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by Daniel Bullen
Ralph Waldo Emerson—that ever-relevant grandfather-philosopher of American letters—raises important questions about marriage and freedom, commitment and self-fulfillment.
Emerson himself never tried to reinvent the institution of marriage, but his close friend, the writer Margaret Fuller, was more radical. Born in 1810, she had received a boy’s first-class education, and by the time she was in her twenties, she was so well-read that she had given up any hope of a normal woman’s role, in marriage or in society.
Still unmarried at thirty, Fuller pressed Emerson for an intimacy deeper than their friendship. Emerson would not betray his marriage, but in their journals, both writers questioned the value of monogamous marriage for men and women of genius.
When she realized that Emerson was not as radical as his writing suggested, Fuller went to Europe, where she married an Italian Count. Giovanni Ossoli was barely literate, but Fuller thought that she could still fulfill other sides of herself in other relationships.
Fuller never got to live out her experiment in marriage: she and her husband died in a shipwreck on returning to America in 1850. But the questions Fuller’s life had raised—about how to reconcile marriage and self-reliance—are still echoing now, in our discomfort with marriage—and with any of the alternatives.
An enlightening and emotionally charged narrative, The Dangers of Passion recounts the passionate friendship in which Emerson and Fuller:
First learned to trust themselves and their hearts before any other authority
Discovered the delightful freedom of shared intellectual passion
Worked together to advance a philosophy of Transcendental self-reliance
Quarreled over Emerson’s inability to give Fuller deeper fulfillment
Questioned the value of marriage for men and women of genius
Consoled themselves in marriages that lacked the intellectual and philosophical passion of their friendship.
"The Dangers of Passion is a physically beautiful volume, and the contents are worthy of it, a provocative exploration of an adventurous friendship in which one social rebel challenges another."
— Bell Gale Chevigny, author of Margaret Fuller: The Woman and the Myth, and Doing Time: 25 Years of Prison Writing.
“What a remarkable story—absolutely solid and gracefully written…this story really does justice to a complex relationship.”
— Ann Woodlief, Curator, American Transcendentalism Web, Emeritus Associate Professor, Virginia Commonwealth University
“I was delighted with The Dangers of Passion—it’s a sensitive, insightful, and well-written account of an important personal relationship between two major figures in American thought and letters.”
— Len Gougeon, former President, The Ralph Waldo Emerson Society, author of Emerson & Eros: The Making of a Cultural Hero.
About the author:
Daniel Bullen was raised in the suburbs of New York City and took a Ph.D. in English in 2003. After teaching in the honors college at UMass Amherst, he left an academic career to write. His first book, The Love Lives of the Artists: Five Stories of Creative Intimacy, was published by Counterpoint Press in Berkeley, in the fall of 2011.