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.
Do you like our self-referential title? Yeah, me too.
Greetings from the too-long-absent For Shame ladies. Guess what! We all graduated. We have alma maters now. That sounds sort of like a skin disease or an extra organ.
In a post-graduate effort to reclaim my literary experiences, one of my first acts of adulthood was to choose to read a history book. It is from the first chapter of this book that I got my inspiration and a lot of information for this post. So let’s give credit where credit is due: the first 24 pages of When the Astors Owned New York by Justin Kaplan are totally boss and you should go pick up a copy.
So, have you ever heard of a Waldorf Salad? How about the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel? Or the neighborhood Astoria, Queens? Probably you have because the Waldorf is like the second most famous salad in history. And that hotel is THE fanciest hotel in the world, and that neighborhood is like, you know, a neighborhood or whatever. I’m pretty sure the nanny was from there. No, no, she was from Flushing.
My point is: These salads and buildings and hoods sound familiar because they are named after members of the great American Dynasty, the Astor Family. ASTORia. Get it? And Waldorf is because the original John Jacob Astor (not to be confused with John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmitt) was from Waldorf, Germany, so a few of his progeny bear the name of his birthplace.
The patriarch immigrated to America in 1784 when things were still really swampy and gross here, and moved to New York City (formerly known as New Amsterdam). You might be thinking that he went into the apple-growing business since that’s all that I thought was going on in New York during that time, but actually he married a cute wench named Sarah and together they built an enormously successful, international fur-trading empire. But because it was hard to run an international fur-trading empire without cell phones, Astor did a sort of last-minute career change (which was really during his retirement in the 1830s) and started buying land in New York. (Check out this map of Manhattan about 15 years before Astor Numero Uno moved to the big city.) He was the first guy to be like, “Investing in New York real estate is smart!” He bought low and he watched the value of his land skyrocket in the last few decades of his life. When JJA died at age 84 (he must have been one of like five people living over 60), he was our country’s first multimillionaire, with a net worth of about 20 million dollars (that’s about $110 billion in the 2006 market). He was making about 1/107th of the entire US GNP. Take that Oprah. But most importantly, Mr. Astor had started one of America’s first “blue-blooded” dynasties.
So here’s where things get scandalous. Two John Jacobs later we get John Jacob Astor IV who’s main occupation, other than making craploads of money in real estate, is being THE baller of turn-of-the-century Manhattan. Remember that at this time even though silent film was at its height the real “celebrity” of early 20th century America was the millionaire. So everything John Jacob was doing, like gambling and drinking, and just being an all-around awesome guy to party with, was covered by the press.
When he was 27, he tried to curb the ol’ bachelor way of life by marrying a lady named Ava Lowle Willing. They had two kids together. One of those kids, the second one, was rumored to have been the bastard of Ava’s lover. Sort of shocking for the time, right? But JJA wasn’t so good at being a devoted husband either and he was probably out on the town getting his D wet all over the place, too. Even though they were both kind of publicly not into each other, New York society folk were appalled when Ava sued Astor for d-i-v-o-r-c-e and accused him of adultery (pot kettle black?).
Because divorce was so taboo, even in 1909, many people believed that if you got divorced, you shouldn’t get another chance at the whole marriage thing. “You fuck up once, too bad,” the religious people said I think. So it was even more fabulously scandalous when less than two years after he and Ava called it quits, the 47 year old divorcee put a ring on the finger of 19-year-old Brooklyn socialite Madeleine Talmage Force. After the engagement, she became the (oh I don’t know, I suck at pop culture) Brittany Spears of her time? People followed that bitch around and took pictures of her, that’s what I’m getting at.
But this isn’t where the scandalosity stops. JJA and Maddie started courting as early as September of 1910, not too long after his d-i-v-o-r-c-e, when he invited her whole family to hang out at his house in Bar Harbor. Which is not not a party that I would have diiiieeeeed to go to. They got married one year later, in September of 1911 and immediately started their honeymoon in Europe.
In Europe, like women are like to do, she got pregnant real fast. Because these were blue blooded American folk and thinking about the future political career of their unborn child, they were all, “This kid needs to be born in America, y’all,” and they nabbed two seats on a brand new ship called the FUCKING TITANIC.
This story just got a little ICY didn’t it. Didn’t think this was the direction we were headed (at too fast of a speed for the vessel of its size) did you??
So, they’re on the Titanic, they eat dinner with some red-headed slut and a really hot poor guy named Zack or Jack or something, and the boat hits an iceberg. JJA is like, “Be calm, bitch, I got this.” He straps his baby mama into one of those totally helpful cork life-jackets and escorts her (like a boss) to lifeboat #4. As he’s helping her onto the boat, he says to the dude with the paddle, “Listen bro, my wife is in a delicate condition, ifyouknowhatimsayinnnn??” The guy was like, “No, man. I mean, yeah, I get what you’re saying, but no you can’t get on the boat. Women and kids only. And by kids, I don’t mean small goats.” So he’s like, “Fine, whatever. Later, toots.”
After that, he supposedly met up with some of his bros (including the Isador Strauss, one of the first owners of Macy’s who was also probably the only Jew on the ship), played some cards, and then, you know, drowned on the fucking Titanic.
But get this: The same newspapers who printed a bunch of nasty stuff about Astor getting remarried, calling him Jack Ass — because his nick-name was Jack and his last name was Astor (which is actually like really clever when you think about it), were all of a sudden printing a bunch of crap about the poor Mr. Astor who saved his bride and blah blah blah. He was, after all, the richest person to die in the sinking. The fuckin media, amirightpeople??
So, like a boss, Madeline became one of the richest women in the country. She got a ton of money outright, and a trust fund, and a trust fund for their kid, and rights to live in the Astor apartment on 5th Avenue as long as she never remarried. She did end up remarrying eventually and moving out of that undoubtedly swank-ass house, but she enjoyed it for four or five years. The newspaper headline when she married her childhood friend read, “Four Years a Widow, She Gives up Income of Millions for Love of Girlhood Friend,” which is kind of sweet and lovely or whatever. And then she got divorced, and then remarried and then divorced. Whatever.
All right. Now let me do the little thing I do where I give the scandalous individual whose story I have exploited a redeeming moment by talking about their accomplishments. Well first of all, even though Astor IV married a girl less than half his age and was a spoiled trust fund baby, the guy was undoubtedly a hard worker and did not just sit on a fortune already built for him, he grew it, too. He built the Astoria Hotel, next door to the hotel his cousin built, the Waldorf Hotel. (It would of course become the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.) He was also a science fiction novelist, an inventor, and a bit of an engineer (he helped develop a turbine engine.) And he helped out a little in the Spanish American war too by lending the government his yacht.
But being the snazziest Patriot this side of the Atlantic doesn’t always mean you’ll survive a tragic ship sinking incident that will set the tone for the entire century. But it does mean that you’ll make headlines and have salads named after you. So, you know, win some lose some.
Stay tuned this week as we crank out two more posts before we unleash upon your asses one of our most exciting theme weeks ever!! (I don’t have the go ahead from my colleagues to announce the theme, so one of them will do it in their upcoming posts. It’s REALLY GOOD. I’m serious. Fucking read this week is all I’m saying.)