Margaret Fuller on the Stage

by Maria Anita Stefanelli

One, none, and a hundred thousand [women] is the protagonist of Susan Sontag's play Alice in Bed, written in 1990, published in 1993, and widely performed at academically related theatrical institutions both across the United States ­ Cambridge, Chicago, Seattle, among other places, and recently New York City ­ and Europe1. The singular in my previous sentence is as ambiguous as it is intentional in that there is but one woman in Alice in Bed, who disguises as one, another, or yet another woman, thus exhibiting several identities ­ those of every single female character in the play. Each character, in turn, displays diversity, thus multiplying the possibilities for each different self to be "other" than one's own self. The «house of difference» (to speak in contemporary feminist terms) emerges, therefore, from a plurality of women's identities2.

The play ­ which is «about the grief and anger of women; and [] about the imagination», as Sontag explains in a note following the text3 ­ had been «dreamed» by the author ten years earlier while she rehearsed, as director, a production of Luigi Pirandello's Come tu mi vuoi in Rome (1980)4. In the playbill, she had criticized oppression with a feminist statement:

Essere creati dal desiderio degli altri è una caratteristica della situazione umana, ma è particolarmente tipica della situazione delle donne. L'edificio culturale dell'oppressione delle donne può essere riassunto dai modi in cui è sotteso che le donne, a differenza degli uomini, sono create dal fatto che sono desiderate5.

Both Pirandello's play and her own are centred on the problem of identity; both plays expose man's power over women; both plays present the feminine condition in theatrical terms, according to which the characters are created or dismantled. Alice and "her friends", however, unlike the female protagonist of Come tu mi vuoi, L'Ignota (The Unknown One), resist being exploited by the playwright or director, thus exposing, and reducing to zero, the pretence of theatre of constructing and defining.

My paper will deal with the ways in which Sontag defies both Pirandello as author and herself as conniving director, and lets the fictional character Margaret Fuller come alive to oppose the construction of her own self by man's, or indeed anybody's desire.

1. "Alice in Bed"

Alice James's mind is the stage for three historical characters and two fictional ones to participate in the tea-party set up for herself, the brilliant invalid sister writer of the famous American novelist, by a number of women: the poet Emily Dickinson, the fairy from Wagner's Parsifal, Kundry, the Queen of the Wilis, Myrtha, from the ballet Giselle, and «the first important American woman of letters»6, Margaret Fuller. The time of the play is 1890 ­ two years before Alice's death from breast cancer at 437. Both Fuller and Dickinson are ghosts, having died, respectively, in 1850 and 1886; while Myrtha and Kundry are fantasy creatures from two musical works of 1840 (the former) and 1882 (the latter)8.

Another (historical) character, also dead (1882), makes her appearance at the party: it is Alice's mother, in real life as much an «unimaginative» woman, «inclined to be gubernatorial» in Leon Edel's words, as her husband, Henry James Sr., was maternal and, according to the later recollection of a young family friend, «genial and delightful [] out of place in that stiff stupid house in Cambridge»9.

The play is set in London (only one in eight scenes «is a flashback or memory, and takes place two decades earlier in Cambridge, Massachussetts», as the stage direction reads)10; the venue for the tea party is the veranda or sun-room at Alice's lodgings at South Kensington11. The atmosphere is Victorian and, as Sontag herself suggests, the name of the protagonist «inevitably echoes the nineteenth century's most famous Alice, the heroine of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland»12 published in 1864. The afternoon reception at Alice's home is quite naturally associated, Sontag confirms, with the nonsensical Mad Tea-party created by the Rev. Charles Lutwidge Dodgsdon (1832-98).

