Margaret Fuller on national culture: Political idealism through self-culture

Date of Completion

January 2006


Literature, American




This dissertation places Margaret Fuller's writing in the context of nineteenth century views on national culture and consequently explores the influence of self-culture on her views of reform. An examination of Fuller's literary criticism and her major works shows that self-culture formed a consistent foundation for her idealism. Much of the material examined in this dissertation, especially her early literary reviews and some of her New York Tribune journalism, has not been widely discussed. Scholars have debated whether Fuller abandoned her ideas of self-culture when she moved to New York in 1844 or when she traveled to Europe in 1846. A close reading of her writing shows that she defined self-culture in terms of collective and individual experience and this broad definition served her vision of reform throughout her career. While Fuller wrote on social and political issues such as women's rights, slavery, and the government's treatment of Native Americans, she was not especially concerned with politics or oppression based on race, class, or gender. Her persistent concern was the belief that American culture was best served by the influence of the self-cultivated individual. ^ As a result of this concern, she proposed a view of the self-made American that opposed materialism and promoted idealism about individual and collective intellectual experience in America. Fuller's view of the self-cultivated individual fits within the tradition of American exceptionalism; however, she promoted a vision of the self-made American as well-educated, thoughtful, and tolerant of differing points of view. She believed that if individuals pursued these qualities, America would fulfill its millennial destiny as a uniquely cultivated, democratic nation. ^