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Miss Fuller: A Novel [Kindle Edition]

April Bernard
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)

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Book Description

    What does one sensitive but ordinary woman makes of a publicly disgraced woman like Fuller, and how do women make use of what they learn from other women?  Miss Fuller is a historical novel that also poses timeless questions about how we see and treat the exceptional and dangerous agents of change among us.  And it shows the price that any one person might pay, who strives to change the world for the better.
     It is 1850.  Margaret Fuller--feminist, journalist, orator, and "the most famous woman in America"--is returning from Europe where she covered the Italian revolution for The New York Tribune.  She is bringing home with her an Italian husband, the Count Ossoli, and their two-year-old son.  But this is not the gala return of a beloved American heroine.  This is a furtive, impoverished return under a cloud of suspicion and controversy.  When the ship founders in a hurricane off Long Island and Fuller and her small family drown, her friends back home, Emerson and others of the Transcendentalist Concord circle, send Henry David Thoreau to the wreck in hopes of recovering her last book manuscript.  He comes back declaring himself empty-handed--but actually he has found a private and revealing document, a confession in letters, of a strong and beloved woman's life like no other in the 19th century.  Her account of the life of the mind and body, of experiences in Rome under siege, of dangerous childbirth and great physical and moral courage--are eventually revealed to her one reader, Thoreau's youngest sister, Anne.
She was the most famous woman in America.  And nobody knew who she was.


Editorial Reviews

Review

An Indie Next Selection

"This is a perfect read for book clubs or humanities classes: spare, elegant, and with a wealth of potential material for discussion." -- Historical Novel Society

If you only have room for one small book in your picnic basket or your carry-on luggage for that flight to the beach, you might want to make it Miss Fuller by April Bernard, a slender, haunting historical novel about the life and death of 19th century feminist pioneer Margaret Fuller, literary colleague of Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Every word in this too-brief wonder of a book is just right: precise, luminous, evocative. – Julia Keller in the Chicago Tribune


"Recent biographers have plumbed Fuller's life, teeming with incidents and arresting personalities . . . but their endeavors lack the spare elegance of April Bernard's novel." –  Minneapolis Star-Tribune

"In simplest terms, the question with any book review is 'should I read this book? Is it worth my time?' The answer: yes! The question might go a little deeper. Does this book do something for me? Again, yes! April Bernard’s Miss Fuller is a must-read if you’re a fan of historical fiction, a lover of beautifully printed small format novels with gorgeous cover design, or if you’re interested in early American writers like Hawthorne, Thoreau, Emerson, and of course the controversial early feminist, Margaret Fuller. If your interests are exclusively in structure and story arcs, this novel’s a gem." – Nancy Freund at Necessary Fiction

“This is the best kind of historical fiction. . . . Miss Fuller is a rich insight into the intellectual camaraderie and competition among the Transcendentalists. The story fairly bursts from the pressure of the early feminists striving to be heard at home, abroad, and in the hallowed halls of academia. . . . In many ways, this is the most robust portrait we have of Fuller because Bernard uses fiction to fill in the gaps between Fuller's own words and the perceptions of others that history has tossed us.”
– Susan Salter Reynolds in Los Angeles Review of Books

"An intense, fascinating jewel of a novel . . . I can't tell you how much I love this book." –  Carolyn See in The Washington Post

"A warmly sympathetic leap into the psychology of a compelling iconoclast. . . . These are the chambers of conjecture into which biographers are not permitted; Ms. Bernard enters them with sensitivity and brio." The Wall Street Journal

"Bernard weaves a fascinating novel."  The Boston Globe

"Poet and novelist [April] Bernard takes an unusual approach to historical fiction in this supple and concentrated tale. . . . Bernard's elegant, witty, vivid, and tragic portrait reclaims a vilified yet revered and influential thinker and visionary." Booklist

“Fact meets fiction in this intriguing historical novel expounding on the life and times of Margaret Fuller, a freethinking feminist writer and friend of Emerson and Thoreau, among others, on the Concord scene. In poet Bernard’s rendering, readers have an additional lens in Anne, a fictionalized sister of Thoreau’s, who, in her youth, attends one of Fuller’s Boston salons for ladies and then, later in life, becomes privy to a ‘lost letter’ written from the ship that would have returned Fuller from Europe to the States had it not sunk off Fire Island, killing Fuller, her Italian husband, and their young son. . . . Though Fuller’s untimely death was marked by sadness, it is the widespread relief evocatively etched in these pages that startles: no one knew what to make of this outspoken woman of dubious virtue, and a mother at that, leaving even the most progressive minds of the time to wonder if her tragic end wasn’t something of a blessing after all.” Publishers Weekly