2. Margaret Fuller

A person's name, according to Sontag, is as potent as it is arbitrary. If it is quite plausible, then, that one scene ­ Scene 5 ­ should have been conceived as an extemporised ceremony at once absurd and logical (nothing less than pure nonsense), one cannot help remarking as well that the author of the «notorious proto-feminist book», Woman in the Nineteenth Century, does indeed fill the scene in ways that fit the character of the woman whom Henry James (also a character ­ Harry ­ in the play) called «the talker, the moral improvisatrice»13. Sontag herself, by the way, blends nonsense with good sense when, in her discussion over the aesthetics of silence (and "silence" is, indeed, one theme in Alice in Bed that Sontag links with Virginia Woolf's mental creation of Judith Shakespeare, the playwright's imaginary sister), she quotes a passage from Through the Looking-Glass14. It concerns Lewis Carroll's heroine coming upon a shop «that seemed to be full of all manner of curious things ­ but the oddest part of it all was that whenever she looked hard at any shelf, to make out exactly what it had on it, that particular shelf was quite empty, though the others round it were crowded full as they could hold»15. If, by an arbitrary act of linguistic violence ­ very common among nonsense addicts ­ one were to remove from Carroll's "shelf" the "h" (just as one would remove an object from it), one would find that identity exists in its sameness only by reference to otherness. So, as much as "fullness" is perceived as a lack of emptiness and "silence" as a lack of sound, so would "being" be perceived as a lack of non-being and "existence" as a lack of representing. In the theatre, in fact, one is condemned in being caught between seeming and performing, never in being.

One role Fuller would fulfil most willingly was that of respondent: often with wit and insight, sometimes with impatience and in haste, but always most articulate she would interact with her intellectual friends ­ be it in writing or in conversation ­ never letting them down. On the other hand, in the forum of intellectual exchange, she would set out to "fill in" the first half of the dialogue by submitting issues, whether amiably or begrudgingly, for the other participants' critical comments. «I have lost in her my audience», proclaimed Ralph Waldo Emerson regretfully after the Atlantic Ocean prematurely ripped Margaret Fuller Ossoli off this world16. To the transcendentalist poet-philosopher she appeared a «brave, eloquent, subtle, accomplished, devoted, constant soul»17, while she emerges as «[b]rilliant, witty, imperious, demanding, abrasive, and charming»18 to the judgement of Robert N. Hudspeth, who has retrieved from her correspondence a much more complex personality than a number of scholars had suggested.

In her literary writings she devoted her efforts to self-definition: whether she portrayed the woman in the nineteenth century, or inquired into the universal genius of Goethe, in her letters as in her notes, articles, essays, and dispatches, she would claim a role as a multivalent, gendered personality. A promoter of equal opportunities, she trod the stage of the world as a performer who challenged the inadequate categories of gender, power, and sexuality.

3. Fuller as Actress

Sontag captures, in her play, Fuller's passion for self-dramatization, and calls back her ghost to participate in the «free fantasy» situation that takes place in the protagonist's (Alice James's) mind. Throughout her critical prose and the six volumes that contain Fuller's correspondence from infancy to the time she boarded the ship that would take her, her husband and her child to meet their death, we encounter many of her selves as fictions of her mind. The preoccupation with her identity, the ability to conceal thoughts with words, the disappointment at the impossibility of exercising power, the uneasiness with her sex, and often the realization of appearing what she was not: all these are motives that are best discussed in relation to role-playing and gender construction. To George T. Davis she wrote: «You are the only person who can appreciate my true self»19; to James F. Clarke she explained the effect of reading Goethe on her: «He comprehends every feeling I have ever had so perfectly, expresses it so beautifully; but when I shut the book, it seems as if I had lost my personal identity»20; to Davis (presumably, since the document does not reveal the addressee) she outpoured her bitterness at the lack of compensation for her generosity:

As in a glass darkly, I have seen what I might feel as child, wife, mother, but I have never really approached the close relations of life. A sister I have truly been to many, ­ a brother to more, ­ a fostering nurse to, oh how many! The bridal hour of my spirit, when first it was wed, I have shared, but said adieu before the wine was poured at the banquet21.

