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Second Volume of Charles Capper’s Biography of Margaret Fuller Published

The second volume of Charles Capper’s biography of Margaret Fuller hit bookstores in May.

In 1992 Charles Capper, a professor of history in the College of Arts and Sciences, published a biography of 19th-century intellectual, journalist, and women’s rights theorist Margaret Fuller (1810-1850). Margaret Fuller: An American Romantic Life Volume I: The Private Years had positive reviews from both mainstream and academic magazines and received Columbia University’s Bancroft Prize for the best book in American history in 1992. Since then Capper’s name has often appeared in reviews of books and articles on Fuller — speculating about the second volume.

Speculation ended in May when Margaret Fuller: An American Romantic Life Volume II: The Public Years was published.

The two volumes comprise a full-scale account of Fuller’s life and an unprecedented intellectual biography of the transcendentalist thinker. “I thought she was a very important figure who hadn’t been given her due,” Capper says, adding that previous biographies of Fuller do not give a true portrait of “a woman of ideas who engaged with other people of ideas.”

“The second volume was more of a formidable task,” according to Capper, detailing the later part of Fuller’s life, when she wrote her major works and traveled more frequently across the United States and Europe. To learn more about her work, Capper sifted through 25 volumes of private letters and manuscripts at Harvard University’s Houghton Library alone.

He also did research in Europe, an unusual location for U.S. historians. “American historians don’t have quite the same fun as European or Asian historians,” he says. “I spent a good part of almost every summer for nearly 10 years in Italy.”

His research in Rome was particularly exciting — he found documents there regarding much-debated questions about Fuller’s personal life. Capper says his findings prove that Fuller had a child out of wedlock, a fact that was suppressed by 19th-century biographers, and that she afterward married, a fact often suppressed by 20th-century biographers.

Capper recently gave the 2007 Harvard Square Lecture for the Unitarian Universalist Historical Society as part of the promotion for the book’s publication. He is the coeditor of Modern Intellectual History, published by Cambridge University Press.

Rebecca McNamara can be reached at ramc@bu.edu.