Documentary Editing, Association for


Date of this Version


Document Type



Documentary Editing, Volume 20, Number 1, March 1998.

ISSN 2476-1796 (electronic); ISSN 2167-1451 (print)


1998 © the Association for Documentary Editing. Used by permission.


Silences are editors' bad luck: someone before us loses the evidence; our subject outsmarts us and refuses to say what we want most to hear from her; we ask questions she never even thought to answer. Let me make up some biographical conclusions from my reading of Margaret Fuller's letters: first, she had no interest in radical abolitionism or even in more moderate antislavery efforts in New England. Second, she almost never read and cared nothing for Charles Dickens, the most popular writer of his time. Third, she never rode the horse trolleys in New York City during her twenty-month stay there; and finally, she was a brave sexual rebel, for she never married Giovanni Angelo Ossoli, though they had a child and she introduced him as her husband.

I must confess that none of her biographers make these claims, though they have read the same letters that I read. What I am doing is reading her silences. I am attributing substance to silence (which, by the way, I must note is a clever game played among our colleagues who embrace postmodern speculation). Because Fuller never once mentions William Lloyd Garrison by name I am fancifully assuming she ignored him; because she has only one mention of a Dickens novel and because she is silent about his triumphant visit to Boston in 1842, I leap to the conclusion that he meant nothing to her. In the same way, she never mentions public transportation in any city, nor does she describe her wedding to Ossoli. (It is only this last silence that has in fact drawn biographers into an endless speculation.)