In the same letter she wrote that from a very early age she had felt she «was not born to the common womanly lot» and «did not look on any of the persons, brought into relation with [her], with commonly womanly eyes»; her character was, however, «still more feminine than masculine»22. When her father died, she expressed her regret at «being of the softer sex»23 and in an exchange of letters with William H. Channing, she utterly rejected all possible charges of frailty: «Certainly I am nowise yet an angel; but neither am I an utterly weak woman, and far less a cold intellect»24. During her last year in Rome, when events became encumbering, she would dismiss people's negative reaction to her homecoming, which, she was sure, was «not directed against the real Margaret, but a phantom»25. And she added: «I have acted not inconsistently with myself»26. Led by a deep admiration for her capacity of impersonation and mimicry, the "Tribune" editor Horace Greeley (1811-1872) ventured to hypothesize that «had she condescended to appear before the foot-lights, [she] would soon have been recognized as the first actress of the Nineteenth Century»27. And Emerson, besides stressing that she made a «disagreeable impression on people» and, indeed, on himself when they first met, also emphasized that she made him laugh, he wrote, «more than I liked», and that she entertained him with «amusing gossip» and an «incredible variety of anecdotes»; also, he stated that «her talk was a comedy in which dramatic justice was done to everybody's foibles»28. «From her childhood on», writes Hudspeth, «Fuller was fond of dramatizing her life, and it is not much to say that she lived with an eye to heightening the drama»29. Further on he adds: «An actress who wrote her own scripts, she knew how to be commanding and interesting»30; and then dramatically sums up: «Thus life became a stage»31.

4. Nonsense and Intertextuality

Fuller's ability to wear as many hats as she wished to multiply her identities derives from a crossover of gender and sexuality, enacted by the very discourses that have made her into a myth. Definitions of Fuller have been recalled in the learned and provocative studies on her: from the unwomanly woman emerging from Memoirs to the kaleidoscopic portraits supplied by the Higginsons, the Hawthornes, the Poes, the Jameses, and the succeeding generations of scholars. The sparks of her emotions, feelings and dreams have been captured both within and at the margins of the texts, in the textual interstices off the presumed centre of the text. Sontag's decision to have Alice re-create conversation with the dead spirit of two writers and two imaginary «angry women»32, more or less her contemporaries, leads to where logic meets absurdity and lets nonsense rise. This choice of Sontag is in keeping with the idea that a critique of representation is best carried out from within, where theatricality is most evident and there is no limit to possibility, manipulation, or even the ordering of the universe.

What happens at the tea party happens in the form of a dream, on the frontier between language and thinking. In the nonsense world there is no space for more people than are already sitting at a half-empty table, someone who has had no tea can take more, riddles are asked that cannot be answered, and time, though lost, can be prolonged indefinitely. In the nonsense world of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, many characters are mad: the March Hare and the Hatter are so; and, in fact, everybody else is mad there ­ says the Cheshire cat ­ including Alice, who tries to resist. Scene 5 in Alice in Bed, in which a dreamlike event takes place, is not a stable locus of meaning, but contains traces (verbal, aural, and visual) that derive from the biographies of the historical characters, the fictional lives of the two imaginary exemplary creatures, and also from Lewis Carroll's nonsensical world as well as the playwright's body of writings, her feminist politics, and her theatrical beliefs.

With the different intertextual elements crossing over, being torn apart, reassembled and set against each other, meanings are continually renegotiated to provoke amusement, reflection, anxiety, excitement, and desire in a wonder-like atmosphere allowing "woman" to be represented or acted by other women who ­ though dead or imaginary ­ are nonetheless alive on stage. Fuller, as a living impersonation of the gendered woman, de-constructs her own character and the image she represents, and makes the quotation marks around woman visible. In this way, she re-constructs "woman" (after all, is she not the author/creator of Woman in the Nineteenth Century?) and, likewise, herself.

Sontag opposes the male-centered discourse in which the subject is male and woman is the object constructed by his desire. While Pirandello's Ignota lacks any identity and is defined only by the male subjects around her to which condition she reacts relying on masking, Sontag's Margaret, also aware of the precariousness of such constructions of which she was a victim, sets out to debunk them. Being back in the world as a ghost she recaptures the past by mocking her own self; by creating, as it were, a parody of herself. She does so by staging aspects of herself that are rhetorical and, indeed, theatrical, and by playing the role of an actress who does not depend on male's or anybody's desire. The model is undoubtedly Sarah Bernhardt who is evoked by Sontag's heroine in Scene 2 as proprietor of a mirror Alice now owns and who, as an unconventional and androgynous actress, magnified her own "difference" and [Jew's] marginality by «strutting her outrageousness on and off stage across Western Europe and America»33. To a certain extent and as «embarrassingly» for the people around her ­ as Sontag puts it ­ Margaret creates her own self not as you desire me (as L'Ignota does) but as she herself desires. The price to pay is that of being exposed in one's ­ supposed ­ "nudity" (in Pirandello's conception) that may be repellent and/or unsympathetic but is one's own.

