A native Californian, Megan Marshall inherited her love for New England from her childhood home’s previous owners, who had left behind many possessions, including their 1880s edition of “Little Women,” among other books. IT WAS one introduction to the region’s “vast cultural history” from which her most recent book, “Margaret Fuller: A New American Life,” springs.
Marshall, who will read at the Peabody Institute Library at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, says her hope was that the new book would “read as much like a novel as possible.” With an enormous archive of diaries and letters left by Fuller and her circle, Marshall paints a rich portrait of the most notable, if misunderstood, woman among the New England Transcendentalists. Fuller grew up in Cambridge at a time when Harvard was closed to women; because of her formidable intellect, Marshall says, “she was seen as having a man’s mind in a woman’s body.”
Leaving New England for New York and then Europe, Fuller found in her outsider status “the liberation to be a critic,” Marshall says; as a journalist, Fuller investigated and wrote about “diverse human experiences,” including women’s rights, marriage, mental asylums, prison reform, and prostitution. “She felt that these prostitutes were women just like her,” Marshall says, adding that “to write that publicly was incredibly radical.”
Overseas during the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, Fuller died just two years later, too young to take part in her generation’s feminist movement, but her legacy influenced it and its descendants. Yet she is little known today. For such a trailblazing daughter of New England to have fallen out of fame, Marshall says, was “a terrible wrong that had to be righted.”
Perhaps this is the culmination of that childhood New England dream. “Every day that I go into work” — Marshall teaches at Emerson — “I can’t believe that I’m working there right on the Common.” She goes on: “It all seems too good to be true. Margaret Fuller was a heroine of mine in college. I feel really privileged to have written her life.”