Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Margaret Fuller, Pioneering Feminist Author and Journalist

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The 19th century writer and journalist Margaret Fuller was brilliant, bold, feminist, and on her way to making a mark on par with her famous friends Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau when both her final manuscript and her life were lost in a tragic accident.

Born on May 23, 1810, in Cambridgeport, Massachusetts, Fuller was destined for greatness. The first-born of an ambitious lawyer, she was educated at the same level as boys of her social standing, and barred from wasting her time on the books of etiquette and romance typically given to girls. She later wrote of her father, "He hoped to make me the heir of all he knew."

Fuller could read by age 4, write by 6, and grew to be a voracious bookworm comfortable with both Greek and Latin. This made her a misfit among her peers, who often saw her as a pompous know-it-all. But Fuller eventually blossomed in Cambridge and in Harvard's culture of intellectualism, which inspired and embraced her. There, her wit and outspoken nature were largely valued over her marital prospects or looks.

American colleges did not yet accept female students, so further education was no option for this highly intelligent young woman. No matter. She'd begun drafting a biography of Goethe, and even taught herself German to better research his writings. But her father's unexpected death from cholera spurred the then 25-year-old Fuller to take work as teacher, so she might help support her widowed mother and younger siblings. Teaching led her to Boston and Providence, where she made friends who shared her passion for philosophy. Among these pals was Emerson, who famously described Fuller's company as "like being set in a large place. You stretch your limbs & dilate to your utmost size." 

By 1840, Fuller was writing and editing Emerson's transcendentalist journal The Dial. Her reputation in New England's intellectual community grew thanks to both this effort and the "conversations" (popular public discussions on art and female empowerment) that she hosted in the posh homes of Boston's intellectual elite from 1839 to 1844. These “conversations” drew the notice of New-York Tribune editor Horace Greeley, who hired Fuller as a literary critic for his newspaper, which was then on its way to becoming one of the most-read in the nation. But Fuller's greatest success was yet to come. // Public Domain

In 1845, Fuller made history with Woman in the Nineteenth Century, often considered the first major feminist work published in the United States. This groundbreaking book began as a series of Dial essays called "The Great Lawsuit. Man versus Men. Woman versus Women," where Fuller argued that men and women must see each other as equals before they can transcend to divine love. Fuller reasoned that ignoring our commonality was the base of much of America's sins, from the slaughter of Native Americans to the slavery of African-Americans. 

While her unapologetic politics ruffled the feathers of critics like poet Rufus Wilmot Griswold and soon-to-be Scarlet Letter author Nathaniel Hawthorne, Woman in the Nineteenth Century won praise from some of Fuller's most respected colleagues.

Thoreau heralded her accessible style, writing: "Miss Fuller's is a noble piece—rich, extempore writing, talking with pen in hand." And Edgar Allan Poe—a fearsome literary critic in his own right—declared Woman in the Nineteenth Century's politics "unmitigated radicalism," yet called her a "genius" and proclaimed: "[It's] a book which few women in the country could have written, and no woman in the country would have published, with the exception of Miss Fuller … I need scarcely say that the essay is nervous, forcible, thoughtful, suggestive, brilliant, and to a certain extent scholar-like."

Between her work for the Tribune and her book, Fuller had emerged as America's most respected female intellectual. But the time was ripe for a new adventure, and in 1846 she traveled to England and France, becoming the first female American foreign correspondent. During this time, she befriended Scottish philosopher and historian Thomas Carlyle and French novelist Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin, better known by her masculine pen name George Sand. The following year, Fuller became America's first female combat reporter, heading south to cover the Italian revolutions. There, she fell in with the Italian Independence movement, publishing stories from their base while helping out at their hospitals. And she fell for the dashing aristocrat revolutionary Giovanni Angelo Ossoli. 

Giovanni Angelo Ossoli,Harvard University, via // Public Domain

Theirs was a romance that rocked the New England intellectual elite for several reasons. For one thing, Fuller's love life was littered with "amorous friendships"-turned-heartbreaks. Often jilted, she'd lamented that no man nor woman could appreciate both her "woman's heart" and "man's ambition." Never regarded for her beauty, she was 37, essentially a spinster by the day's standards. More alarming, her beau was a penniless patrician who barely spoke a word of English, had no career to speak of, and was about 10 years Fuller's junior. But most shocking of all: Fuller gave birth to his illegitimate baby, Angelo "Nino" Ossoli, in September 1848. No marriage record has ever been found, although Emerson has suggested the two tied the knot in late 1847. However, it's possible he lied to protect the reputation of the friend he admired.