In acting, though, there are all sorts of risks. Acting is bound up with femininity, but problematic relationships with other women may develop for the woman who "acts", as the introductory polemical exchange over time between Margaret and Emily suggests, after which Margaret addresses Alice:

Margaret: Do you think I offended her. I'm truly sorry. Sometimes I have acted on a strong impulse and could not analyze what passed in my mind. I acted what was in my character [my italics]34.

Action, instead, belongs, by definition, to the controlling male power. Yet assuming a masculine attitude may lead to self-denial if one's identity is not stable:

Margaret: I was very active. [] But now I'm not myself [my italics]35.

In the uncertain world where one may keep drinking tea although there isn't any, where the smoke released by the hookah provokes a trance-like mood, and where Alice's long-dead mother turns up uninvited, the body (which is, on the stage, the physical body of the actress) can express assurance or anxiety: Margaret's «robust» figure is in keeping with her oral aggressiveness and determination while «frail» Emily leaves the party to retire into absence. Margaret ­ who inappropriately reads a book when the scene opens on the table laid out for the tea ceremony ­ wears a hat that vaguely suggests a sympathetic attitude towards the Suffragette movement of Victorian times while Alice ­ «long hair, childlike»36 ­ wears an infantilised white gown in the guise of the several «madwomen in the attic» belonging to the history of feminine renunciation37. Again, while Margaret's feet are always «on the ground» ­ «When they are not in the water», she adds with a tragicomic reference to her shipwreck38 ­ Alice needs the protection of a stack of mattresses to make up for the absence of the body of a man in her life (and in her bed); such presence would turn her into a prisoner and make her a prey to the male power:

Alice: I wanted a man's weight on my body. But then I couldn't move39.

On the level of self-representation Margaret's courage to defy dominant male prejudices contrasts with, and parallels, Alice's neurotic illness as a form of self-denial40. The two women represent themselves differently, of course:

Margaret: I was an embarrassment to others. And then to the relief of many I died.

Alice: I'm an embarrassment to myself. (Laughs)41.

The notion of counselling as a specifically male privilege is ironically challenged yet not utterly rebuked:

Alice: I wanted advice. From a woman I could respect. I've always sought advice from men.

Margaret: People were always giving me advice, for my own good. Truth was, they did not want me to embarrass them42.

One extreme act of self-construction involves the romantic sublimation of suffering as a gendered act:

Margaret: Women despair differently. I've observed that. We can be very stoical43.

Finally, as a counterpart of the passivity that characterized Pirandello's play ­ as summed up in L'Ignota's exclamation, «I am here, I am yours; nothing exists in me, nothing more of mine: make me, make me, as you desire me!» ­ Margaret weaves erotic excitement within her identity as a residue of the desire experienced in real life44. Her depiction of her husband as an innocent, feminised boy ­ «unlike me, an exceedingly delicate person»45 ­ unable to speculate about anything at all has a counterpart in the other women's recollections. Alice remembers a young man who was a friend of her brother ­ «But he liked me», she adds, «I used to imagine that we could go swimming together. I used to imagine his body»46 ­; Emily evokes her brother who cultivated forbidden pleasures («I stayed at home and wrote. My brother fornicated»)47; Kundry is reminded of her corruption of the boy in Parsifal, «To make him desire me. He did desire me, but more as a mother than as a lover. And, still, he resisted me», to which Myrtha promptly replies: «Exact your revenge. Men making women into whores and angels, how can you believe that»48. Here men's exploitation of women, exposed by Pirandello as author and Sontag as director of Come tu mi vuoi [As You Desire Me], is reversed, in Alice in Bed, into the staging of female desire.