“A letter from one woman to another washes ashore. This letter details the adventurous, fantastic, revolutionary life of Margaret Fuller. But will her words unite or divide? Will anyone read her letter at all? . . . Bernard skillfully contrasts the public and private sides of Fuller, crafting a book with rich imagery, emotional depth and a poetic rhythm.” ­Kirkus Reviews

“Highly recommended for those interested in the life of Margaret Fuller and for those who like feminist literature such as Kate Chopin’s The Awakening.” – Library Journal

"With beguiling intimacy and unparalleled eloquence, April Bernard recreates Margaret Fuller's tumultuous last years. Her account of the secret life of this very public woman is both painfully specific to women's lives at that time and yet wonderfully universal.  Fuller emerges from these pages in all her glorious complexity, as do the other transcendentalists who so reluctantly admitted her to their company.  An absorbing and, finally, heartrending novel."  Margot Livesey, author of Eva Moves the Furniture and The House on Fortune Street

"Miss Fuller is heartrending and utterly convincing, an aria and elegy for one of the great tragic souls of American literature. And what a dream cast April Bernard has assembled from Fuller's cosmopolitan wanderings: Henry Thoreau and his sister; the Hawthornes; George Sand; Mazzini; the great Polish poet Miczkiewicz. Bernard herself is a poet of extraordinary reach and panache. 'Where is our promised wind?' Fuller asks. 'Impatience is our companion.'  Christopher Benfey, author of A Summer of Hummingbirds and Degas in New Orleans


"April Bernard makes Margaret Fuller as likable and difficult, as inspiring and sad, as she must have seemed to her contemporaries, who were shocked by her revolutionary ideas and unorthodox life.  Original, brilliant, and moving, Miss Fuller meditates ruefully on the awkwardness of genius, especially if one were a nineteenth-century woman."  Alice Mattison, author of The Book Borrower

“A beautifully written and constructed gem of a novel that totally absorbed me into its world.” Caryl Phillips, author of Crossing the River

About the Author

April Bernard is a novelist, poet, and essayist. Her first novel, Pirate Jenny, was published in 1990; her most recent collection of poems is Romanticism (W.W. Norton, June 2009). Her previous poetry collections are Blackbird Bye Bye,Psalms, and Swan Electric. Her work has appeared in numerous journals, including The New York Review of Books,The New Yorker, The New York Times Book Review, The New Republic, The Nation, and Slate. She has taught widely and was for many years a magazine and book editor in New York City. Her honors include a Guggenheim award, the Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets, a Whitney Humanities Fellowship at Yale University, a Sidney Harman Fellowship, and the Stover Prize. She joined the English Department faculty at Skidmore in 2009 as Director of Creative Writing and is also on the faculty of the Bennington MFA Writing Seminars. The author lives in Saratoga Springs, NY.

Product Details

  • File Size: 991 KB
  • Print Length: 194 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: B00F7REC1O
  • Publisher: Steerforth (April 3, 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B005C5T072
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #781,418 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Using a big "what-if" to color in the details April 20, 2012
Format:Paperback
It's a challenge that tempts the writer. Take an omission of historical record, and fill it with the facts, the consequences, and the resolutions that only you can imagine. Base your version on as much real data as you can, to make the results seem plausible. Then launch it into the world and see if readers will accept this new but fictional truth.

When Margaret Fuller (1810-1850) died in a shipwreck off Fire Island, she left myriad questions regarding the last few years of her life. What had she REALLY done in Italy? Why was she attracted to Count Ossoli? Where and when had the couple gotten married, if at all? Why wasn't Margaret forthcoming in her letters and newspaper dispatches with the details and nuances of her personal life? What had happened to her book manuscript? The sketchy circumstances that led to her loss both saddened and confused her friends and family members at the time. Twentieth- and twenty-first-century scholars have continued to dig for the definitive answers, but have been left to speculate on some of the salient details as well. Enter writer April Bernard, who has come up with some possibilities that can tie up many of Margaret's loose ends, all presented in the package of a short novel.

