Even more important, following a loose historical chronology, she catalogued signs of the times" (W26), a survey of mythological as well as historical events and personages, each variously interpreted as evidence of the obstacles to women's advancement and as harbingers of what might yet be achieved. And in order to invite her reader to participate actively in the ongoing epistemic inquiry, Fuller enunciated the commitment not to enroll "ourselves at once on either side" but, rather, to look upon the subject from the best point of view" (W20). Her model, she reassured her readers, was the eminent Unitarian minister, the late Dr. William Ellery Channing, who, in Fuller's estimation, "always furnished a platform on which opposing parties could stand, and look at one another under the influence of his mildness and enlightened candor" (W101).

With these last two statements, Fuller signalled that she was intent on conducting what Whately termed "a process of Investigation" (ER 24). By and large, her arguments would appeal to those who had not yet formed a hardened opinion, but are merely desirous of ascertaining what is the truth in respect of the case before them" (ER 24). Fuller was thus enacting what Whately called "Instruction"-a word with which she felt especially comfortable-but a species of instruction that at once preserved Fuller's preferred role as a facilitator and a guide, even as it acknowledged that she had a particular "truth" to convey. The rhetor was "conducting a process of Investigation" relative to readers only, explained Whately, "though not to himself" (ER 24-25).

Whately's "process of Investigation" was also wholly consistent with Fuller's characteristically romantic notion of "truth" as a process of unfolding revelation, a notion that had been reinforced by her experience with the conversation series. Through the conversations, she had refined the art of carrying on a critical inquiry by means of shared discussion, and she had taught other women to participate actively in the dialectical testing of ideas. In effect, the conversations represented the conceptual model for her treatise's rhetorical design. But, as he had in the past, Whately would provide a source for formal strategies and lead her to "the skilful arrangement of them" (ER 28).

All editions of Whately's Elemets of Rhetoric are organized into four parts: 1. "Of the Address to the Understanding, with a View to Produce Conviction (Including Instruction)"; 2. "Of the Address to the Will, or Persuasion"; 3. "Of Style"; and 4. "Of Elocution, or Delivery." Because it deals exclusively with oral presetation, part 4 includes a number of items adapted by Fuller for both the Greene Street School and the Boston conversations; but its imprint is not detected in either "The Great Lawsuit" or Woman in the Nineteenth Century. For reasons to be explored shortly, part 2 had only limited influence as well. Much of parts 1 and 3, by contrast, helps us to understand why Fuller constructed her treaties as she did.

From part 1 of Whately, Fuller took the kinds of arguments most appropriate to "conducting a process of Investigation," and she followed his advice as to their "various use and order" (ER 70). Her central syllogism, for example, derived from Whately's tactics or shifting the burden of proof to one's opponent when responding to the "Presumption in favour of every Change," Whately advised,t he rebuttal is "true, but ... every Restriction is in itself an evil; and therefore there is a Presumption in favor of its removal" (ER 80). In "The Great Lawsuit" and in Woman in the Nineteenth Century, Fuller acknowledged at the outset that popular opinion was against her, "society t large not [being] prepared for the demands" she is about to make (W 18). Following Whately, her response is to weave into her discourse a syllogism that appeals to patriotic motives and, at the same time, shifts the burden of proof by challenging imposed restrictions; Because the United States has been founded on the belief that "all men are born free and equal," Fuller predicts hat it "is surely destined to elucidate a great moral law" for all humanity (W 15). But slavery and restrictions on women run counter to this founding proposition. Therefore, concluded Fuller, for the nation to attain its destined greatness, it must free slaves and remove all restrictions on women. As Whately had taught her, she now had the opposition on the defensive.

In the second chapter of part 1, entitled "Of Arguments," Whately catalogued the kinds of strategies that would prove most conducive to "conducting a process of Investigation." He recommends the use of testimony and the cross-examination of adversaries, recommendations that Fuller followed in her introduction of Miranda's first-person narrative and in her own dialogue with "the irritated trader" intent on maintaining his white male privileges. Whately recommends he argument from analogy, to which Fuller repeatedly resorted in her insistence on the parallels between white women's status and that of slaves. And he urges he efficacy of drawing a conclusion from an single instance and then inferring from that a conclusion "respecting the whole Class" (ER 53). Fuller, obviously found this an appealing device, using it regularly. She offered the vignette of the father who would not educate his daughter, for example, in order to illustrate an instance of the male who does not always act in women's best interest. Fuller then drew from this the general rule undergirding her entire thesis: because men see only their own needs and do not look at both sides,... women must leave off asking them and being influenced by them" (W108). In recommending this argument from example, moreover, Whately allowed for the "real or invented" (ER 67), as long as the "case [had] ... intrinsic probability" (ER 65). Fuller, of course, included both, incorporating her knowledge of Greek and Roman mythology, stories from German folk ballads, and the real-life biography of die Polish heroine, Emily Plater.

