Authorial Conquests: Essays on Genre in the Writings of Margaret Cavendish

Authorial Conquests: Essays on Genre in the Writings of Margaret Cavendish

Authorial Conquests: Essays on Genre in the Writings of Margaret Cavendish

Authorial Conquests: Essays on Genre in the Writings of Margaret Cavendish

Synopsis

This collection of essays by leading scholars offers the first substantial study of Margaret Cavendish's innovative use of genre and tries to render justice to her extraordinary authorial ambition. The thoroughness of Cavendish's literary project was formidable: she built up a large body of work by systematic "conquest" of the major seventeenth-century genres, questioning their codes and conventions, while reflecting on her own practice. The eleven contributions to this volume are interdisciplinary and multinational and thus present a variety of critical approaches to the problem of placing Cavendish's generic explorations in the context of contemporary literary and philosophical history.

Excerpt

Line Cottegnies and Nancy Weitz

I dedicate this Book to Fortune, for I believe she is a powerfull
Princess;… Wherefore if Fortune please, with her helping
hand, she may place my Book in Fames high Tow’r, where
every word, like a Cymball, shall make a Tinkling Noise; and
the whole Volume, like a Cannon Bullet, shall Eccho from Side
to Side of Fames large Brasen Walls, and make so loud a
Report, that all the World shall hear it.

Margaret Cavendish, The Worlds Olio
(London, 1655), fol. A1–A1v

Margaret lucas cavendish, duchess of newcastle (1623?– 1673), and her voluminous literary and philosophical works still conjure up for many the image of “Mad Madge,” the sometimes lovable and vaguely improper woman scribbling away at a writing desk or riding through Hyde Park in her carriage in fanciful costume, as immortalized by Samuel Pepys, the Evelyns, Dorothy Osborne, and, more recently, Virginia Woolf. Her full and rich biography, and the many historical figures who discuss her in their own better-known writings, effectively prevented Cavendish’s works from receiving concerted, serious attention for centuries: whenever the writings were mentioned, the same few poetic passages with their “eccentric” images were trotted out as proof of her madness and thus gave license to disregard her work as frivolous, fanciful, unstructured, uneducated. in the 1980s, feminist critics wishing to retrieve Cavendish from oblivion not surprisingly found the contradictions in her work infuriating and often responded with a half-disappointed, half-defensive attitude toward her. Due to the importance and influence of these studies, this reaction lingers, despite the fact that her works are now widely studied by scholars of English literature, philosophy, history, the history of science and women’s studies alike.

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