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Sunday, February 14, 2016

Margaret Fuller in Rome: "Rome must be inhaled..."

Margaret Fuller
As is the case with Goethe, it appears the 19th-century American Transcendentalist Margaret Fuller first had sex in Rome.  Not that I want to start a Facebook page on this topic, but the effect of Rome on artists is a subject RST has been exploring for years.  And for Fuller, the apparently plain-faced, 37 year-old genius, Rome "must be inhaled wholly, with the yielding of the whole heart,...It is really something transcendent, both spirit and body."  And so she did.

This post is in essence a short biography of Margaret Fuller in Rome, including locations that can be turned into an itinerary.  At the end is a link to a Fuller-inspired tour being offered this year by a knowledgeable American group.

I must admit my infatuation with Margaret Fuller came late and via an Italian friend.  After Bill and I drafted our first guide to Rome, Rome the Second Time, we asked this highly educated friend to review it for us.  After he had read the itinerary that includes Garibaldi's defense of Rome from the Gianicolo in 1848, he said, "Of course, you know Margaret Fuller."  Of course, I did not.  All those English courses at Stanford, an MA in English, lots about Transcendentalists, and nothing about Fuller.  No doubt the syllabus would be different today.

So, yes, we included a few sentences about Fuller in RST.  But it was only when I read Megan Marshall's 2014 Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, Margaret Fuller: A New American Life, that I understood that early feminist's effect on Ralph Waldo Emerson, among many others, and Rome's effect on her.
Via del Corso, where Fuller first lived in Rome, as a nanny for the Springs, as it might
have looked mid-19th century, with no vehicles (this photo taken recently, at dawn)
Giovanni Ossoli
Within a week of her arrival in Rome in spring 1847 as tutor for the 9 year-old son of fellow New Englanders, Rebecca and Marcus Spring, Fuller had met her future lover, the younger, not well-educated, monolingual Giovanni Ossoli.  It was a chance meeting, at vespers at St. Peter's during Easter week.

At the time, Fuller was living with the Springs on via del Corso, nearer Piazza Venezia than Piazza del Popolo.  We don't know the exact address, and now - unlike when Fuller lived there -  the imposing monument to the unifying King Vittorio Emanuele II occupies the view at the southern end of the street.

Via del Corso, no. 514, where Fuller lived when she
 returned to Rome by herself, in fall, 1847.  Ossoli found
her this apartment, close to where he lived with his parents
 - who knew nothing of his relationship with Fuller.
When Fuller returned to Rome after the 1847 summer, Ossoli found an apartment for her closer to Piazza del Popolo on via del Corso, then the most active street in the city.  Upstairs at 514 via del Corso, she could look across to the rooms Goethe, one of her influences, occupied more than 50 years earlier.

By the new year, Margaret was pregnant, and endured her first trimester with more than 40 days of unremitting rain in Rome.  "Rome is Rome no more." But in March she went to Ostia with Ossoli and "A million birds sang." By late April, the likely unmarried Margaret was "showing," and she had to leave Rome to avoid detection by anyone who knew her.  She left for the country mountain town of L'Aquila in the Abruzzi, then 3 days travel from Rome (now 2 hours by train), where she felt "lonely, imprisoned, too unhappy."  She was called a "ragazza madre," literally "girl mother," but probably equivalent to "unwed mother."
The flags mark Goethe's house, which Fuller could see from
her window at 514 via del Corso.

Meanwhile - and that's a big meanwhile - forces vying for control of Italy were raging along the peninsula. Soon not even L'Aquila was safe, because Neapolitan soldiers, loyal to the Pope, were encamped there.  So Margaret moved to the even smaller city of Rieti, with rooms overlooking the Velino River. In Rieti, on September 5, 1848, "Nino" was born.

After Nino was baptized, Fuller left the child with a wet nurse in Rieti and returned to Rome and to her job writing dispatches for the New York Tribune.  She resumed her column with an early December 1848 issue, recalling a year of "revolutions, tumults, panics, hope."

Ossoli located an apartment for Fuller at 60 Piazza Barberini, where she could see the Quirinale (then the Pope's palazzo), Bernini's Trident Fountain in the middle of the Piazza, and Palazzo Barberini, now partly obscured by mundane commercial buildings.
On Piazza Barberini, where we think #60 might have once been.

We looked for 60 Piazza Barberini.  Not only is the "modest stucco building" no longer there, but neither is the address.  It was likely swallowed up by new streets, such as via del Tritone.  Fuller biographer Marshall says Bernini's Bee Fountain was at the foot of Fuller's building, but that too has been moved since the 19th century.

