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Summer on the Lakes in 1843 (Prairie State Books)

Summer on the Lakes in 1843 (Prairie State Books) by Margaret Fuller

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Summary

Book Description (From the Publisher)

In 1843 Margaret Fuller, already a well-established figure in the Transcendental circle of Emerson and Thoreau, traveled by train, steamboat, carriage, and on foot to make a roughly circular tour of the Great Lakes.

"Summer on the Lakes, in 1843 was Margaret Fuller's first original book-length work, the product of her journey through what was then considered the far western frontier in mid-nineteenth-century America. . . . [The book] is, at least in part, an intensely personal account of Fuller's own inner life during the summer of 1843. She shared with the Transcendentalists the belief that internal travel--what Emerson called travel within the mind--was the most significant kind of journey. Her travel away from New England to visit such places as Niagara Falls, Mackinac Island, and Rock River, Illinois, is symbolic of a larger journey that Fuller was making in her mind: her departure from Emersonian idealism and her subsequent revision of Transcendentalism. The result is a particularly rich form of autobiography. . . . Summer on the Lakes, in 1843 occupies a pivotal position in Margaret Fuller's development as a writer, a Transcendentalist, and a feminist. This portfolio of sketches, poems, stories, anecdotes, dialogues, reflections, and accounts of a leisurely journey to the Great Lakes is, at once, an external and an internal travelogue. Drawing on historical sources, contemporary travel books, and her own firsthand experience of life in prairie land, Fuller used the opportunity of visiting the frontier to meditate on the state of her own life and of life in America--both as they were and as she hoped they might become."-from the Introduction

Review

4 out of 5 stars Enjoy a trip to the Midwest of the past, December 15, 2002

By Corinne H. Smith (Athol, MA USA) (TOP 500 REVIEWER)       

Many American literature textbooks cover the topic of Transcendentalism with selections from just Emerson and Thoreau. Why they don't include some of the essays of Margaret Fuller is a mystery, especially in our current age of political correctness and emphasis on diversity. She provides a woman's opinion of life in general and of the landscape and people of the Midwest in particular in this, her first published book.

_Summer on the Lakes, in 1843_ is first and foremost a travelogue of Fuller's tour of the Midwest, and we follow her to Chicago and Milwaukee and into rural Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin. Her trip not only predates her friends' visits to the same area (Emerson first came through by stagecoach in 1850, and Thoreau took the train in 1861) but it also offers more observations about the people and the living conditions out on the prairie. Fuller had more time to spend roaming and adventuring, and she seems to have been more interested in the local culture than the men later were. (Or perhaps Emerson and Thoreau figured that Margaret Fuller had already provided the world with descriptions of the region, so they need not bother.) Midwestern readers should particularly enjoy the historic look at familiar landscapes, written at a time when white settlements were just beginning to congeal and take hold.

Secondarily, Fuller focuses much of her writing on the plight of American Indians and also of women in general. She had read a great deal about the native people and seems disappointed to find that most of the Black Hawk War survivors had already moved west by the time of her visit. She also points a critical eye to the fate of the members of her gender who were helping to eke out a living on the prairie: "The great drawback upon the lives of these settlers, at present, is the unfitness of the women for their new lot." ... All domestic labor "must often be performed, sick or well, by the mother and daughters, to whom a city education has imparted neither the strength nor skill now demanded." (p. 38) And yet, many of the people she meets seem to be happy; and while life is hard and without most amenities, entertainment (even the occasional piano!) and merriment can abound.

The narrative tends to languish when Fuller digresses into long-winded stories of the plights of specific women she either knew personally or heard about second- or even thirdhand. While these plot interruptions get tedious to the casual reader, they are further glimpses of feminine life in the early 19th century. Seen in that light, they can provide interesting diversions to the travelogue.

Original illustrations by Fuller's traveling companion, Sarah Ann Clarke (sister of James Freeman Clarke) augment the text. This edition's introduction by Susan Belasco Smith helps to bring perspective to the trip and the writing. Recommended especially for residents of northern Illinois and to anyone interested in Midwestern history, transcendentalism, or women's studies. [This reviewer was an Illinois resident when these comments were written.]


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