Hey guys. Hey. It’s me. JAF. I’m not dead. I’m not even critically injured, horrifically maimed, or otherwise physically incapacitated. I’m just lazy. So incredibly, amazingly, astoundingly, mind-bendingly lazy.
I last appeared as a blip on the proverbial blogosphere radar 6 months ago, and I genuinely have no adequate reason for my absence from this, my internet baby. So I’ll just put it out there that MRG, LHB and KAB are the best (and most forgiving) minds of my generation and thankfully they have not been destroyed by the madness of my Chris McCandlessian self-indulgence. Thank you, bless you, I’m sorry, let’s move on.
As it so happens, I am currently back in the Old Country, from whence the germ of this blog was first conceived, studying the things I study the best—whiskey, unfiltered cigarettes, odd sleeping hours, and Medieval Literature. So as a “welcome back, old bean” sort of post, I’d like to introduce you to a dear, dear frienemy of mine, Petrarch.
I often ask myself hypothetical questions to while away the hours in between my various pretentious activities, and I have pondered on more than one occasion, “Can I have a deep and
completely only somewhat irrational antipathy towards someone that I have not only never met, but who died approximately 600 years ago?” When it comes to Petrarch, the answer is absofuckinglutely.
You see, Francesco Petrarca, as the Eyetalyuns knew him, was the first to call that roughly thousand year period between the Fall of Rome and the beginnings of the European Renaissance, “The Dark Ages.”
What an utter bastard he was.
As a member of the Italian intellectual class, and an early Renaissance humanist, Petrarch didn’t cast too kindly an eye upon the lives and times of his forefathers—and who can blame him, really? The oceanic-trench of a chip on my shoulder about how people don’t “appreciate” the “cultural” “flowering” of the medieval period is my cross to bear, and hopefully some day I’ll be able to hear that most well-meaning of phrases, “Oh, you study the Middle Ages? So you like Ren Faires, right?” without weeping. So, as a staunch defender of my world lit only by fire, I fundamentally despise Petrarch in the same way that popular fiction tells us dogs fundamentally have to pee on fire hydrants.
But I also feel bad for Petrarch. You see, among all his genuine achievements—like collecting, preserving and translating a multitude of Classical writings that would most likely been lost without his efforts, and various original writings on Christian philosophy, diplomacy and the usage of the Latin language—Petrarch is, and probably will only ever be, remembered best for his incredibly passionate, declarative poems to a woman he met once.
There’s a certain type of sympathy (alright, it’s actually pity) I reserve for men who spend their lives writing reams to a slampiece they’ll never have. Everyone knows this is a well–honored literary tradition—Petrarch was by no means the first sad sonovabitch to lust after that (always) perfect and (always, for some unfathomable reason) unobtainable poon, nor will he be the last. But thank Jesus for those men down the ages who have tried to come to terms with their goshdarned unfortunate sexual frustration through painfully personal verse, and, either because of shamelessness or on the “advice” of vindictive friends, have decided to let the world in on their emotional constipation and published that shit. Well, thank Jesus for the talented ones, anyway.
Petrarch’s muse was a lady named Laura. They supposedly met in church in 1327, and for the next forty years, almost to Petrarch’s death, he put pen to parchment in her imaginary honor. The collection of his 366 poems is called Il Canzoniere, and is perhaps the biggest influence on love poetry in Europe for the next 300 years. Divided into two sections, “in vita,” and “in morte” by Laura’s death in 1348, Petrarch deals largely with the fact that no matter how much he loves Laura (which makes him happy), he can never have her (which makes him sad), so he refuses to pursue her (since that would be sinful, and sin makes him sad), and just has to deal with loving her passionately from a distance (which makes him sad-happy). (s’dappy).