Finally, Whately stressed the value of combining different kinds of arguments, each "singly perhaps of little weight,' into the "progressive approach" (ER 49). This gave Fuller license to include the many different kinds of arguments that might mark any spirited conversation, confident that together they would produce jointly, and by their coincidence, a degree of probability far exceeding the sum of their several forces, taken separately" (ER 49). The key to success here, continued Whately, was the order in which the different arguments were considered, and ... their progressive tendency to establish a certain conclusion" (ER 49).

How to achieve that order was then the focus of the third chapter of part 1. Here again Whately drew a distinction between "convey[ing] instruction to those who are ready to receive it" and compel[ling] the assent, or silenc[ing] the objections, of an opponent" (ER 70). Since Fuller's object was the former, she followed Whately's view that the argument from cause to effect would give the greatest "satisfaction to a candid mind" (ER 70), and she took seriously his hint that arguments "from Cause to Effect . . . have usually the precedence" in the organization of a treatise because they help to prepare "the way for the reception of other arguments" (ER 83-84). In fact, Fuller devoted the first twenty-five pages of the printed book (almost one sixth of the text) to laying the groundwork for her first major cause-to-effect proposition: because men can only think of women as "made for man" (W 25), and because men are bound by habit and convention in this regard, they can never adequately speak for woman nor act in her best interests. Not until near the end of the book did she introduce, as a kind of corollary, the more controversial cause-to-effect argument regarding the male's historical abuse of his privileges over the female. The consequence of this unhappy history, Fuller asserted, was that the male now found himself, "a temporal master" rather than a "spiritual sire," "a king without a queen ... his habits and his will corrupted by the past" (W 156). Of course, Fuller was here following Whately's view that a Conclusion ... likely to ... offend the prejudices of the hearers" be kept out of sight, as much as possible ... till the principles from which it is to be deduced shall have been clearly established" (ER 89).

In short, Fuller adopted most of the advice offered by Whately in part 1. In the Dial essay, the "refutation of Objections" was placed as Whately had recommended, "nearer the beginning than the end" (ER 92); and this remained so in the essay's expansion. Fuller worked to "avoid an appearance of abruptness' by carefully laying out her basic premises before "enter[ing] on the main argument" (ER 112). And her conclusion - in both the essay and the book - was the recapitulation called for by Whately.

Similarly, Whately's part 3, "Of Style," also reads as a kind of rhetorical road map to Fuller's text. From the first chapter on perspicuity or clarity in language usage, she seems to have adopted Whately's advice on the relative proportion of Saxon and Latinate words. And, even more important, she embraced his view that 'the same sentiment and argument" could be offered "in many different forms of expression" in order to expand "the sense to be conveyed" and thereby detain "the mind upon it" (ER 171). In fact, Fuller circled around the same points and sentiments throughout her book, each time attempting a different analogy or illustration that would arrest attention and, as had the women antislavery orators, thus bring the "subject more into home relations."

From the second chapter of part 3, "Of Energy," Fuller incorporated advice that she hoped would "stimulate attention, ... excite the Imagination, and ... arouse the Feelings' (ER 183-84). For example, her direct comments to the reader were often framed as questions: "You ask, what use will she make of liberty, when she has so long been sustained and restrained?" (W 158). Here Fuller followed Whately's observation that a direct interrogative "calls the hearer's attention more forcibly to some important point, by a personal appeal to each individual" ER 241). In order to avoid what Whately called "a tedious dragging effect," Fuller generally constructed her "complex sentences of any considerable length" along Whately's model, with the longer clauses preceding and the shorter phrases concluding the sentence (ER 233). Her habitual penchant for Latinate syntax was somewhat tempered thereby.

