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Utopian Negotiation

Aphra Behn and Margaret Cavendish

by Oddvar Holmesland

Publication Year: 2013

In this work of literary criticism, Holmesland sets out to explore the nature of utopianism in the writings of two prominent women authors of the Restoration Period, Margaret Cavendish and Aphra Behn. Margaret Cavendish (1623-1673) was a dramatist and essayist best known today for The Blazing World, which is often considered one of the earliest precursors to science fiction. Aphra Behn (1640-1689) was also a dramatist and fiction writer, and her most famous book, Oroonoko: or, the Royal Slave is acknowledged as one of the earliest English novels. There is no other book-length exploration of the two authors together, and in this text Holmesland explores the nature of utopianism in both of their writings, considering the entirety of their literary output.

Published by: Syracuse University Press


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p. 1-1

Front Flap, Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, About the Author

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pp. 2-8


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

Part of chapter 2 appeared in an earlier form in my article “Fighting the Kingdom of Faction in Bell in Campo,” Early Modern Literary Studies Special Issue (2004): 5.1–25. Much of chapter 3 is based on material used in my article “Margaret Cavendish’s The Blazing World: Natural Art and the Body Politic,” ...

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1. Introduction: Negotiating Utopia

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pp. 1-43

Margaret Cavendish (1623–1673) and Aphra Behn (1640–1689) are now celebrated as two of the boldest, most prolific women authors of seventeenth-century England. Their writings—prose narratives, plays, poems—seek to widen the narrow room granted women by patriarchal tradition. ...

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2. Bell in Campo and The Female Academy (1662): Female Wit in the “Theatre of Warr”

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pp. 44-82

A discussion of Cavendish’s utopian negotiation starts best with a study of Bell in Campo and The Female Academy. These plays clearly lay out the conflict of a group of self-fashioning women confined by male-defined gender roles. Cavendish queries the terms of a viable agreement. ...

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3. The Blazing World (1666): “Nature tends to Unity”

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pp. 83-110

Utopian negotiation takes place on a more comprehensive scale in The Blazing World than in Bell in Campo and The Female Academy. All three deal with female self-fashioning, but The Blazing World goes further and incorporates it into the extended arrangements of a utopian regime. ...

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4. The Convent of Pleasure (1668): Cross-gendering Negotiation

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pp. 111-143

The Convent of Pleasure continues the exploration of a widened range of the female self, but with a difference. It dwells more on the women’s rich life of the senses. That, however, is not the whole truth, for the women also want a more masculine, rational role. ...

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5. Transitions

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pp. 144-151

The preceding discussion has described Cavendish’s advocacy of female emancipation, her political conservatism, and her natural philosophy. Her gender struggle and royalism do not seem immediately compatible. They at once suggest her unresolved position in a changing world and reflect the ideological uncertainty of her time. ...

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6. A Voyage to the Isle of Love (1684) and Lycidus (1688): A “Truce” with “Unhappy Eyes”

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pp. 152-187

A Voyage to the Isle of Love1 and Lycidus2 enact an unreconciled state between erotic and spiritual love. Mediating free will, nurtured by rational, natural motions, is lacking. The voyage to the remote Isle of Love still involves a quest for an ideal conciliation in the image of a restored Golden Age. ...

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7. “The Golden Age” (1684): Feminized Reciprocity as Social Model

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pp. 188-206

Behn’s 198-line poem “The Golden Age. A Paraphrase on a Translation out of French” engages with the same conflict of power as The Isle of Love and Lycidus. Yet the difference is that “The Golden Age” presents utopian desire fulfilled, though on a smaller pastoral scale. ...

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8. The Emperor of the Moon (1687): Common Sense, Natural Vision, and Tempered Utopianism

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pp. 207-226

Lisander in The Isle of Love aims for divine heights together with Aminta, but blinded by his obsession falls to the ground. Heaven and earth remain unreconciled. “The Golden Age,” however, tempers the passionate conqueror, softens his masculinity and joins noble swains with regenerative femininity. ...

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9. Oroonoko (1688): The Crisis of Ideologies in Restoration England

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pp. 227-249

Oroonoko: Or, The Royal Slave makes gestures toward a more fulfilling state of being. The protagonist Oroonoko pursues heavenly love with Imoinda; together they are like Mars and Venus (12), the counterparts of the Prince and Lady Happy as Neptune and a sea goddess. ...

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10. The Widow Ranter (1689) and The Rover (1677): Honor in the New World

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pp. 250-285

Behn’s play The Widow Ranter1 deals with the escapades of the English General Bacon in colonial Virginia. Bacon’s interests, like Oroonoko’s, seem divided. The romantically inspired Oroonoko, demoted to a slave, asserts his royal prerogative as leader of his fellow slaves; ...

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11. Conclusion

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pp. 286-296

Criticism on Behn and Cavendish has generally focused on only a few of the major texts: typically Cavendish’s The Blazing World and Observations upon Experimental Philosophy, and Behn’s The Rover and Oroonoko. These works have in turn tended to appeal to a specific set of interests: ...

Appendixes Works Cited Index

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pp. 297-298

Appendix A

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pp. 299-302

Appendix B

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pp. 303-304

Works Cited

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pp. 305-324


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pp. 325-348

Back Flap, Back Cover

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pp. 363-364

E-ISBN-13: 9780815652083
E-ISBN-10: 0815652089
Print-ISBN-13: 9780815633129
Print-ISBN-10: 0815633122

Page Count: 316
Publication Year: 2013

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Subject Headings

  • Newcastle, Margaret Cavendish, -- Duchess of, 1624?-1674 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Behn, Aphra, -- 1640-1689 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Women and literature -- England -- History -- 17th century.
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