Margaret Fuller (1810-1850) is best known as a Transcendentalist, a friend of Ralph Waldo Emerson, and first editor of the Transcendentalist publication, The Dial. She is considered a feminist by those familiar with her early work, Woman in the Nineteenth Century. Fuller was also a literary critic and author of "A Short Essay on Critics" the seminal American work on literary criticism. Her theory of criticism, like the criticism of Matthew Arnold twenty years later, was based on the philosophy of Goethe.
After stepping down as editor in 1842, Fuller continued to contribute criticisms and essays to The Dial until joining the editorial staff of Horace Greeley's New York Daily Tribune. It was during this two-year period that Fuller perfected her criticism and authored many stirring sociopolitical essays. When she left New York for a tour of Europe, Fuller agreed to write a series of letters--travelogues--for the Tribune. Her career as journalist was now that of foreign correspondent. Her letters combined her travel experiences with a comparison of social institutions in America and Europe, and these essays began to show her developing radical spirit. Eventually, after meeting the Italian revolutionary Giuseppe Mazzini, she became involved in the Roman Revolution of 1848, not only as an observer and recorder of its history through her letters to the Tribune, but as a participant, working as administrator and nurse caring for wounded soldiers in a Roman hospital.
Following Mazzini's defeat Fuller began a history of the Roman Revolution, but unfortunately, was never able to complete her work. She had put her career as literary critic and sociopolitical essayist behind her, never having received the encouragement she so desperately needed from Emerson and her New England peers.
Beginning with Mason Wade's The Writings of Margaret Fuller, a collection of her critical works, there have been many publications on Fuller, but few that mention the importance of her criticisms. In 1980 Joel Myerson published Critical Essays on Margaret Fuller, a compilation of Fuller's early critics, and in 1992 Jeffrey Steele's The Essential Margaret Fuller praises Fuller as a literary critic. The most complete work on Fuller's criticism, Margaret Fuller, Critic, was published by Judith Mattson Bean and Joel Myerson in 2000. Despite the efforts of these authors to present Fuller as an important American literary critic, she continues to be portrayed as the Transcendentalist editor of The Dial, a friend of Emerson, and a feminist.
Recently Fuller was included in the major literary anthologies, but only with her Woman in the Nineteenth Century or a variation of that early feminist work. It is time to consider the addition of her most important literary critical essay, "A Short Essay on Critics" as well as her significant appeal to her fellow writers to create a true American literature, "American Literature." This thesis focuses on Fuller's critical works along with the early criticisms of her writings in order to highlight her most valuable contribution to American literature.