The type and structure of individual sentences, however, was not the only focus of Whately's part 3. Patterns of organization exerted their impact on stimulating attention and thus were also a component of "Style." Especially important to Fuller as she expanded her essay into the book was Whately's stress on "the energetic effect of Conciseness" (ER 212), a stylistic effect for which she was not widely known. Because she had been criticized by some for not making my meaning sufficiently clear" in the essay, she now "tried to illustrate it in various ways," expanding the text by almost a third in that effort (W 154). Conscious of the possibility that the additional material might strike some readers as only "much repetition" (W 154), Fuller eagerly followed Whately's advice for creating at least "the effect of brevity" (ER 216). To accomplish this, Whately instructed the rhetor "first to expand the sense, sufficiently to be clearly understood, and then to contract it into the most compendious and striking form" (ER 215). This "addition of a compressed and pithy expression of the sentiment" - even after expansion and repetition - Whately promised "will produce the effect of brevity" (ER 216). In Woman in the Nineteenth Century, Fuller explained the form of her new closing peroration by paraphrasing Whately's justification for the insertion of such an abridged repetition" (ER 216). And she acknowledged that the authority for this rhetorical strategy was a manual written for future ministers: "In the earlier tract, I was told, I did not make my meaning sufficiently clear. In this I have consequently tried to illustrate it in various ways, and may have been guilty of much repetition. Yet, as I am anxious to leave no room for doubt, I shall venture to retrace, once more, the scope of my design in points, as was done in old-fashioned sermons" (W 154). What followed was a brief compendium of pithy closing statements, including the bold pronouncement for which, at the time, Fuller was most ridiculed: "But if you ask me what offices they may fill; I reply - any. I do not care what case you put; let them be sea-captains, if you will" (W 159).(33)

Unquestionably the most influential section for Fuller came in the second chapter of part 3, where Whately endorsed the Suggestive style" (ER 221). Functioning by means of "slight hints" and "notices of the principles" rather than the particulars (ER 222), the suggestive style not only coincided with the advertised intention of the Dial to discuss "principles" rather than advocate particular "measures" (see MF 348). Of greater significance for Fuller, it also closely approximated the use of conversation as a collaborative device to prompt instruction. It "shall put the hearer's mind into the same train of thought as the speaker's," explained Whately, "and suggest to him more than is actually expressed" (ER 221).

Whately himself made the comparison explicit when he recommended "rational conversation" as "a very useful exercise" for developing this particular stylistic technique. After all, Whately went on, "in conversation, a man naturally tries first one and then another mode of conveying his thoughts" (ER222). Child and others may have judged the effect "rough in construction," but in fact this was Fuller's method. Moving from one type of argument to another, surveying history and mythology for analogies and examples, introducing the authority of Miranda's personal testimony in one place, the authority of the Declaration of Independence in another, Fuller was determined to try out as many means as possible for conveying her ideas. "When I meet people I can adapt myself to them", Fuller had written to fellow member of the Transcendental Club, William Henry Channing, in 1840, "but when I write, it is into another world" (Letters 2: 125). The suggestive style was thus her solution, because it gave her permission to adapt herself to an imagined variety of readers much as she had always adapted herself to different partners in conversation.

Although Whately refrained from "lay[ing] down precise rules for the Suggestive kind of writing I am speaking of" (ER 222), the image he chose to represent that style resonated in Fuller's closing declaration. According to Whately, the suggestive style might best be compared "to a good map, which marks distinctly the great outlines, setting down the principal rivers, towns, mountains, &c., leaving the imagination to supply the villages, hillocks, and streamlets" (ER 221n). By the time she completed her book, Fuller was confident that she had "now ... designated in outline, if not in fulness, the stream which is ever flowing from the heights of my thought" (W 154). Her text did sketch the central questions and "the great outlines." And, as Fuller herself explained, her purpose had never been to "deal with |atrocious instances'" nor to "demand ... partial redress in some one matter, but [to] go to the root of the whole. If principles could be established," she was sure, "particulars would adjust themselves aright" (W 22).

If Fuller's adherence to the suggestive style was risky in its rejection of both explicit program and the drama of "atrocious instances," her boldest gamble was her decision to dispense with almost everything in Whately's part 2, "Of the Address to the Will, or Persuasion." To be sure, she did not reject it all. Having taught part 2 at Greene Street,(34) she appreciated the impact of an occasionally "gentle and conciliatory manner" (ER 151), and she did her best to dwell on areas of mutual agreement in order not to alienate reluctant readers. She was also well aware of the value of "attentively studying and meditating on the history of some extraordinary Personage - by contemplating and dwelling on his actions and sufferings - his virtues and his wisdom - and by calling on the Imagination to present a vivid picture" (ER 124). As she had done for her pupils at Greene Street, Fuller offered the "extraordinary" lives of exemplary women, from the Polish patriot, Countess Emily Plater, to Cassandra, "the inspired child," emblem of the intuitively gifted woman whom none yet understand (W93).

