|Portrait of Margaret Cavendish (Wiki)|
Margaret Lucas was born in 1623, the youngest of eight children, and had a lively childhood, partly spent with Queen Henrietta Maria in exile in France. In 1645 she married William Cavendish, 1st Duke of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, who was a staunch royalist and reasonably successful military commander (so had had a difficult few years until the Restoration of Charles II). He was an enthusiastic patron of the arts and sciences, which is perhaps why he and Margaret formed a happy couple - her lively and wide-ranging intellect would undoubtedly have attracted his attention. He was devastated by her death in 1673, and died just three years later.
|Cover - The Blazing World (Wiki)|
The Blazing World is, by modern standards, a slightly odd book. The protagonist, a lady whose name we never learn, is abducted by an impatient suitor, but her virtue is preserved by divine intervention which diverts the ship towards the north pole where the wickedly motivated men all perish. The lady herself is rescued by creatures which are man-like but with animal qualities - once in the Blazing World proper, she will meet Bear-men, Fox-men, Fly-men, Bird-men, Fish-men and so on. Her rescuers take her through a narrow passageway which connects our world with The Blazing World. Since there is only one such passage, and the celestial view in her new home is entirely different, a modern author might well describe this as a wormhole connection rather like in Stargate.
The Emperor of this world is smitten with her, and after a very short interval the two marry. There is then a long passage in which the new Empress quizzes the various theoretical and experimental factions in her new home - clearly satirising the state of affairs in the Royal Society, though many of the barbs evade recognition by today's reader. Part of this section describes the creation of a array of miniature universes, each intending to explore some particular theme, and most of which are unstable and collapse again because of their own inconsistencies. It sounds very like an early exploration of what we now call the Anthropic Principle - the laws of the universe are constrained by the fact that intelligent life has arisen in it.
|Margaret Cavendish (née Lucas), |
Duchess of Newcastle upon Tyne,
by Pieter Louis van Schuppen,
after Abraham Diepenbeeck,
late 17th century,
© National Portrait Gallery, London
The second half of the book describes a kind of interplanetary war - the Empress learns that her original native country is under attack by a large alliance, and decides her duty is to help. So she devises a kind of blitzkrieg strategy including air power (the Bird-men) and submarine warfare (the Fish-men) to overwhelm the assembled enemies. The combination is unstoppable, and it is clear that if she wanted, she could assume control of our world as well. Being of a restrained disposition she does not do this, but withdraws again once victory is assured.
The book closes with William and Margaret gaining inspiration for certain changes to their own estates on the basis of what they have seen in the alternative world, and a commitment to ongoing friendship and communion between the two worlds.
Margaret Cavendish and her writing went off everybody's radar for many years, with the rise of the true novel. However, after a considerable time of obscurity, she has started to resurface. In 1997 the Margaret Cavendish Society was formed to encourage academic study of her work. The blend of feminism, science, philosophy, fantasy and interpersonal relationships has found a resonance in our own age.
Margaret is quite open about her purpose in writing the book, and her pride in being its creator: "...you may perceive, that my ambition is not onely to be Empress, but Authoress of a whole World... in the formation of those worlds, I take more delight and glory, than ever Alexander or Cesar did in conquering this terrestrial world... concerning the Philosophical-world, I am Empress of it my self; and as for the Blazing-World, it having an Empress already, who rules it with great Wisdom and Conduct, which Empress is my dear Platonick Friend; I shall never prove so unjust, treacherous, and unworthy to her, as to disturb her Government, much less to depose her from her Imperial Throne, for the sake of any other, but rather chuse to create another World for another Friend."
Stirring words, indeed, and ones which many an author would identify with!
About the author:
Richard Abbott is one of the reviewers at The Review, and lives in London, England. He writes science fiction about our solar system in the fairly near future, and also historical fiction set in the ancient Middle East - Egypt, Syria, Canaan and Israel. His latest book is an excursion into historical fantasy,
When not writing words or computer code, he enjoys spending time with family, walking, and wildlife, ideally combining all three pursuits in the English Lake District. He is the author of In a Milk and Honeyed Land, Scenes From a Life, The Flame Before Us - Far from the Spaceports. and Timing - and most recently Half Sick of Shadows. He can be found at his website or blog, on Google+, Goodreads, Facebook and Twitter.