The Blazing World and Other Writings by Margaret Cavendish

Today is International Women’s Day and, to mark this occasion, I’ve decided to review The Blazing World and Other Writings by Margaret Cavendish. She is a fascinating, intelligent woman, highly educated. Lady Margaret published under her own name, something quite unusual for an upper class lady in the 17th century. She had the support of her husband, he even got involved by writing a few poems that were included in the stories. I’ve read poems by Aphra Behn previously, see here, another amazing woman with a remarkable life.

The Blazing World and Other Writings by Margaret Cavendish

The writing is a bit hard to read, as the sentences are so long. On one page there are only 3 sentences for example. Of course, that style worked in the 17th century, but is harder to read today. Even so, I think the beauty of the stories worth the effort.
Only a few words have to be explained and there is a list at the end of the book. There are no chapters, but the stories are short, 40 pages, 71 pages, and 102 pages.

I’m going to say a few things about each story from The Blazing World and other writings compilation.

The Contract (1656)

Is a happy story about a strong lady, Deletia, that was raised by her uncle. She was well learned and intelligent. The heroine’s speech is eloquent, she is beautiful and modest. When she is admired for her beauty, she says that this will pass. Quite a staggering idea for mid 17th century.

Assaulted and Pursued Chastity (1656)

This is a complicated story, with lots of changes. The heroine, Miseria, is a highly intelligent lady, preferring mathematical books to romance. She becomes Affectionata in a new world. Only to disguises herself as a man, called Travellia. Margaret introduces controversial notions, like cannibalism in which she compares eating livestock to humans, aspects of religion, slavery. Subjects that are not easy to write even today.

The Description of a New World, Called The Blazing World (1666)

The Blazing World is an utopian fantasy. The heroine arrives in a new world after she was kidnapped and taken to the North Pole. She becomes Empress and spends her time talking to her subjects on different topics, like science, religion.

I imagine that some of the ideas mentioned in the story would classify her as heretic in the eyes of the 1600s Church. For example, one of her subjects replies, when asked, that there is only one religion as there is only one God. Or another person says that the nature has no beginning, but that is eternal. That things change, but they don’t have a start. Quite modern ideas. Also, she made her own religion and used a bit of trickery to make them follow her religion.
The lovely part is that the Empress summons Lady Margaret, her husband makes a couple of appearances too. Their love and respect is so visible in the story, is beautiful. I was amazed by her creativity.

The Blazing World and Other Writings by Margaret Cavendish

Details about the picture:
My rating: 4.5/5 Stars.
Would I recommend it: Yes.
Published by: Penguin Classics
Year it was published: This edition is from 2004. First time published in the 17th century.
Format: Paperback
Genre(s): Fiction
Pages: 230

About the author: Margaret Lucas was born in 1623. The Civil War started when she was 19. At 20 she becomes Maid of Honour of Queen Henrietta Maria. The following year they escape to Paris. William Cavendish, Marquis of Newcastle, 31 years her senior, lives there in exile. In 1645, they met in Paris and get married.
In 1647, Margaret’s sister and mother die of natural causes. Her brother is executed the following year, when the Second Civil War starts. King Charles I is executed in 1649 and Commonwealth is declared.
In 1651, Margaret and her brother in law get back to London to petition for the release of their sequestered estate. It was unsuccessful. A couple of year later, she starts publishing her work in Antwerp, where she lived.
After the restoration of the monarchy, in 1660, she returns to England with her husband. 5 years later, Newcastle is made Duke by King Charles II.
In 1667, she publishes Life of William Cavendish. She dies in 1673 and she is buried in Westminster Abbey.
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2 thoughts on “The Blazing World and Other Writings by Margaret Cavendish”

  • This sounds like a fascinating book offering a real window back into the past. This is my favourite period of history

  • I think her writing would be interesting to read, especially to find out about the world at that time. Assaulted and Pursued Chastity sounds like it had some different and controversial ideas!

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