That said, Fuller did not embrace the strategies that Whately claimed would call out "passion, sentiment, or emotion" for the purpose of persuasion (ER 125). She did not expend any effort at establishing her own good character, a tactic which, according to Whately, can often "persuade more powerfully than ... the strongest Arguments" (ER 128). She did not affect the suppression of her own strong feelings on the subject but, instead, declared at the outset that "the subject makes me feel too much" (W22). She did not paint in lurid detail the oppressions of women and then call upon her readers "to consider how they would feel were such and such an injury done to themselves" (ER 140). She never openly ridiculed her opponents. She did not deliberately organize her material so as to lead her reader from the calm "to the impassioned" (ER 142). And she never exhorted her readers "to adopt the conduct recommended" (ER 131). In short, Fuller did not follow Whately in what he termed "the design laid against [the reader's] feelings' (ER 136). This was where Fuller resisted being "taught and led by men" (W 107).

In Whately's rhetoric, persuasion is "the art of influencing the Will," and to accomplish that, "two things are requisite": The rhetor's arguments must make "the proposed Object ... appear desirable," and "the Means suggested should be proved ... conducive to the attainment of that object" (ER 117). Fuller attempted only a version of the first, advocating full equality for women as the central condition for the improvement of humankind in general and the fulfillment of national destiny in particular. But, preferring principles to particulars, she detailed no program or "means" to achieve her ends, and there was no specific "conduct recommended."

Even so, her unwillingness to propose specific remedies does not entirely account for Fuller's decision to reject strategies for "influencing the Will." Rather, her decision was due to Whately's insistence that persuasion could never rest on logical argument but instead depended on "Exhortation, i.e. the excitement of men" (ER 118). To be effective, in other words, persuasion played not just to the emotions or the feelings, but to the passions. On this point, Whately was unequivocal: "there can be no Persuasion without an address to the Passions" (ER 119). In delineating the strategies for persuasion, however, Whately's imagery suddenly turned suggestively sexual and, at the same time, swerved toward the very combativeness that Fuller had worked so hard to avoid. Clearly, persuasion entailed a quality of relationship between rhetor and audience unlike that in any other section of Whately's manual.(35)

Techniques for obliquely arousing an audience, for example, are introduced through the following "homely illustration": "A moderate charge of powder win have more effect in splitting a rock, if we begin by deep boring, and introducing the charge into the very heart of it, than ten times the quantity, exploded on the surface" (ER 132n). In a lengthy note emphasizing the importance of arrangement, Whately recommended that the "statements and arguments should first be clearly and calmly laid down and developed" and then be succeeded by "the impassioned appeal" (ER 142n). "The former of these two parts may be compared to the back of a sabre," Whately elaborated, "the latter to its edge. The former should be firm and weighty; the latter keen" (ER 142n). The violence latent in that comparison was then rendered explicit at the end of the paragraph where Whately described a properly arranged appeal to the emotions as "an excellent sword" whose "blows would take effect" (ER 142n). Above all else, however, persuasion functioned through an organizational structure that purposefully "raise[d] the feelings gradually to the highest pitch" or, as Whately clarified, what Rhetoricians call the Climax" (ER 138).

Given Fuller's belief in man and woman as "two halves of one thought" (W vi), and given the rhetorical goals articulated throughout her treatise, she had no choice but to reject the tactics of persuasion. Having identified the containment of male sexual aggression as necessary to full equality between the sexes, Fuller would not play upon "the excitement of men" in constructing her arguments. Having condemned the "love of petty power" that derived from women's enforced "ignorance and foolish vanity" (W50), Fuller could hardly employ that same power to argue for the rights of women. In her view, after all, the covertly sexual manipulations of persuasion were identical to those she had named as the only available "arms of the servile: cunning, blandishment, and unreasonable emotion" (W 157). Furthermore, unlike the "Address to the Understanding" in part 1, persuasion undermined the collaborative conversation that Fuller had pursued since Greene Street, and it altogether annihilated even the illusion of an unfolding epistemic inquiry. As Whately defined it (and he was hardly alone in this), persuasion emerged as a species of coercion meant to compel the audience members' "resigning themselves" to the feelings evoked (ER 142n). And persuasion accomplishes this end by overriding the audience's independent will. Indeed, that is its purpose: "When the metal is heated, it may easily be moulded into the desired form" (ER 143).

