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Transcendental Roots

Margaret Fuller and German Romanticism

Bryan Hileman, VCU

Margaret Fuller was the greatest proponent of German Romantic literature in the transcendentalist circle. At times she even though of herself as being more Germanic than transcendental. Her knowledge of the German language was far superior to that of Emerson. Goethe was the one great intellectual love of her life, though Schiller, Novalis, Bettina von Arnim and Jean Paul Richter certainly had their place.  Fuller read virtually everything that Goethe ever wrote, as well as translating his Torquato Tasso. She worked on a biography of Goethe throughout her life, though it was never completed.  Many of her essays for The Dial were defenses of German literature and of Goethe in particular.  She also translated Eckermann's Conversations with Goethe and von Arnim's Gunderode.  Novalis was as well a great favorite, for he appealed to her mystical side. Friedrich Schiller's On Na´ve and Sentimental Poetry had a great influence upon her critical theory. There is also in the work of Goethe the conception of a spiritual form of energy that certainly influenced Fuller's Woman in the Nineteenth Century.  Fuller did more than anyone did in her time to bring German romantic literature to America.

Fuller was influenced by German Romanticism in the development of her prime duality between the masculine and the feminine.  Dualities are key to the work of both Goethe and Schiller, and Fuller certainly absorbed these.  Theirs is more of an Apollonian/Dionysian structure, however, as opposed to Fuller's masculine/feminine.  For Fuller "each individual self consists of not a single nature but in effect two natures---masculine and feminine---combined in different proportions." (Chai, 343) For the Germans, the division is between the rational, intellectual Apollonian side and the emotive, sensual Dionysian side. Fuller envisions the two natures flowing into each other, whereas for Schiller the aesthetic urge to create serves as a mediator between the two.

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