Friday, March 22, 2013

Megan Marshall's "Margaret Fuller: A New American Life"

Megan Marshall's first biography, The Peabody Sisters: Three Women Who Ignited American Romanticism, won the Francis Parkman Prize, the Mark Lynton History Prize, the Massachusetts Book Award in Nonfiction, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in biography and memoir. Marshall spent twenty years researching and writing the book, traveling to archives in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Virginia, Ohio, California, and Washington, D.C., and finding answers to longstanding mysteries in the Peabody and Hawthorne families.

Here Marshall shares some ideas for casting an adaptation of her second biography, Margaret Fuller: A New American Life:
Margaret Fuller was born thirty years before the invention of photography, but she lived the most cinematic of lives. An intellectual prodigy and brilliant conversationalist, she talked her way into the genius cluster centered around Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau in mid-nineteenth-century New England. But the life of the mind wasn’t enough for her. At thirty-five she took a job as front-page columnist for Horace Greeley’s New-York Tribune. The only woman in the newsroom, she sought out the seamy side of the great metropolis, visiting its prisons, mental asylums, and orphanages, interviewing prostitutes, Irish immigrants, and the insane, and made these characters the centerpiece of her passionate advocacy journalism.

After two years in New York, she persuaded Greeley to send her to Europe as a foreign correspondent, reaching France and Italy during the 1848 revolutions, where she befriended all the important radicals of the time. She was the lone American journalist in Rome during the brutal 1849 siege, and she tended the wounded revolutionaries as a hospital nurse while carrying on an affair with a young soldier who became the father of her son, conceived out of wedlock and born in secret in a hill town outside of Rome. When the short-lived Roman Republic collapsed, the three sailed for America only to be drowned in a shipwreck 300 yards offshore at Fire Island in a near-hurricane. Margaret and her lover’s bodies were never found; two-year-old Nino washed to shore where the few surviving sailors buried him in a trunk in the sands.

These brilliant lives deserve a brilliant, slightly eccentric cast. Rebecca Hall would make a perfect Margaret–not a classic beauty, but luminous, wry, infinitely captivating. Her young lover: Emile Hirsch. The emotionally guarded Ralph Waldo Emerson, a man of vision and orphic pronouncements: Jon Hamm. Giusseppi Mazzini, the ascetic Italian soldier-intellectual who led the revolution and relied on Margaret to promote his cause in the American press: Adrien Brody. And Adam Mickiewicz, the sybaritic Polish poet-in-exile who tempted Margaret to fulfill her earthly passions: Javier Bardem.

In Europe Margaret had two significant older female mentors–the brilliant French novelist (and Chopin’s lover) George Sand, a charismatic woman who liked to wear men’s suits: Meryl Streep; and the refined radical, Princess Belgioioso of Rome, who appointed Margaret to run the ancient hospital on the Tiber Island during the siege: Helen Mirren.

“The scrolls of the past burn my fingers still,” Margaret wrote of an intimate series of letters she’d exchanged with Emerson. The story is as hot today as it was in 1850, when the whole world mourned and was scandalized by Margaret Fuller.
Learn more about the book and author at Megan Marshall's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Peabody Sisters.

Writers Read: Megan Marshall (October 2007).

--Marshal Zeringue