It all sounds very “dear diary,” since, well, you know, it is, but Petrarch can be forgiven for all the sex he ensured he was not having, because his poetry is so stupidly, asininely, heartbreakingly beautiful. Goddammit I just want to hate him, but he hurts my heart too much:
“If it, indeed, must be my fate,
and Heaven works its ways,
that Love close up these eyes while they still weep,
let grace see my poor body
be buried there among you
and let my soul return to its home naked;
then death would be less harsh
if I could bear this hope
unto that fearful crossing,
because the weary soul
could never in a more secluded port,
in a more tranquil grave,
flee from my poor belabored flesh and bones.”
So while it’s not a particularly scandalous return, I stick by my choice. Because, like that other great Latin poet of libidinal verse said, “I hate and I love.” So here’s to you, Petrarch—you’re too talented to join the great and ever-growing pantheon of pseudo-intellectuals which contains my other nemesi, but I can still have my revenge and tell
the readership of this mildly popular blog the world about how you spent your life alternating between verbally crying and masturbating over The Pussy on a Corinthian Column.
“Fortune and Love, and my own mind, which shuns
what it sees now and turns back to the past,
afflict me so that there are times I feel
envy for those who’ve reached the other shore.
While Love wears out my heart, Fortune deprives it
of any comfort, and my foolish mind
gets angry and it weeps—so in great pain
forever I must live and fight this way.
Nor can I hope the sweet days will return,
I see what’s left me go from bad to worse,
and I’ve already run half of my course.
Alas, not made of diamond but of glass
all of my hope I see slip from my hands
and every thought of mine split down the middle.”
What an utter bastard he was.
I know what you’re thinking. I’ve been thinking it too. Where are all the sexy Transcendentalists?
Well, of course there’s my No. 1 Literary Heartthrob Forever of All Time, Hank Davey Thurrow. But I’ve got another one for you right fucking here.
As an undoubtedly avid reader, I know you remember that I promised you a post on Margaret Fuller, nineteenth century America’s Ur-Authoress, a long, long time ago. On Leap Day, in fact. February 29th.
And you know what? I can make this relevant. I have found relevance. Listen. Shh. It totally works, because according to most Western folk traditions, on Leap Day we otherwise lowly ladyfolk are permitted to propose marriage to our male betters, despite our hysterical uteri, walnut-sized brains, and 77% human value. CRAZY, I KNOW. But Maggie Fuller was a proto-feminist and was preaching for lady-equality all over the Union long before Suzie Anthony and Liz C. Stanton hopped on the suffrage gravy train. In other words, upon observing that gender-swapping Leap Day tradition, Maggie probably would have said, “Aw, that’s cute,” and then punched a dude in the balls.
For this and many other reasons, Margaret Fuller is one of my personal heroines. Girlfriend was DOING. IT. FOR. HERSELF. and would have fucking hated me for calling her “girlfriend” just then. I mentioned that she did a lot for women’s lib in its very, very early days, but she also essentially established academic scholarship as a viable career for women. Which is hella cool considering that in 1850s America, “career women” were hookers and “scholarship” for regular, middle-class, non-hooker women was basically your seventh grade Home Ec class, but with a greater emphasis on popping out male babies and less about making a shitty, ill-fitting pair of pajama pants. So I’m going to spend some time telling you how fucking great she was, and then I’ll get to the sex.
Okay, I know I’ve been doing a bit of man-shaming (which is almost man-shaving, but not quite), but Maggie really owed her intellectual prowess/streak of badassery to her dad, who taught her how to read and write by age three. He forbade her from reading the sentimentalist fiction (x = good girl + rakishly charming man + seduction + pregnancy and/or STD and/or the Tube + girl dies) that was SOFUCKINGPOPULAR among female readers, and instead forced her to learn Latin and read Virgil. Good man. By the time she was old enough for finishing school (because even geniuses need to learn how to curtsey), she’d learned more than most contemporary statesmen.