Uncertainty is doubled up with reversals that in Wonderland the March Hare and the Hatter had warned Alice from confusing: «I mean what I say» is not the same as «I say what I mean» as much as «I see what I eat» is not the same as «I eat what I see», or «I like what I get» is not the same as «I get what I like», or indeed «I breathe when I sleep» is different from «I sleep when I breathe». In Alice in Bed Carrollian reversals are duplicated as «I sleep because I am suffering» and «I am suffering because I am asleep», in the pronouncement of Kundry, the Dormouse, who «speaks as if still sleeping»49; or else, they are duplicated as a difference between characters, such as Margaret and Emily, for instance, who at the end of the party leave together because «Opposites attract»50, as Margaret puts it; or else, they are duplicated within the same character, as is clear from Alice's realization, «I am betraying myself»51, that she is, indeed, two persons. In Scene 2 Alice, unable to exercise her will power to get up from the bed and presided over by her striped uniform-clad jailor (the nurse), is handed the mirror «[w]hich by the way ­ Alice comments ­ once belonged to Sarah Bernhardt»52 (as recalled above). Once the stack of thin mattresses covering Alice lying in bed is removed by two sailors53, she is propped up with the help of three cushions, and «continues to look at herself in the mirror», as the stage direction goes54. As she seems to acquire some confidence in her looks, the nurse who invites her, patronisingly, not to be too vain, promptly rebukes her. Alice makes it quite clear that she has a wider notion of "look" than what is normally associated with make-up ­ «Perhaps if you put on some powder, a little rouge. You are a woman, you know»55, the nurse had advised ­ just by adding a comment on the actress who possessed her mirror: «Do you know what I once said about Sarah Bernhardt, do you know. [] She is a moral abscess, festering with vanity. I did say that»56. Soon after she is haunted by visions of herself as man-killer. The mirror ­ «a wooden oval on a stick, Italian, ornate, gilt»57 ­ Bernhardt hardly needs since she has succeeded in reinvesting the mirror image to gain more and more signifiers at the cost ­ like Sontag ­ of her own outward projection58. Bernhardt's instrument to create her own double can be handed over to Alice who, through nonsense, like Alice in Wonderland, can make sense of, and revise, her own attitude. The looking-glass world is re-enacted in the mind, while the roles of Mad Hatters and March Hares are played by looking glass, topsy-turvy, or upside-down women.

Reversals signal the inability to find a definite direction in one's sexuality ­ as psychoanalytic research has maintained59; so in this context, one is not surprised at the presentation of Fuller, in her eccentricity, exaggeration and subtle intelligence, as the Mad Hatter ­ who, after all, matches, in the degree of artifice and stylisation, Sontag's definition of camp60. Although she doesn't embarrass or puzzle Alice with «personal remarks» or «riddles that have no answer» and finds, instead, ready-made logical solutions to the riddles of life (like the question of suicide, for instance: «Alice: I suppose you are against suicide. Margaret: Never seen the point. We die too soon anyway»61), she lets the language on the stage be indifferently disrupted or taken at face value ­ as much as in Wonderland ­ yet manages, by her own example, to have Alice talk herself into a constructive monologue on Rome, filtered through Henry James's ­ Harry's ­ and her own, lens. There, freedom is earned in terms of survival. This is as much as can be done, while the presence of a child with a maimed hand represents «the distressing claims of the world beyond the privileged one in which she lives»62.

Alice in Bed problematizes gender while, at the same time, problematizing theatre. Sontag has written Fuller's life, as well as her afterlife, into the history of American theatre. Dramatic texts possess a life that comes through both by being embodied in a real-life character and across the play of discourse. Margaret as a product, let us not forget, of Alice's mind is, herself, an idea: she is not a human subject of interest in herself, but in terms of the functions that she fulfils in the nonsensical and paradoxical structure of the tea-party, a conversation situation in which the real Margaret Fuller used to play such a prominent role63. While the human is displaced, ideas checkmate each other and meanings are generated «not by the human presences somehow "stamped" upon it, but by the discourse, the particular language of which consists operating a kind of free play of signifying practices»64.