But molding an audience into some predetermined form had never been Fuller's purpose. Instead, in inventing a discourse appropriate to feminism, Fuller rejected alike the authoritarianism of coercion and the manipulative strategies of the disempowered, endeavoring instead to create a collaborative process of assertion and response in which multiple voices could - and did - find a place. She required of her readers, in Stanley Fish's words, "a searching and rigorous scrutiny of everything they believe and live by" in regard to gender arrangements.(36) But she also required a wholly voluntary attentiveness to these matters, in return for which she neither demanded specific remedy nor imposed any single course of action. As she made plain in her preface, Fuller asked of her male readers no less than "a noble and earnest attention," and she solicited from her female readers the independence of mind "to search their own experience and intuitions" in order to identify the problem and invent its solutions (W vi).

Certainly, in conveying her "truth," Fuller's purpose was to initiate a new consensus. But in contrast to the liberal individualism of Emerson's "self-reliance"(37) Fuller was attempting to forge an ongoing collective search for a social philosophy of female self-dependence ... and fulness of being" (W84). The consensus that Fuller sought, in other words, was to emerge from the dialectical conversation that her text had set in motion but purposefully not brought to "climax" (or closure). Little wonder that Brownson saw "no reason why it should stop where it does." But then this was precisely Fuller's aim. "And so the stream flows on," predicted Fuller: "thought urging action, and action leading to the evolution of still better thought" (W 158).


By rejecting persuasion as a tactic for feminist discourse, Fuller had in effect dispensed with those organizing principles that had come to be associated with most public advocacy in her day. As a result, despite the chronological arrangement of her "signs of the times," and despite Fuller's demonstrated command of formal logic and her employment of both inductive and deductive modes of reasoning, she had opened herself to the charge that she was aimlessly amassing miscellaneous evidence, merely "collect[ing) ... clever sayings and bright intimations." In other words, because Fuller did not order her treatise in the conventional manner, critics like Brownson - and others after him - simply dismissed the whole as the byproduct of stereotypically uncontrolled female talkativeness transferred to the printed page.

Her refusal to build to a conclusive "climax" and thereby bring her treatise to definitive closure served Fuller's purpose in two ways, however. First, without damage to either the structure or the intent of her thesis, Fuller was able simply to add to the Dial essay in order to turn it into Woman in the Nineteenth Century. As Urbanski has pointed out, while Fuller "occasionally ... changed a few words to clarify or modify the meaning of a sentence" and made some other minor alterations (MFW 130), she left the original essay essentially intact and appended to it the bulk of her new material. With contemporary references and more trenchant social criticism," as Urbanski notes, these additions contained some of "the most daring subject matter in the book" (MFW 130). Here were frank discussions of sexual matters, including male sexual appetite and the rehabilitation of prostitutes, as well as Fuller's famous remark about allowing women to be sea captains. While her informing arguments remained the same, the new examples added energy" to what Whately had called the suggestive style by giving readers contemporary - rather than historical or metaphorical - referents to ponder.

Second, the lack of closure also opened the way for still further recastings. From another letter that Fuller sent to William Henry Channing in November 1844, we know this to have been her intention. In the midst of expanding the Dial essay into Woman in the Nineteenth Century - and finding it "spinning out beneath my hand" (Letter 3: 241) - Fuller told Channing that she was now bent on revising the book draft before sending it on for his reading and advice. Certain that the manuscript would "be much better" after these revisions, Fuller not only confirmed the considered crafting that was going into her work but indicated as well that she saw no necessary end to this process. "I should hope to be able to make it constantly better while I live," Fuller told Channing, and she expressed her expectation for "subsequent editions" Letters 3: 242).

But the few years that remained to Fuller afforded no time for any new editions, and she never even witnessed the practical impact of her work on the organized women's rights movement. With a platform deeply indebted to the ideas promulgated by Woman in the Nineteenth Century, the first women's rights convention in the United States convened in Seneca Falls, New York, in July 1848, while Fuller was covering the political upheavals in Italy for Horace Greeley's New York Tribune. By the time the first national convention opened in Worcester, Massachusetts, in October 1850, she was already dead. Returning from Italy in May, Fuller had been drowned in a shipwreck off Fire Island.

Although Fuller's loss to the women's movement at this crucial juncture was profound, her conversational strategies proved revolutionary and enduring. With many of her former students arranging similar activities of their own, women's conversation groups proliferated. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a founder of the Seneca Falls Convention, had attended a Fuller series in Boston one winter and later initiated a series in upstate New York - as Stanton put it, in conscious "imitation of Margaret Fuller's Conversationals" (qtd. in MFW 160). Without question, "conversationals" functioned for the first wave of United States feminists in much the same way that the consciousness-raising groups of the late 1960s and early 1970s functioned for the second wave: as a galvanizing force and, as Fuller had phrased it, "supplying a point of union." "In calling forth the opinions of her sex," wrote the editors of the History of Woman Suffrage in the 1880s, "Miss Fuller was the precursor of the Women's Rights agitation of the last thirty-three years" (qtd. in MWF 158).

