ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance
"Margaret Fuller's Visions"
Many of the central tropes in Fuller's body of work turn on scientific concepts drawn from Goethe's Theory of Color (1810) and other scientific texts she knew, including Leibniz's Monadology (1714) and Faraday's Experimental Researches in Electricity (volume 1, 1839). Goethe's optical theories, along with a general nineteenth-century fascination with optics, raised for Fuller questions about subjectivity and perception, questions explored in the content and form of her writing.
This essay demonstrates the extent to which concepts from Theory of Color shaped the text of Fuller's Summer on the Lakes, in 1843, inspiring kaleidoscopic descriptions of the American frontier and the Native American people. Through the multiple viewpoints of these passages, Fuller presents keen assessments of nineteenth-century American gender and racial bias. Goethe's theories, among an array of new developments in optics, challenged subject/object distinctions, helping to generate the proto-modernist multiple perspectives of Fuller's renderings of the western landscape and enabling her anticipation of a pragmatic epistemological mode conducive to a modern feminism.