In conclusion, there is a multiple, de-centred, ideologically shaped Margaret Fuller that is the theatrical counterpart of a historical, human, psychologically available subject. Both continue playing a role in the impasse of the speculative mind, ever allowing paradoxical, unstable, non-logical, absurd situations. Dead «to the relief of many», Margaret ceases to be an embarrassment to others; yet she defies the others' constructions of her by becoming an idea and coming alive again by means of theatre where, however, she can never completely, like Humpty-Dumpty, put her own fragmented self together again.

As Roland Barthes puts it:

Such is discourse; if it creates characters, it is not to make them play among themselves before us but to play with them, to obtain from them a complicity which assures the uninterrupted exchange of the codes; the characters are types of discourse and, conversely, the discourse is a character like the others65.

Sontag's discourse creates in the character of Margaret Fuller her own accomplice and her own mad double. They are both, in fact, Dark Ladies66. They are both, somehow, "angry" in that they enact their own raging desire to escape ­ as Gilbert and Gubar put it ­ male houses and male texts67. As a matter of fact they both let out the "silent, savage rage"68 that Alice James, instead, suppresses thus destroying her own potential. Anger, however, is something both male and female actors (though with different implications) must experience if they want to escape the constraints of life and body. Sontag's newest novel, In America, published in 2000, is about Marina Zalenska, a Pole actress who has encountered her fortune on the American stage. The last chapter consists of a long monologue, pronounced by the American actor Edwin Booth, whom the protagonist befriends. He says to her:

There is something bland, appeasing, in you, Marina. Perhaps there is in all actresses, with the possible exception of Bernhardt, don't wince, woman, except that her efforts not to be bland seem trivially theatrical []. Not that I believe what she does. But she says she does it. No, a great actor is turbulent, rarely affable, profoundly angry. Where is your vein of rage, Marina? [] There's nothing dangerous about you, Marina. You have not accepted your catastrophe69.

Sontag's novel reopens the discussion on how stage behavior applies to real life as well as on the importance of duplicity, rage, and disease.


1. S. Sontag, Alice in Bed (1993), Vintage, London 1994. A performance art production of the play, directed by Ivo van Hove, opened at New York City Theatre Workshop in May 2000. Alice in Bed was also staged in the 1999-2000 season by the Performing Arts Department in Arts and Sciences at the A. E. Hotchner Studio Theatre of Washington University, directed by Andrea Urice; and in the 1998-99 season at The Theatre School of de Paul University (Chicago), directed by J. Kingsford Good. The American premiere was presented in the 1996-97 season at the Hasty Pudding by Art New Stages (director Robert Brustein), Harvard University, under the direction of Bob McGrath. In 1982 two plays on Fuller were performed: Zenobia. A Life of Margaret Fuller, by Agnes Butcher and Sayre Evans, directed by Robert Rees Evans, and The Margaret Ghost, by Carole Braverman, at Agassig Theatre. Bell Gale Chevigny informed me of a study group on The Body Parts of Margaret Fuller, by Ethan Broner, which met in 1975-76 and in which she played an active role. I wish to thank Charles Capper, Rosella Mamoli Zorzi, and Bell Gale Chevigny for providing information on the New York production, the 1982 performances, and the 1975-1976 events, respectively.

2. M. F. Brewer, Race, Sex, and Gender in Contemporary Women's Theatre. The Construction of "Woman", Sussex Academic Press, Brighton 1999, pp. 163-64.

3. Sontag, A Note on the Play, in Alice in Bed, cit., p. 117.

4. L. Pirandello's Come tu mi vuoi (As You Desire Me) premiered in Milan in 1930.

5. Teatro Stabile di Torino, Come tu mi vuoi, di Luigi Pirandello, diretto da Susan Sontag. Programma, Stagione 1980-81, p. 4 (Adriana Asti took the role of L'Ignota). Sontag's interest in the performance of identity is also evident in her 1992 novel The Volcano Lover (Vintage, London 1993), where Emma is involved in a sequence of poses, a living slide of the iconic moments of ancient myth and literature (ivi, p. 146).