The text in which those same conversational strategies were employed for written argument, however, continued to be regarded, in Dall's words, as "a complete, scholarly exposition' that provided much-needed intellectual grist for the movement's political aims (HP 249). Like most other antislavery and women's rights activists, Dall credited Fuller with "the first clear, uncompromising, scholarly demand for the civil rights of her sex" (HP 261). But she never suggested that Woman in the Nineteenth Century might also be read as a sourcebook of techniques for a feminist public discourse.

Understandably, the women who led the nineteenth-century movement pursued the forms of public advocacy that they had been taught in coeducational academies and female seminaries. But, as Fuller had so well understood, that was the problem. From personal experience she knew that, even at the best of these establishments, women were given young men as teachers, who only teach what has been taught themselves at college" (W83). And even where "women are ... at the head of these institutions," still Fuller objected that they were not generally "thinking women, capable to organize a new whole for the wants of the time" (W83). She herself had complained about being assigned Blair at Miss Prescott's School, and when she taught at Greene Street, the best Fuller could offer her senior girls was Whately. Within this delimiting educational context and absent Fuller's continued recreation of her text as the ongoing conversation she hoped for, the general critical response that her treatise "lack[ed] method sadly" effectively discredited the book as a rhetorical model that women should seriously consider.

United States feminists have thus been caught in bifurcated discourses. The inclusive, collaborative, and searchingly open-ended discussions that sustained the conversationals in the nineteenth century and the consciousness-raising groups of the twentieth were only haphazardly translated into corresponding experiments in written forms of public argument, especially in the academy. Admittedly, feminist scholarship throughout the 1980s was diligent in scrutinizing its own premises and foundational arguments. And that scholarship also moved toward the inclusion of an ever-widening variety of voices and "feminisms." Additionally, the renewed insistence in the 1990s that the writer identify a subject position certainly echoes Fuller's closing remark that she argued from the ground of maturity, "stand[ing] in the sunny noon of life" (W 163), neither naive from inexperience nor cynical from disappointments. Those innovations notwithstanding, even the boldest of feminist scholars for the most part continue to adapt themselves to the discourse behaviors of their chosen disciplines, eager to be persuasive in the ways that term is commonly understood.

But that practice has never been wholly satisfactory, and Gearhart and Elshtain have hardly been alone in their quest to locate discourse models appropriate to feminist ideals. Gearhart recommended "transactional" communication techniques (199), while Elshtain approved Jurgen Habermas's "concept of an ideal speech situation" as a precedent for creating a feminist discourse that rejects domination" (620, 621). Each alternative incorporates much that Fuller attempted,38 of course (though Fuller is never mentioned by transactional theorists or by Habermas), but neither specifically invokes that conversation through which women can "organize a new whole for the wants of the time" (W83). Hirsch and Keller recommended no specific rhetorical strategies, but they invoked Fuller's spirit - if not her name - when they encouraged contributors to Conflicts in Feminism to engage in "dialogue and conversation among opposing factions" (370). Even here, however, "each of [their] authors expresse[d] increasing frustration at the way that disagreements lead to oppositional politics" (371). While Fuller provides no sure formula for resolving such oppositions, she does offer a play of strategies that ensures ongoing exchange and eschews overheated terminations.

To return to the quality of that conversation, Fuller must be read on her own terms, and Woman in the Nineteenth Century must be accepted as an intentional experiment in a feminist discourse that refused premature closure. To put it another way, if we seriously re-engage the conversation that Fuller began in 1843 with the publication of The Great Lawsuit," then we come to understand that that conversation cannot be brought to closure - not until, that is, "inward and outward freedom for woman as much as for man shall be acknowledged as a eight, not yielded as a concession."


