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Bright Circle

Five Remarkable Women in the Age of Transcendentalism

Fuller, Randall (University of Kansas, University of Kansas, Herman Melville Distinguished Professor of Nineteenth-Century American Literature)

Bright Circle

Bright Circle

Five Remarkable Women in the Age of Transcendentalism

Bright Circle


Bright Circle tells a little-known story of five women who contributed to the literary and philosophical movement known as transcendentalism and, in the process, inaugurated what became the feminist movement.

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Beschrijving Bright Circle

A group biography of five women who played path-breaking roles in the transcendentalist movement

In November 1839, a group of young women in Boston formed a conversation society “to answer the great questions” of special importance to women: "What are we born to do? How shall we do it?" The lives and works of the five women who discussed these questions are at the center of Bright Circle, a group biography of remarkable thinkers and artists who played pathbreaking roles in the transcendentalist movement.

Transcendentalism remains the most important literary and philosophical movement to have originated in the United States. Most accounts of it, however, trace its emergence to a group of young intellectuals (primarily Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau) dissatisfied with their religious, literary, and social culture. Yet there is a forgotten history of transcendentalism--a submerged counternarrative--that features a network of fiercely intelligent women who were central to the development of the movement even as they found themselves silenced by their culturally-assigned roles as women.

Bright Circle is intended to reorient our understanding of transcendentalism: to help us see the movement as a far more collaborative and interactive project between women and men than is commonly understood. It recounts the lives of Mary Moody Emerson, Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, Sophia Peabody Hawthorne, Lydia Jackson Emerson, and Margaret Fuller as they developed crucial ideas about the self, nature, and feeling even as they pushed their male counterparts to consider the rights of enslaved people of color and women.

Many ideas once considered original to Emerson and Thoreau are shown to have originated with women who had little opportunity of publicly expressing them. Together, the five women of Bright Circle helped form the foundations of American feminism.

OUP Oxford