Naturally, such a badass bitch wasn’t really going to thrive in Silver Polishing 101 or Accepting Marital Submission 345, so 16-year-old Mag returned home to the Boston ‘burbs, where she just picked up that learnin’ thing right where she left off, mastering several modern languages and studying world literature. Know what I did when I was 16? Maintained a Xanga account with gusto, aggressively fantasized about making out with a few choice varsity baseball players, and listened to Dashboard Confessional unironically. Choices.
Within a decade, she was regarded by a lot of people as the most well-read PERSON (not lady, not twentysomething, but PERSON) in New England. I still aspire to be the best-read person of my parents’ two children, so SNAPS THE FUCK UP. She decided to pay the bills by very successfully doing a little freelance writing and translation, since she was a walking, talking SparkNotes/RosettaStone hybrid. Then she wrote a biography of Goethe. Then she taught in two all-male prep schools. Then she started a series of ladies-only “conversations” about scholarship in the humanities. Then Ralph Waldo Motherfucking Emerson, vainglorious pimpernel of my heart, invited her to edit The Dial, his Transcendentalist journal. Then Nathaniel Hawthorne met her, thought she was a pistol, and based Hester Prynne on her. Then she traveled through the Great Lakes region and wrote a fascinating anthropological/geographical tome about it. Then she turned 34.
Instead, I’m going to GET INto the GETTING IN, ifyouknowwhatimean.
By this time, Maggie had developed a fucking sparkling resume, and therefore had no trouble getting a job as The New York Tribune‘s first female foreign correspondent. She spent most of her time in England and Italy, where she got to drink that sweet, addictive expat Kool-Aid, play Christiane Amanpour, and interview non-Muggles like George Sand and Thomas Carlyle. And Giuseppe Mazzini, an Italian journalist/activist or whatever, unimportant.
What IS important is that Joe Mazzini introduced Maggie to his BFF Giovanni Ossoli: a sexy twenty-six year-old rabble rousing disinherited marquis with kind eyes, a swarthy complexion, and a thing for older bookish ladies. Set phasers to FUCK.
And Maggie and Giovanni really did fuck. Like a lot. In the scandalous, premarital kind of way. They even moved in together in Florence after only a couple of months, just to better facilitate the scandalous sextimes. And also probably because they were So Crazy In Love. She called him “the home of my soul,” which makes my chest tight. Those charming, hirsute Italian motherfuckers. Melting exceptionally erudite ladyhearts into nothing.
But notably, they were not married, and it’s never been proven that they ever were. I mean, the Italian government was in the middle of being overthrown, so I guess they could stay under the scandal-radar (scandaldar?), but Giovanni was all for ball-and-chaindom. He’d managed to slam the genius-est slampiece in the Western world, and he knew he had a good thing going with Maggie. He wanted to lock it up. But Mag still had those aforementioned gender-equality morals, and as a Protestant, she was a little uncomfy marrying a Catholic. Hey, she was modern everywhere else, throw her a bone. Or a BONER (nailed it).
This, I think, proves how fucking good Maggie was at getting shit done — she just started calling Giovanni her husband, and people (including Emerson) were like, “OMG, so sorry I missed the wedding! What was your dress like? Did you get a DJ or a band? Did Uncle Larry get drunk?” If only that move could work today. I’d have been in the books as Mrs. Henry Cavill a LONG time ago. And remember, this was the 1840s/50s, a time when family life, and therefore, marriage, was essentially the center of a woman’s existence. Maggie threw that bullshit right back, AND NO ONE EVEN BOTHERED TO DOUBLE CHECK. Bless.
So, considering their penchant for living in sin and round-the-clock banging, it’s actually sort of a shocker that Maggie didn’t get knocked up for a whole year. Little Angelino was born in September 1848, and was the cutest, smartest baby in day care. But shit got real for the Fulller-Ossolis in 1850 when Pope Pius IX unleashed a Catholic-guilting campaign on the crumbling Roman Republic. Papal control of the country was bad fucking news for revolutionaries, many of whom were wanted for treason.