(1) S. Margaret Fuller, Woman in the Nineteenth Century (1845; rpt. Columbia, S.C.,1980),p. 26; hereafter cited in text as W. (2) In addition to the all-important influence of Wollstonecraft, Fuller was also aware of a growing body of United States literature on women's lights, including Charles Brockden Brown's Alcuin: A Dialogue (1798; rpt. New Haven, 1935), the first book by an American to reject the concept of separate spheres; Sarah Moore Grimke's Letter on the Equality of the Sexes and the Condition of Woman; Addressed to Mary Parker, President of the Bosion Female Anti-Slavery Society (Boston, 1838), the first book by an American to argue for the legal emancipation of all women, both black and white; and Sophia Dana Ripley's essay on married women's rights, "Woman," published by Fuller in The Dial, 1 January 1841), 362-67. (3) Both are specifically mentioned by Fuller, W, p. 98. (4) This charge was levelled in a number of critical reviews, but the phrasing here appeared in a letter from Elizabeth Peabody to her daughter, Sophia Peabody Hawthorne, and was induded in Julian Hawthorne's Nathaniel Hawthorne and His Wife (Boston, 1884), excerpted in Julian Hawthome, "Margaret Fuller and Hawthorne," Critical Essays on Margaret Fuller, ed. Joel Myerson (Boston, 1980), p. 115. (5) Sally Miller Gearhart, "The Womanization of Rhetoric," Women's Studies International Quarterly, 2 (1979), 195; hereafter cited in text. (6) Jean Bethke Elshtain, "Feminist Discourse and Its Discontents: Language, Power, and Meaning," Signs, 7 (1982), 605; hereafter cited in text. (7) Marianne Hirsch and Evelyn Fox Keller, "Practicing Conflict in Feminist Theory," in Conflicts in Feminism ed. Marianne Hirsch and Evelyn Fox Keller (New York, 1990), p. 370; hereafter cited in text. (8) Orestes A. Brownson, "Miss Fuller and Reformers," rev. of Woman in the Nineteenth Century by Margaret Fuller, Brownson's Quarterly Review, 7 (April 1845), rpt. in Critical Essays on Margaret Fuller, p. 19; hereafter cited in text as MFR. For a discussion of Brownson's expectations regarding editorship of The Dial, see Charles Capper, Margaret Fuller, An American Romantic Life, 2 vols. (New York, 1992), I, 333-34; hereafter cited in text as MF. (9) A. G. M. (anonymous), The Condition of Woman," Southern Quarterly Review, 10 July 1845), 148. (10) Charles F. Briggs, rev. of Woman in the Nineteenth Century, Broadway Journal, 1 (Mar. 1845), rpt. in Critical Essays on Margaret Fuller, p. 9. (11) Lydia Maria Child,"Woman in the l9th Century," Broadway Joumal (15feb.1845), rpt. in Critical Essays on Margaret Fuller, p. 7. (12) Frederic Dan Huntington, rev. of Woman in the Nineteenth Century, Christian Examiner, 38 (May 1845), rpt. in Critical Esseys on Margaret Fuller, p. 26. (13) Memoirs of Margaret Fuller Ossoli, ed. Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Henry Channing, and James Freeman Clarke, 2 vols. (1852; rpt. Boston, 1860), 1: 337. (14) Vernon L. Parrington, Main Currents in American Thought. The Romantic Revolution in America 1800-1860, 3 vols. (New York, 1927), 2: 418. (15) David M. Robinson, "Margaret Fuller and the Transcendental Ethos: Woman in the Nineteenth Century," PMLA, 97 (1982), 84; hereafter cited in text as MFT. (16) William J. Scheick, "The Angelic Artistry of Margaret Fuller's Woman in the nineteenth Century," Essays in Literature 11 (Fall 1984), 293. (17) Belle Gale Chevigny's The Woman and the Myth: Margaret Fuller's life and writings (New York, 1976) was instrumental in presenting a sympathetic overview of Fuller's life and works; but even Chevigny characterized Woman in the Nineteenth Century as "lack[ing] ... systematic analysis' (p. 222). (18) Marie Mitchell Olesen Urbanski, Margaret Fuller's "Woman in then in the Nineteenth Century": A Literary Study of Form and Content, of Sources and Influence Westport, Conn., 1980), p. 128; hereafter cited in text as MFW. (19) In 1993 the only edition still in print was published by Norton, with an Introduction by Bernard Rosenthal (New York, 1971), which reprints Margaret Fuller Ossoli, Woman in the Nineteenth Century and Kindred Papers Relating to the Sphere, Condition, and Duties, of Woman, ed. Arthur B. Fuller (Boston, 1855). This edition is particularly troubling because it is prefaced by her brother's apologetic and sanctimonious assurance that, despite her intellectual pursuits, his sister had never "neglect[ed] the domestic concerns of life' (p. 6). Happily, a selection of Fuller's work is now in press that will include a reprinting of the original 1845 edition of Woman in the Nineteenth Century in its entirety, with all appendices: see Margaret Fuller, The Portable Margaret Fuller, ed. Mary Kelley, forthcoming (New York, 1994). (20) Edgar Allan Poe, The Literati of New York City. - No. IV. Sarah