The book is divided into three parts. Part One provides some backstory about Margaret, about the shipwreck, and about Henry David Thoreau visiting Fire Island to look for bodies and belongings. In this version, he finds a writing desk with papers in it. When he eventually peeks inside, he discovers a lengthy letter that Margaret penned to Sophia Peabody Hawthorne, in which she revealed EVERYTHING. Henry puts the desk aside. Part Two is the text of those sheets.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
Margaret Fuller might be one of the most famous American women you've never heard of; I really learned of her when I read The Margaret-Ghost by Barbara Novak. Since then, I've been pretty hot for her, and so I was over-the-moon to learn about a new novel about her and her life.

April Bernard's novel didn't disappoint, and I don't think one needs to be familiar with Fuller to appreciate and enjoy this story. Set in 1850, the novel opens with Fuller's tragic death -- a shipwreck that claimed her as well as her husband and son -- and Henry David Thoreau combing the beach for their bodies and their effects. His younger sister, Anne, muses on Miss Fuller and her legacy, her thinking, her life. But a good portion of the novel is an unsent letter from Margaret Fuller to Sophia Hawthorne, Nathaniel Hawthorne's wife, and it shows us Fuller's real fears, passion, and blind admiration for those in her life.

In some ways, the novel is less about Fuller than about the people around her, the men and women she called friends and loved like family, and the uncomfortably cold way (to me) they dissected Fuller and her life. This is a novel about reputation, too -- at least, that's something I took away. As Melanie Benjamin's Alice I Have Been made so clear for me, Fuller has to be accountable to the ludicrous judgments of the men around her. Her wisdom is tied in to her 'purity', and her normal, reasonable, understandable choices become the fodder with which the people she idolizes disparage her.

That the author is also a poet is no surprise, as there's a really lovely sense of language here, neither heavy nor ethereal. I'm reminded of other poetic novelists, like Anne Carson, and master wordsmiths like Ellen Feldmen and A.S. Byatt.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Lovely story June 22, 2012
Format:Paperback
I was very excited to read this novel. The fictitious Anne Thoreau was an endearing character, but I had a problem with the fact that she wasn't Henry Thoreau's real sister. Anne's point of view carries the novel, but other times the narrator is speaking about Anne (And the narrator often refers to "Mother" as if she is a daughter. So who is the narrator? Some mysterious person that would be revealed later? Never happens). I found this point-of-view variation odd. The letters of Margaret Fuller that Bernard invents go a bit far. They relate Margaret's deep personal feelings but that section became tedious after a while; maybe it was just too long and I was anxious to get back to Anne's perspective. The problem with the letters was that we didn't share the reading of them with Anne, who was very insightful. The reader reads them first in a rather cold presentation, then Anne reads them at the end. So, as a reader of the letters, I felt a great deal of distance from Anne and outside of Margaret as well. This disconnect was disruptive. But I still enjoyed the story and the peek into the past through Anne. I look forward to more of this author's work.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Takes us there October 15, 2012
Format:Paperback
MISS FULLER, A Novel

I opens in the Thoreau household with Anne (a fictional adopted sister) helping Henry prepare to go to Fire Island where the merchant ship went aground in a hurricane in which the lives of Margaret Fuller Ossoli, her husband, toddler son and three others were lost.

II is the supposed autobiographical letter from Margaret, written on this voyage in a "looping" hand, to the woman she assumed still her friend, Sophie Peabody Hawthorne, whose husband never let her read previous letters. He could well have disliked Fuller for her negative remarks in reviews in "The Dial." When Henry rescued her lap desk with the stained pages, and wrote Nathaniel and Sophie about this manuscript, Hawthorne replied neither of them were interested; burn it.

III. Anne, at age 12, had heard Fuller use the phrase, "a life complete," which she never forgot. In late middle age she secured an introduction letter to the men-only Harvard library to study Fuller, and concluded her friends and critics were relieved. "...that they would no longer have to read her exhortations to do good, to send money, to think more broadly, to consider the poor and the powerless...to wonder if women after all should be allowed to pester them in this way...". Leaving, Anne was ushered to the door "as if she were a horse that might rear in traffic."(167).

There are more descriptive delights that one hopes for in a novel. At the Boston "conversations," "Mrs. Deaver looked suddenly, ludicrously, shy, as if the granite of her face were visibly eroding to shale and about to slide away"(9), and Anne noted "the...[train] engine's side sneeze of steam."(29

I like the historical location and characters: Concord and the Transcendentalists and other writers and publishers of that time.
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