Yet revolution and romance were not all that occupied Fuller's time in Italy. She'd written a history of the short-lived Roman Republic, the Italian independence cause to which her partner was dedicated. Having been embedded in its rebellion, Fuller had a unique perspective on this republican state that she was eager to share with the world. In a letter to her brother, she confessed that she hoped her book could be "something good which may survive my troubled existence." But once the short-lived republic crumbled, the Fuller-Ossoli family decided to depart for America, hoping to find a home for their child, and a publisher for Fuller's manuscript.

But this would never be.

Without two pennies to rub together, Fuller couldn't afford steamship passage, and so scraped together enough to buy their way onto the merchant ship Elizabeth. It left Livorno in May 1850, setting out for a perilous journey across the Atlantic Ocean. In a letter penned before they boarded, Fuller divulged her fears about this big move, and all the change it brought. Read in the wake of what was to come, it sounds like a grim premonition. She wrote

"I am absurdly fearful, and various omens have combined to give me a dark feeling … I have a vague expectation of some crisis, I know not what … Yet my life proceeds as regularly as the fates of a Greek tragedy, and I can but accept the pages as they turn." 

On July 19, 1850, a heinous hurricane hit the Atlantic seaboard, running the Elizabeth aground a few hundred yards from the shore of Fire Island, New York. While much of its crew and captain scrambled ashore, Fuller and her family were last seen aboard. Accounts of their last moments differ, though all include ghastly descriptions of snapped masts, vicious waves, and lovers faced with impossible choices. Yet each version shares the same tragic end: Fuller and Ossoli drowned. Their bodies were never recovered. 

Urged by Emerson, Thoreau traveled to the small New York island to search for any sign of their dear friend, her family and—failing all else—her final work. Thoreau (years away from publishing Walden) tirelessly interviewed survivors and locals, desperate for a sign of hope. Instead, he found himself face-to-face with the body of Fuller's 20-month-old son in the back of a local's buffalo-pulled cart. He recalled in his heartbreaking notes, "The child had nothing but its night gown on at first it never cried at all When found it was quite naked."

Thoreau was furious, not only for the loss of his friend, but also because her death could have been prevented. His notes railed against the locals, calling them "wreckers on shore who were more concerned with recovering belongings than actually saving people from the ship." Thoreau believed these men "with their hats decked out with the spoils of the drowned" could have used their oyster boats to rescue the shipwrecked. Instead, Fuller, who could not swim, was robbed of hope by those who gladly robbed her trunks and possibly her greatest work. 

A drawing of Fuller's cenotaph in Mount Auburn Cemetery, via Flickr // Public Domain

Though Fuller's life and work was cut short when she was just 40 years old, this daring author won the respect not only of many distinguished contemporaries, but also of advocates who are still inspired by her message more than 150 years later. In 1860, fellow feminist writer and transcendentalist Caroline Healey Dall declared Fuller's Woman in the Nineteenth Century "doubtless the most brilliant, complete, and scholarly statement ever made on the subject." As second wave feminism hit in 1976, the book was rediscovered, and Fuller was recognized as a feminist pioneer, working woman, activist, and intellectual far ahead of her time. 

Marvel Entertainment
10 Facts About Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian
Marvel Entertainment
Marvel Entertainment

Nearly every sword-wielding fantasy hero from the 20th century owes a tip of their horned helmet to Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian. Set in the fictional Hyborian Age, after the destruction of Atlantis but before our general recorded history, Conan's stories have depicted him as everything from a cunning thief to a noble king and all types of scoundrel in between. But beneath that blood-soaked sword and shield is a character that struck a nerve with generations of fantasy fans, spawning adaptations in comics, video games, movies, TV shows, and cartoons in the eight decades since he first appeared in the December 1932 issue of Weird Tales. So thank Crom, because here are 10 facts about Conan the Barbarian.


Conan wasn’t the only barbarian on Robert E. Howard’s resume. In 1929, the writer created Kull the Conqueror, a more “introspective” brand of savage that gained enough interest to eventually find his way onto the big screen in 1997. The two characters share more than just a common creator and a general disdain for shirts, though: the first Conan story to get published, “The Phoenix on the Sword,” was actually a rewrite of an earlier rejected Kull tale titled “By This Axe I Rule!” For this new take on the plot, Howard introduced supernatural elements and more action. The end result was more suited to what Weird Tales wanted, and it became the foundation for future Conan tales.


