The Description of a New World, Called the Blazing World

by Margaret Cavendish

Rating

* * * *

Did we like it?

Yes

For Feminist
Bookclub?

Yes

Book Review

Our group selected this book because we wanted to go back further than first wave feminists and suffragettes.  We considered several books, including Cristine Pizan’s The City of Ladies, which is an excellent tribute to powerful women in antiquity, but it is also very dense.  Instead, we decided to dive into a short, early feminist Utopian novel by Margaret Cavendish.   We soon found out that in order to understand the complexity of Cavendish’s characters and fictional worlds, we would need to know a lot about her life and her deep interests in the natural sciences, which proved to be harder to find as she is not as researched in this area as one would hope.  

 

Research on the royal academy was helpful, but The Blazing World is really difficult to appreciate without a solid understanding of scientific theories and debates being discussed during her time.  With that being said, many of us really enjoyed the ways in which her central character, essentially herself, moves freely between fictional worlds and physical bodies.  Her character breaks physical barriers and creates a world where empirical knowledge is appreciated above rational thinking and Cartesian philosophy. The main character is essentially creating her own world as she imagines it, and relies on the Dutchess of Newcastle (her public persona) to advise her on how to arrange and rule the new world.  What seems to be at the heart of the story is female authorship; a woman fully in charge of creating and ruling her own world. Also, for a woman of her scientific ambitions, her main character interrogates existing beliefs in science and is actively involved in enacting her own concepts of the natural world.

 

We found it interesting that Cavendish did not really break down the class structure or create a society without a central ruler, given that most utopian writers try to offer some other solution to centralized authority.  Her new world wasn’t exactly a model utopian society either (one might prefer her fascinating book, The Convent of Pleasure, to find a mock society ruled by women).  We found her female character to have moments of brutality and to maintain an imperialistic attitude towards the people she would rule in her new world.  Having a maternal love for her subjects made her authority no less undemocratic.

 

With that being said, our group responded to the creative feminine spirit shared and enacted by the two main female characters.   We also appreciated the main character’s rich imagination, and we related to her desire to arrange her world outside of traditional ideas.  

Why these ratings?

Even though some of the ideas were difficult to understand without more knowledge of the scientific debates happening during her time, we still enjoyed the narrative style and the creative female force motivating Cavendish’s characters.  I would present some scientific terms to go with the reading and maybe even read her Observations Upon Experimental Philosophy first.

Margaret Cavendish is a writer that all women should know about. She wrote texts that seem to be ahead of her time. One can spend a lot of time on Cavendish because not only did she write poems, novels and plays, she was also very much engaged in natural philosophy, wrote scientific papers, and fought to be recognized by the Royal Society.    

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