College of Arts and Sciences

Department of English

ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance

Judith Mattson Bean

"'A Presence among Us': Fuller's Place in Nineteenth-Century Oral Culture"

This essay explores Fuller's significance through the careers of five women who acknowledged her influence and followed her example to become independent thinkers and speakers: Elizabeth Oakes Smith, Caroline Healey Dall, Mary Livermore, Ednah Dow Cheney, and Julia Ward Howe. Fuller's importance becomes clearer with recognition that she created a vibrant legacy through public speaking in the "golden age of oratory," when an eloquent voice rivaled literary production for cultural esteem. This study presents a genealogy of reception in which women writers and lecturers transmit a positive image of Fuller in a variety of speech events, such as lectures, memorials, and public conversations. Women writers who knew her struggled with enduring issues of her reputation: was she, for example, an exceptional "woman of genius" or a representative of the female writer's potential? Furthermore, because these writers contributed not only to building Fuller's reputation but also to writing the history of American transcendentalism, which Fuller with Emerson came to symbolize, their work illuminates intellectual currents and conflicts in postwar American culture more broadly.

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