Project Spotlight: Transcendental Erotics, Raina K. Puels, MFA Creative Writing

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Transcendental Erotics

Relationships are always of interest to me. Especially queer relationships. The summer before I started at Emerson, I read Megan Marshall’s Pulitzer Prize winning biography of Margaret Fuller where she details a “romantic friendship” between Fuller and her friend Caroline Sturgis. Megan didn’t feel like she had enough evidence from Fuller’s letters and journals to say conclusively if the women had sex, but the queer in me wanted it to be true.

This semester, I’m taking Megan’s “The Literature of Transcendence” course. Each student chooses a research topic, so naturally I gravitated toward the personal relationships of the Transcendentalists. The first assignment of the semester is to write a creative piece related to Transcendentalism for The New Dial, the class’s literary journal and a revival of The Dial. The original Dial ran from 1840-1844 and published the likes of Margaret Fuller, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau (whose name, according to Megan, is actually pronounced thorough). For my piece, I want to write a poem about the relationship between Fuller and Sturgis, using scholarship about their relationship as a factual basis.

Megan presented me with A Female Genealogy of Transcendentalism which included “Soul Sisters and the Sister Arts: Margaret Fuller, Caroline Sturgis, and Their Private World of Love and Art,” an essay by Kathleen Lawrence.  Lawrence quotes Fuller’s journal: “At night C. & I lay down on the bed, as we had done every night. We both went to sleep and kept waking now and then. It was a time of deep life, and has had a permanent effect on my life” (Lawrence 85).  Lawrence posits these “erotically charged sentences” “suggest… physical consummation of some kind” (85).  She quotes the next passage from Fuller’s journal: “Every since I have been soothed and still” and remarks this passage “intimates the psychological and physical release that can accompany an orgasm” (85). BINGO. This is the type of scholarship like Megan’s I live to read, scholarship that breathes life into the private lives of women!

The essay provides other written material from Fuller that is fertile with beautiful moments from her relationship with Sturgis. A passage from Fuller’s journal reads: “I lay on my bed in the twilight room. Cary came and lay there with her head on my bosom” (85).  In a letter to William Henry Channing, Fuller writes of a two-week beach-side vacation she and Sturgis took together: “Late tonight, from the highest Paradise rocks, seeing Cary wandering… so spectrally passing into nature amid the pale brooding twilight, I almost thought myself in the land of souls!” (84).  I hope to use images like these to write a poem that recreates the erotic and intellectual tension between Sturgis and Fuller. Stay tuned! The poem will be posted on The New Dial at the end of February.


Works Cited

Lawrence, Kathleen. “Soul Sisters and the Sister Arts: Margaret Fuller, Caroline Sturgis, and Their
Private World of Love and Art.” ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance, vol. 57 no. 1,
2011, pp. 79-104.


About the Author

Raina K PuelsRaina K. Puels is a second-year Creative Writing MFA candidate, an Editor-in-Chief of Redivider, a Graduate Admission Ambassador at Emerson, and an instructor in Emerson’s First Year Writing Program. She’s working on a full-length memoir and a chapbook of filthy form poems. When she’s not writing, you can find her petting her cat Layla or covering her face in glitter. To read her many published works, check out her website. To keep up with pictures of Layla, follow her on Twitter