6. Sontag, A Note on the Play, in Alice in Bed, cit., p. 115.

7. For Alice James's life see: J. Strouse, Alice James: A Biography, Harvard University Press, Cambridge 1980. Her journal was originally published under the title Alice James, Her Brothers ­ Her Journal, ed. A. Robeson Burr, Dodd, Mead & Co., New York 1934; it was then republished as The Diary of Alice James, ed. L. Edel, Rupert Hart-Davis, London 1964.

8. Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis, is a character in the ballet Giselle ou les Wilis (book by Vernoy de Saint-Georges and Théophile Gautier, music by Adolphe Adam). In The Ballet Called Giselle (C. W. Beaumont, London 1944) Cyril W. Beaumont explains: «Myrtha is the opponent of Giselle. Jilted by the man to whom she was betrothed, Myrtha died of grief in the flower of her youth. Presumably in her twenties, she would retain the age at which she became an immortal. But she is an unhappy phantom, a female vampire filled with an insatiable lust for revenge which causes her nightly to frequent the mystic glade, to lure any male wayfarer into the web of her fellow vampires, who force the unhappy man to dance until, reduced to exhaustion, he can be toppled to death in the marshy pool close by» (ivi, p. 82). Kundry is a character in Richard Wagner's Parsifal: she is a witch, ambiguously described as an evil agent and a redeeming creature. After bringing a beneficent balm to the king she falls asleep, dead tired. She becomes a prey to a magic sleep, which she tries to resist. She is a sexual temptress, but then falls in love with Parsifal; at the end she falls dead at his feet to expiate some guilt from a previous existence. For further details see: J. Chailley, Parsifal de Richard Wagner. Opera initiatique, Editions Buchet-Chastel, Paris 1979.

9. Edel, Portrait of Alice James, in James, Diary, cit., pp. 3-8.

10. Sontag, Alice in Bed, cit., p. 3.

11. This was before she moved to 41, Argyll Road on Kensington's Campden Hill (Strouse, Alice James: A Biography, cit., p. 297).

12. Sontag, A Note on the Play, in Alice in Bed, cit., p. 115.

13. H. James, William Wetmore Story and His Friends, 2 vols., Houghton Mifflin, Boston 1903, i, p. 128.

14. S. Sontag, The Aesthetics of Silence, in Styles of Radical Will, Vintage, London 1994, pp. 181-204.

15. Ivi, p. 187.

16. R. W. Emerson, The Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks of Ralph Waldo Emerson 1848-51, eds. A. W. Plumstead, W. H. Gilman, R. H. Bennet, xi, The Belknap Press, Cambridge 1975, p. 258.

17. Ivi, p. 256.

18. R. N. Hudspeth, Introduction, in The Letters of Margaret Fuller, R. N. Hudspeth (ed.), 6 vols., Cornell University Press, Ithaca and London 1983-1994, i, p. 7.

19. Ivi, p. 174.

20. Ivi, p. 177.

21. Hudspeth, Introduction, in The Letters of Margaret Fuller, cit., vi, pp. 134-5.

22. Ibid.

23. The Letters of Margaret Fuller, cit., i, p. 237.

24. Ivi, vi, p. 99.

25. Ivi, p. 88.

26. Ibid.

27. H. Greeley, Recollections of a Busy Life, J. B. Ford & Co, New York 1869, p. 179. The passage is also cited in J. von Mehren, Minerva and the Muse. A Life of Margaret Fuller, University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst 1994, p. 288.

28. R. W. Emerson, J. F. Clarke, W. H. Channing (eds.), Memoirs of Margaret Fuller Ossoli, Richard Bentley, London 1852, pp. 202-3.

29. Hudspeth, Introduction, in The Letters of Margaret Fuller, cit., i, p. 32.

30. Ivi, p. 51.

31. Ivi, p. 54.

32. Sontag, A Note on the Play, in Alice in Bed, cit., p. 116.

33. A. Solomon, Queering the Canon: "Azooi toot a Yid", in Re-dressing the Canon. Essays on Theater and Gender, Routledge, London & New York 1997, p. 98; Bernhardt performed, among many others, the role of Hamlet, the most effeminate of Western tragic heroes, with a harsh, virile, and disruptive air, scarcely put on by any male actor (ivi, pp. 95-129). For details of Bernhardt's biography see A. Gold, R. Fitzdale, The Divine Sarah: A Life of Sarah Bernhardt, Vintage Books, New York 1991. The reference to Bernhardt is in Sontag, Alice in Bed, cit., p. 10.