Margaret Fuller," Godey's Magazine and Lady's Book 33 (August 1846), rpt. in Critical Essays on Margaret Fuller, p. 37. (21) Margaret Fuller letter to Caroline Sturgis, 4 Mar. 1839, in The Letters of Margaret Fuller, ed. Robert N. Hudspeth, 5 vols. (Ithaca, 1983-84), 2: 59; hereafter cited as Letters. (22) Margaret Fuller to Ralph Waldo Emerson, I Mar. 1838, Letters, 1: 327. (23) Caroline Healey Dall, Historical Picture Retouched. A Volume of Miscellanies (Boston, 1860), p. 261; hereafter cited in text as HP. (24) (Margaret Fuller), "The Great Lawsuit. Man versus Men. Woman versus Women," The Dial 4, no. 1 (July 1843), 1-47. (25) Laraine R. Fergenson, "Margaret Fuller in the Classroom: The Providence Period," in Studies in the American Renaissance 1987, ed. Joel Myerson (Charlottesville, Va., 1987), p. 131. (26) Judith Strong Albert, "Margaret Fuller's Row at the Greene Street School: Early Female Education in Providence, 1837-1839," Rhode Island History, 42 (1983), 43. (27) Richard Whately, Elements of Rhetoric ... From the Third English Edition (Boston, 1832); hereafter cited in text as ER. By 1837, when Fuller began teaching at the Greene Street School, Whately's third edition had become one of the standard rhetoric texts assigned in schools and colleges across the United States. The book was well enough known to be featured in an 1838 advertisement for Greene Street (see Albert, "Margaret Fuller's Row," p. 53), which suggests that it was also the text used for training the boys in rhetoric and public declamation. (28) Harriet Hall Johnson, "Margaret Fuller as Known by her Scholars," Christian Register (21 April 1910), rpt in Critical Essays on Margaret Fuller, p. 135; hereafter cited in text as MFK, (29) Ray E. McKerrow, "Richard Whately's Theory of Rhetoric," in Explorations in Rhetoric. Studies in Honor of Douglas Ehninger, ed. Ray E. McKerrow (Glenview, Ill., 1982), p. 146. (30) While Elizabeth Palmer Peabody kept summary notes, and while some participants made general statements about the conversations in their journals and letters, only Caroline Healey Dall attempted to record accurately the actual give and take of discussion, noting who said what and incorporating her own candid impressions of the participants and their ideas. (31) Caroline W. Healey, Marpret Fuller and Her Friends, or Ten Conversations with Margaret Fuller upon the Mythology of the Greeks and its Expression in Art (Boston, 1895), p. 46. (32) It is entirely possible that Fuller prevailed upon her friend, the bookstore owner Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, to secure for her from London the revised and expanded sixth edition of Whately's Elements of Rhetoric (London, 1841); in that event, Fuller worked from a text with additional illustrative material - but its structure and arguments remained identical to those of the earlier third edition which she had taught at Greene Street. In fact, nothing substantive from the third edition was cut; more examples and an occasional clarification were simply added in the revised sixth edition. (33) Marie Urbanski reminds us (MFW, pp. 161-62) that Fuller was later vindicated when a young Boston woman, in the face of her husband's illness, captained a ship around Cape Horn en route to California in the 1850s. As Urbanski points out, this incident "caught the imagination of many people" and elicited more respectful responses to Fuller's original remark. (34) In Frank Shuffleton's "Margaret Fuller at Greene Street School: The journal of Evelina Metcalf," in Studies in the American Renaissance 1985, ed. Joel Myerson (Charlottesville, Va., 1985), p. 38, Metcalf's journal entry for 12 Dec. 1838 records that our Rhetoric lesson which was on Persusion to-day was very well recited. It spoke of the province of the orator and the requisites of a perfect orator." (35) While Whately employed occasional martial imagery throughout his text, such images are never as brutal, nor are they as concentrated and as elaborate, as those in part 2, E,R pp. 117-67. (36) Stanley E. Fish, Self-Consuming Artifacts (Berkeley, 1972), p. 1. (37) See Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay, "Self-reliance" (ca. 1839-40), in Selections from Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. Stephen E. Whicher (Boston, 1957), pp. 147-68. (38) Although Fuller is never cited as a source, recent work in rhetoric and composition theory has reconsidered the meaning of convenation as a formal discourse, including most notably Gregory Clark's Dialogue, Dialectic, and Conversation: A Social Perspective on the Function of Writing (Carbondale, Ill., 1990).
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Author:Kolodny, Annette
Publication:New Literary History
Date:Mar 22, 1994
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