A few months before Conan made his debut in Weird Tales, Howard wrote a story called "People of the Dark" for Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror about a man named John O’Brien who seemed to relive his past life as a brutish, black-haired warrior named … Conan of the reavers. Reave is a word from Old English meaning to raid or plunder, which is obviously in the same ballpark as barbarian. And in the story, there is also a reference to Crom, the fictional god of the Hyborian age that later became a staple of the Conan mythology. This isn't the barbarian as we know him, and it's certainly not an official Conan tale, but the early ideas were there.


Howard was meticulous in his world-building for Conan, which was highlighted by his 8600-word history on the Hyborian Age the character lived in. But the one area the creator had no interest in was linearity. Conan’s first story depicted him already as a king; subsequent stories, though, would shift back and forth, chronicling his early days as both a thief and a youthful adventurer.

There’s good reason for that, as Howard himself once explained: “In writing these yarns I've always felt less as creating them than as if I were simply chronicling his adventures as he told them to me. That's why they skip about so much, without following a regular order. The average adventurer, telling tales of a wild life at random, seldom follows any ordered plan, but narrates episodes widely separated by space and years, as they occur to him.”


For fans of the pulp magazines of the early 20th century, one of the only names bigger than Robert E. Howard was H.P. Lovecraft. The two weren’t competitors, though—rather, they were close friends and correspondents. They’d often mail each other drafts of their stories, discuss the themes of their work, and generally talk shop. And as Lovecraft’s own mythology was growing, it seems like their work began to bleed together.

In “The Phoenix on the Sword,” Howard made reference to “vast shadowy outlines of the Nameless Old Ones,” which could be seen as a reference to the ancient, godlike “Old Ones” from the Lovecraft mythos. In the book The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, editor Patrice Louinet even wrote that Howard’s earlier draft for the story name-dropped Lovecraft’s actual Old Ones, most notably Cthulhu.

In Lovecraft’s “The Shadow of Time,” he describes a character named Crom-Ya as a “Cimmerian chieftain,” which is a reference to Conan's homeland and god. These examples just scratch the surface of names, places, and concepts that the duo’s work share. Whether you want to read it all as a fun homage or an early attempt at a shared universe is up to you.


Howard was only 30 when he died, so there aren’t as many completed Conan stories out in the world as you’d imagine—and there are even less that were finished and officially printed. Despite that, the character’s popularity has only grown since the 1930s, and publishers looked for a way to print more of Howard’s Conan decades after his death. Over the years, writers and editors have gone back into Howard’s manuscripts for unfinished tales to doctor up and rewrite for publication, like "The Snout in the Dark," which was a fragment that was reworked by writers Lin Carter and L. Sprague de Camp. There were also times when Howard’s non-Conan drafts were repurposed as Conan stories by publishers, including all of the stories in 1955's Tales of Conan collection from Gnome Press.


Chances are, the image of Conan you have in your head right now owes a lot to artist Frank Frazetta: His version of the famous barbarian—complete with rippling muscles, pulsating veins, and copious amounts of sword swinging—would come to define the character for generations. But the look that people most associate with Conan didn’t come about until the character’s stories were reprinted decades after Robert E. Howard’s death.

“In 1966, Lancer Books published new paperbacks of Robert E. Howard's Conan series and hired my grandfather to do the cover art,” Sara Frazetta, Frazetta's granddaughter owner and operator of Frazetta Girls, tells Mental Floss. You could argue that Frazetta’s powerful covers were what drew most people to Conan during the '60s and '70s, and in recent years the collector’s market seems to validate that opinion. In 2012, the original painting for his Lancer version of Conan the Conqueror sold at auction for $1,000,000. Later, his Conan the Destroyer went for $1.5 million.

Still, despite all of Frazetta’s accomplishments, his granddaughter said there was one thing he always wanted: “His only regret was that he wished Robert E. Howard was alive so he could have seen what he did with his character.”


The cover to Marvel's Conan the Barbarian #21
Marvel Entertainment

Conan’s origins as a pulp magazine hero made him a natural fit for the medium’s logical evolution: the comic book. And in 1970, the character got his first high-profile comic launch when Marvel’s Conan The Barbarian hit shelves, courtesy of writer Roy Thomas and artist Barry Windsor-Smith.

Though now it’s hailed as one of the company’s highlights from the ‘70s, the book was nearly canceled after a mere seven issues. The problem is that while the debut issue sold well, each of the next six dropped in sales, leading Marvel’s then editor-in-chief, Stan Lee, to pull the book from production after the seventh issue hit stands.

Thomas pled his case, and Lee agreed to give Conan one last shot. But this time instead of the book coming out every month, it would be every two months. The plan worked, and soon sales were again on the rise and the book would stay in publication until 1993, again as a monthly. This success gave way to the Savage Sword of Conan, an oversized black-and-white spinoff magazine from Marvel that was aimed at adult audiences. It, too, was met with immense success, lasting from 1974 to 1995.