34. Sontag, Alice in Bed, cit., p. 46.

35. Ivi, p. 52.

36. Ivi, p. 7.

37. The reference is to S. M. Gilbert, S. Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic. The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth Century Litearry Imagination, Yale University Press, New Haven 1979.

38. Sontag, Alice in Bed, cit., p. 55.

39. Ivi, p. 67.

40. Sontag elaborates on the mythology of disease in nineteenth-century society in Illness as Metaphor, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York 1978.

41. Sontag, Alice in Bed, cit., p. 47.

42. Ivi, p. 53.

43. Ivi, p. 54.

44. One could detect sexual overtones in the title, bed being ambiguously a reference to both invalidity and sex.

45. Sontag, Alice in Bed, cit., p. 73.

46. Ivi, p. 67.

47. Ivi, p. 73.

48. Ibid.

49. Ivi, p. 48.

50. Ivi, p. 79.

51. Ivi, p. 50.

52. Ivi, p. 10.

53. Those same stewards, probably, that had helped Alice ­ in the historical reality ­ to be moved, after the ocean crossing in 1884, from the Pavonia at Liverpool, to the rooms booked by her brother Henry at the Adelphi Hotel (Strouse, Alice James, cit., p. 234).

54. Sontag, Alice in Bed, cit., p. 11.

55. Ivi, p. 9.

56. Ivi, p. 12.

57. Ivi, p. 10.

58. A Jew, like Sontag herself, once aged and without one leg, she would bravely dismiss her own invalidity to look after wounded soldiers in World War i: a choice similar to that of Fuller, who did not hesitate to leave her baby in the care of a nurse in Rieti to become Regolatrice of Fatebenefratelli hospital in Rome during the war.

59. P. Schilder, Psychoanalytic Remarks on "Alice in Wonderland" and Lewis Carroll (1938), in R. Phillips (ed.), Aspects of Alice, Penguin, Harmondsworth 1971, pp. 333-43.

60. S. Sontag, Notes on "Camp" (1964), in A Susan Sontag Reader, intr. E. Hardwick, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, New York 1982, pp. 105-21.

61. Sontag, Alice in Bed, cit., p. 53.

62. Ivi, p. 116.

63. This aspect of Sontag's theory is in keeping with the poststructuralist approach to character and subject, as discussed in E. Burns, Character: Acting and Being on the Pre-Modern Stage, Macmillan, Houndmills, Basingstoke & London 1990, p. 226.

64. Ivi, p. 227.

65. R. Barthes, S/Z, tr. R. Miller, Hill and Wang, New York 1974, p. 178.

66. In reviewing Sontag's Against Interpretation, B. Feldman wrote: «Miss Sontag is the latest heir and perhaps leading example today of that strenuously intellectual woman starting with Margaret Fuller and coming forward to Mary McCarthy. She shares with these a quick mind, a good education, a high-handed manner, and an inability to stop nagging» (Evangelist of the New, in Denver Quarterly, Spring 1966, p. 152). Elaine Showalter, who has called Fuller the Dark Lady of the American Renaissance, suggests that Dark Ladies are punished for accepting the eminence thrust upon them, as has been the case with harsh criticism of Sontag's previously highly influential work (as reported by D. Dickenson in her Introduction to Margaret Fuller, Woman in the Nineteenth Century and Other Writings, Oxford University Press, Oxford 1994, p. vii). N. Podhoretz has identified Sontag as the Dark Lady of her generation, adding that she has replaced Mary McCarthy as «clever, learned, good-looking, capable of writing family-type criticism as well as fiction with strong trace of naughtiness» (Making It, Random House, New York 1967, pp. 154-55).

67. Gilbert, Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic, cit., p. 85.

68. Ivi, p. 483.

69. S. Sontag, In America, Jonathan Cape, London 2000, p. 383.