Synopses & Reviews
'The whole story of this Lady is a romance, and all she doth is romantic' Pepys
Flamboyant, theatrical, exuding ambiguous sexuality, Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, was one of the seventeeth century's most striking figures, experimental in her personality as much as in her prolific writings.
Both 'The Contract' and 'Assaulted and Pursued Chastity' (from Nature's Pictures, 1656) are romances which play out the empowering possibilities of disguise or masking for women. The centrepiece of this collection is 'The Blazing World', the only known Utopian fiction by a seventeenth century woman writer, an inventive and extravagant portrayal of the rise of a woman to absolute power.
This is the description of "The New Blazing World" (1666) - one of the earliest pieces of science fiction writing. It attempts, in the manner of contemporary utopian fantasies, to tell the story of a voyage to another world where speculative science reigns.
About the Author
Margaret Lucas Cavendish Duchess of Newcastle (1623-73), was the youngest and minimally educated child of a wealthy Essex family. In 1643, the year after the outbreak of the English Civil War, she became a Maid of Honour to Queen Henrietta Maria, travelling with her into Parisian exile in 1644. There, in 1645, she married the widowed William Cavendish, Marquis (later Duke) of Newcastle (1593-1676), who had been commander of Charles I's forces in the north, and a well-known patron of arts and letters. The Newcastles lived lavishly on credit in Antwerp from 1648 until the Restoration allowed their return to England in 1660. Between 1653 and 1668 Margaret Cavendish published a dozen substantial books including poetry, moral tales, speculative fiction, romance, scientific treatises, natural philosophy, familiar letters, closet drama, orations, an autobiographical memoir and a biography of her husband. The sheer quantity and variety of Cavendish's published writing was unprecedented amongst earlier English women. These publications, and her cultivation of personal singularity, made her an infamous figure both in her own lifetime and since, subverting patriarchal codes of feminiity while championing the legitimacy of monarchy. She appears in theatrical cameos in the writings of contemporaries like Pepys and Dorothy Osborne, and in subsequent accounts of maverick women by such writers as Charles Lamb and Virginia Woolf. Through her generically experimental and diverse writings, Margaret Cavendish emerges as an ironically self-designated spectacle, and as the self-proclaimed producer of hybrid creation and inimitable discourses, which are finally beginning to receive the attention that her life has rarely lacked.
Table of Contents
The contract -- Assaulted and pursued chastity -- The description of a new world, called the blazing world.