Anyone who studies women’s writing is familiar with Virginia Woolf’s ‘room of her own’ equation, but I was delighted to discover that Margaret Cavendish in the seventeenth century didn’t bother with a room… she wanted a world. In the preface to The Blazing World, she notes “though I cannot be Henry the Fifth, or Charles the Second, yet I endeavour to be Margaret the First; and although I have neither power, time, nor occasion to conquer the world as Alexander and Caesar did; yet rather than not to be mistress of one, since Fortune and the Fates would give me none, I have made a world of my own” (see Penguin Classics edition, p124).*
The Blazing World has a claim as early science fiction. There’s a fairy tale quality, but the Empress of the Blazing World has a scientific mind and wonders are grounded in scientific theory. Margaret Cavendish writes herself into the tale as the Duchess of Newcastle, becoming the great friend of the Empress, not unlike how d’Aulnoy wrote herself into her tales as a renown author. Faced with war, the two women examine their options. They ask the giants to learn the art of making ships that sail under water. The giants oblige, creating, it appears, submarines. The Empress sadly rejects the notion of having spirits enter dead bodies so as to create an army of the undead, though. Yes, Cavendish was on the verge of writing about a zombie army.
It’s rather amusing to find such ideas in a book published in 1666.
Cavendish herself was a lover of spectacle and passionate about experimenting with fashion. Such liveliness led to her nickname of Mad Madge. I’m still reading up on her, but she’s certainly caught my attention some three and a half centuries later.
*Woolf actually references Cavendish in her work as someone rather monstrous.