A few years back I decided it was finally time to meet a mistress. She had held my heart for years, but we had never met, and she was far away. Her name was New England. I loved her rocky shores of Maine, but for me, at her heart was Concord Massachusetts .
I had first known Concord as a boy with a school binder depicting a battle fought there. Later, as something to do with my grape jelly. Eventually, Concord Mass would take hold of me through the writings of Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Walden was like a church hymnal to me, and when I finally made my pilgrimage it did indeed feel like church. Other names would be linked to this small town. Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Alcotts. But a name I only had a passing familiarity with was that of Margaret Fuller
Miss Fuller is a new novel by April Bernard. We are introduced to the novels namesake without delay, through Fuller’s death aboard a ship on her way home from Europe. She was returning home amid some controversy and with her latest manuscript in hand. Henry David Thoreau is dispatched at the request of Emerson to the site of the wreck to tend to matters, and hopefully retrieve the manuscript. Fullers last book was never found, but Thoreau did find a cache of letters written by Fuller to Sophie Hawthorne, wife of Nathaniel. We are first introduced to Fuller through small vignettes of memories by the other characters. We are given all that we do not know about her. Then in the middle section of the book we are told the truth, through the letters, and the voice of Fuller herself.
Most of the story is told in hand with Thoreau’s younger sister Anne. Who initially reflects upon the passing of Fuller as “A moment of wincing, not weeping.” At her kindest she observes that those who cared for her the most seemed “relieved” that she was gone. Yet years later, it is Anne who leaves it to fate and chance to allow what her legacy would be.
Concord remains a magical place for me. I was delighted to spend time back there through fresh eyes and a gifted tongue. Bernard captures the time with perfect voice, and balances multiple timelines with ease. Margaret Fuller is a novel, but the author tells us that it is ground in fact. Of all that I have read of this time, in that place, I have never read fiction. I still do not feel that I have.