John Milius’s 1982 Conan movie is a classic of the sword and sorcery genre, but its original script from Oliver Stone didn’t resemble the final product at all. In fact, it barely resembled anything related to Conan. Stone’s Conan would have been set on a post-apocalyptic Earth, where the barbarian would do battle against a host of mutant pigs, insects, and hyenas. Not only that, but it would have also been just one part of a 12-film saga that would be modeled on the release schedule of the James Bond series.

The original producers were set to move ahead with Stone’s script with Stone co-directing alongside an up-and-coming special effects expert named Ridley Scott, but they were turned down by all of their prospects. With no co-director and a movie that would likely be too ambitious to ever actually get finished, they sold the rights to producer Dino De Laurentiis, who helped bring in Milius.


When President Barack Obama sent out a mass email in 2015 to the members of Organizing for Action, he was looking to get people to offer up stories about how they got involved within their community—their origin stories, if you will. In this mass email, the former Commander-in-Chief detailed his own origin, with a shout out to a certain barbarian:

“I grew up loving comic books. Back in the day, I was pretty into Conan the Barbarian and Spiderman.

Anyone who reads comics can tell you, every main character has an origin story—the fateful and usually unexpected sequence of events that made them who they are.”

This bit of trivia was first made public in 2008 in a Daily Telegraph article on 50 facts about the president. That led to Devil’s Due Publishing immortalizing the POTUS in the 2009 comic series Barack the Barbarian, which had him decked out in his signature loincloth doing battle against everyone from Sarah Palin to Dick Cheney.


The father of 20th century fantasy may always be J.R.R. Tolkien, but Howard is a close second in many fans' eyes. Though Tolkien’s work has found its way into more scholarly literary circles, Howard’s can sometimes get categorized as low-brow. Quality recognizes quality, however, and during a conversation with Tolkien, writer L. Sprague de Camp—who himself edited and touched-up numerous Conan stories—said The Lord of the Rings author admitted that he “rather liked” Howard’s Conan stories during a conversation with him. He didn’t expand upon it, nor was de Camp sure which Conan tale he actually read (though it was likely “Shadows in the Moonlight”), but the seal of approval from Tolkien himself goes a long way toward validation.

Why a Readily Available Used Paperback Is Selling for Thousands of Dollars on Amazon

At first glance, getting ahold of a copy of One Snowy Knight, a historical romance novel by Deborah MacGillivray, isn't hard at all. You can get the book, which originally came out in 2009, for a few bucks on Amazon. And yet according to one seller, a used copy of the book is worth more than $2600. Why? As The New York Times reports, this price disparity has more to do with the marketing techniques of Amazon's third-party sellers than it does the market value of the book.

As of June 5, a copy of One Snowy Knight was listed by a third-party seller on Amazon for $2630.52. By the time the Times wrote about it on July 15, the price had jumped to $2800. That listing has since disappeared, but a seller called Supersonic Truck still has a used copy available for $1558.33 (plus shipping!). And it's not even a rare book—it was reprinted in July.

The Times found similar listings for secondhand books that cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars more than their market price. Those retailers might not even have the book on hand—but if someone is crazy enough to pay $1500 for a mass-market paperback that sells for only a few dollars elsewhere, that retailer can make a killing by simply snapping it up from somewhere else and passing it on to the chump who placed an order with them.

Not all the prices for used books on Amazon are so exorbitant, but many still defy conventional economic wisdom, offering used copies of books that are cheaper to buy new. You can get a new copy of the latest edition of One Snowy Knight for $16.99 from Amazon with Prime shipping, but there are third-party sellers asking $24 to $28 for used copies. If you're not careful, how much you pay can just depend on which listing you click first, thinking that there's not much difference in the price of used books. In the case of One Snowy Knight, there are different listings for different editions of the book, so you might not realize that there's a cheaper version available elsewhere on the site.

An Amazon product listing offers a mass-market paperback book for $1558.33.
Screenshot, Amazon

Even looking at reviews might not help you find the best listing for your money. People tend to buy products with the most reviews, rather than the best reviews, according to recent research, but the site is notorious for retailers gaming the system with fraudulent reviews to attract more buyers and make their way up the Amazon rankings. (There are now several services that will help you suss out whether the reviews on a product you're looking at are legitimate.)

For more on how Amazon's marketplace works—and why its listings can sometimes be misleading—we recommend listening to this episode of the podcast Reply All, which has a fascinating dive into the site's third-party seller system.

[h/t The New York Times]


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