In addition to being a ladygenius, evidence suggests that Maggie was also a Trelawney-level clairvoyant. In early 1850, just before fleeing The Land of Tomato Sauce and Paintings, Mag wrote this to a friend:
“It has long seemed that in the year 1850 I should stand on some important plateau in the ascent of life… I feel however no marked and important change as yet… I am absurdly fearful and various omens have combined to give me a dark feeling… It seems to me that my future upon earth will soon close… I have a vague expectation of some crisis—I know not what.”
Now, if I had a persistent and prolonged feeling of dread like hers, and I was forced to flee my adopted country as the consort of an enemy insurgent, I might ponder the fact that Europe has a lot of countries in it, and a lot of those countries would welcome asylum seekers, and then I’d just flee to one of those. Switzerland, probably, because it borders Italy, it’s accessible by rail, and they have fondue. But that really wasn’t Maggie’s style. She was ambitious. It was her thing. So she grabbed her husband and their little meatball and set sail for the US, passing dozens of equally safe countries JUST BECAUSE.
Remember Maggie’s eerie premonition? Grab a Kleenex.
Mag, Gio, and li’l Angelino boarded an American freighter carrying Carrara marble, large statues, and other especially heavy shit in May of 1850. There was a minor outbreak of smallpox en route, and Angelino got it but miraculously recovered. The ship’s captain didn’t fare so well, and died about halfway through the journey. But everything was going okay otherwise, so Mag probably thought she was out of the weeds with regard to her recent Miss Cleo tarot reading.
And for the first time in her life, MARGARET FULLER THOUGHT WRONG.
When ship captains die or are otherwise indisposed, first mates are put in charge. That’s what happened this time, except this first mate (whose name was Mr. Bangs, which somehow makes this all feel a little lighter) was essentially a 17-year-old man-child who had incidentally never been called upon to dock a giant freighter before.
So he drove it right fucking into a sandbar in rough water less than 100 yards from Fire Island. You may be thinking that that’s a totally swimmable distance, which it is, but recall that this ship was loaded with lead pipes and bowling balls and anvils and other comically heavy objects. It sank within minutes. A lot of the other passengers swam to shore, but Mr. Bangs reported seeing Maggie on deck, trying to convince Giovanni to take their son and swim for it. BUT. HE. WOULDN’T. LEAVE. HER.
The Fuller-Ossolis were some of the last passengers on board, and crewmen later recalled seeing a giant wave pull Giovanni overboard, at which point Maggie also disappeared.
The shipwreck was a huge tragedy for a lot of reasons (like locals ran to the shore to salvage the valuable cargo and just sort of watched people drown less than 50 yards away), but Emerson and his Transcendentalist friends went apeshit. Hanry Darnell Theroux, my sweet asexual dreamboat, rushed to the scene a few days later to try to recover any of the Fuller-Ossolis’ remains, but he could only find the body of little Angelino. Shit. Emerson and Horace Greeley pushed the publication of a lot of new editions of Mag’s writing, and even slapped together a well-intentioned but totally inaccurate biography that went on to become one of the decade’s best-sellers.
Emerson and Co. were pretty sure that Maggie’s work would just float into the historical ether and be completely forgotten but turns out they were just a bunch of Negative Nancies. In fact, one of Mag’s biggest scholarly contributions was her call for the development of a distinctly American literary canon, and almost immediately after her death, the American Renaissance gained serious steam. The Seneca Falls Convention was heavily based on her writings. Summer on the Lakes is taught in American lit classes everywhere. James Cameron made Titanic, which is not about her but I’d argue that the last thirty minutes of that shitfilm parallel her last thirty minutes of life, so…Margaret Fuller was and is TRAILBLAZING and RELEVANT, dammit.
Moral of today’s story: get all the book-learnin’ you can, work hard on important things, and love will find you in the form of a delicious Mediterranean boytoy. And fucking listen to the fucking Delphic Oracle in your head next time.