The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Margaret Fuller’s Italy Comes to Life

Author and MHS Fellow Megan Marshall recently published a new biography of Margaret Fuller titled Margaret Fuller: A New American Life (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2013), and on the evening of Wednesday, 13 March, she joined with Italian folk musicians Newpoli to honor Margaret Fuller’s time in Italy.

A Massachusetts native, Fuller was, in Marshall’s words, an “intellectual prodigy and brilliant conversationalist.” In the 1840s, Fuller organized the “Conversations” discussion group in what is now the Jamaica Plains neighborhood of Boston, and came to know many prominent intellectuals in the Boston area. Fuller befriended Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau and joined the growing American Transcendentalist movement. An accomplished writer, she cofounded the Transcendentalist publication the Dial, and became its first editor. Horace Greeley then hired Fuller to be a front-page columnist for the New York Tribune and eventually sent her to Europe as a correspondent.

Fuller’s travels led her to Italy in 1847 when she met a young Italian man named Giovanni Angelo Ossoli and they became lovers. They had a child together and then married. Fuller lived in Italy until 1849, and this period of her life was the focus of the MHS event. Marshall spoke of Fuller’s feelings of contentment during her respite in Italy. “Rome fulfills my hopes,” Fuller wrote. She witnessed the Roman revolution of 1848 and became enamored of Italian culture.

That Italian culture was on display at this event in the form of traditional Italian folk music. After a reading by Marshall, Newpoli took the stage and serenaded a captivated audience with songs ranging from tarantellas to ballads. The songs touched on subjects as diverse as funny tongue-twisters about fish to sad tales of corruption in church and government.

In a great tragedy, Margaret Fuller, her husband, and their young son died in a shipwreck just off the coast of Fire Island, New York, on their return voyage from Italy. But in listening to her story and hearing the music she experienced on the streets of Rome, it was easy to feel her presence still inspiring the Boston intellectual and cultural scene.

permalink | Published: Friday, 15 March, 2013, 8:00 AM


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