From her rooms on Piazza Barberini, Margaret could hear gunshots from the various forces and see wounded men carried on stretchers.  In February the secular state was proclaimed, and from a balcony in Piazza Venezia, Margaret watched the celebrations there.

Via Margutta, where Thomas Hicks, who painted Fuller's
portrait, had a studio.  No one we encountered on the street
had heard of Hicks, or Fuller (but they''ll tell you where Roman
Holiday was filmed and where Fellini and Masina lived).

In the tranquil first few months of this new Roman state, Margaret walked the Borghese gardens, as she had 2 years earlier with little Eddie Spring.  Now the oak trees all had been cut down, for fortifications.   But the Republic was short-lived.

The stained glass symbol for the Fatebene Fratelli hospital
(featured, btw, in Angels and Demons)
With more wounded soldiers and civilians, Margaret found a role for herself.  On April 30, 1848, "Margherita Ossoli" was appointed "Regolatrice," or director, of Fatebene Fratelli hospital, functioning to this day on Isola Tiburtina, the Tiber Island in the middle of Rome.  By this time, French troops loyal to the Pope were advancing on Rome and Fuller was urged to go to a safer location.

She relocated to Casa Diez on via Gregoriana, just a couple blocks from Piazza Barberini.  This hotel had been favored by American and English tourists but, because of the revolution, was now almost empty.  We couldn't find the hotel, nor any trace of its name.  But via Gregoriana, leading to the top of the Spanish Steps, remains a popular location for foreign tourists.

Via Gregoriana - but we are not sure where the hotel Casa Diez
was located

On July 2, routed by the French, Garibaldi led his remaining troops out of the city.  Fuller watched as they passed by the obelisk in back of San Giovanni in Laterano. The next day the French troops marched into Rome.  Fuller spent her last night in Rome on the Pincio with her husband, who was camped there with his regiment.  She then left for Rieti to reclaim her son.

Fuller and Ossoli, who soon joined her, spent several weeks in Rieti, hiring a new wet nurse for their ailing son (the prior one had given him wine and water when her milk supply was short) and bringing him back to health.  They then left for Florence, where there was an American contingent. They finally booked passage on the only vessel they could afford, a cargo boat to the US, and left Livorno, on the coast near Florence, on May 17, comprising 3 of the 6 paying passengers on the "barque." It was supposed to be a 2-month voyage.  And so it was.  On July 19, the vessel went aground off Fire Island.  Only a few hundred yards from shore, Fuller, Ossoli and their son drowned.


Large parts of this narrative are derived from Megan Marshall's excellent biography, Margaret Fuller: A New American Life.  And parts were gleaned from an itinerary for a bicentennial commemorative tour of Italy following Fuller's life there.  The organizers planned to place a plaque at Fatebene Fratelli Hospital in Margaret's memory.  We looked extensively and asked many questions, but we did not see any plaque there, nor did there appear to be any similar plaques at the hospital.  Some of these same organizers are leading a 2016 tour based on transcendentalists in Italy.  See their Web site 


mary jane cryan said...

There is a plaque in Piazza Barberini, by chance I noted it during a walk. Another excellent biography of Fuller is by John Matteson. Check my blog about this:
Great reporting !
Mary Jane

Dianne Bennett and William Graebner said...

Great, Mary Jane - where exactly is the plaque - is it near the Tritone fountain. In your post (very nice!) you mention it as you approach the fountain.

Dianne Bennett and William Graebner said...

Here's an interesting comment left on our email by a professor friend who teaches American culture (who also reminded me - and forgave me for forgetting - we took a course together and that course included Fuller - maybe why he's a professor and I'm a tax lawyer):
"Ah, yes, Margaret, who died so sadly on the Outer Banks so long ago. Her book on women in the 19th century remains a revolutionary text for those in the feminist movement. I used it often in the U.S. History Survey course but few of my students, also sadly, appreciated her as much as I did.

What a life! To live and die so young. Still, her literary imprint is large and your walking all those neighborhoods to bring back a remarkable, almost unbelievable, time of awakening is very much appreciated."

Tom Rankin said...

Nice to see this article Dianne and Bill. As it turned out, I helped Megan with the research (just a little) and my sister Jenny is the mind behind Transcendentalist Tours (which I consult to).

Gail Spilsbury said...

The palazzo where Margaret lived at Pz Barberini still stands and I was able to stay in her quarters, which are now part of a B&B--her space now divided into more than one room.
This info in the blog should be updated:

We looked for 60 Piazza Barberini. Not only is the "modest stucco building" no longer there, but neither is the address. It was likely swallowed up by new streets, such as via del Tritone.