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The War on WordsSlavery, Race, and Free Speech in American Literature$
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Michael T. Gilmore

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780226294131

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: February 2013

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226294155.001.0001

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Fuller: History, Biography, and Criticism

Fuller: History, Biography, and Criticism

(p.75) Fuller: History, Biography, and Criticism
The War on Words

Michael T. Gilmore

University of Chicago Press

This chapter describes Margaret Fuller and the issue of women's rights in her work, although she did not complain directly of slave power censorship, but she was consumed by the question of language's efficacy and sought a renovated tongue on behalf of her sex. “Her acts are bookish,” Poe says, “and her books are less thoughts than acts.” Fuller's writings have been portrayed as anything but dense and often knotted in their constructions, allusive, crammed with quotations, many in foreign tongues, and concluding with not one but eight arcane appendices. How could such an irremediably “bookish” piece of writing be construed as an action? The description may seem mocking, but Poe expresses respect for his subject—a figure of “high genius,” he calls her—and if we read his words sympathetically, they contain some important insights about the author of Woman in the Nineteenth Century (1845). Fuller possesses a polemical strain, and her feminist classic, which helped catalyze the women's rights movement that gathered at Seneca Falls in 1848, had a greater influence on antebellum culture than the unread “Civil Disobedience.” This chapter looks at Fuller's commitment to scholarship or literary criticism as a mode of communication that, far from being an encumbrance on the present.

Keywords:   Margaret Fuller, bookish, Woman in the Nineteenth Century, polemical strain, feminist classic, women's right, Civil Disobedience, literary criticism

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