“A World of her own Invention”: The Realm of Fancy in Margaret Cavendish’s The Description of a New World, Called the Blazing World
- Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies
- University of Pennsylvania Press
- Volume 16, Number 1, Winter 2016
- pp. 123-145
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By scrutinizing the pressures attendant on Margaret Cavendish’s efforts to define “fancy,” this essay participates in a reassessment of Cavendish’s work that has begun in recent years. The essay focuses on Cavendish’s Description of a New World, Called the Blazing World (1666), arguing that although the work champions independent, imaginative thought, Cavendish in fact uses such independence to author a fictive space of intellectual coercion. Through an analysis of Cavendish’s scientific and political agendas as they were carried out in this text and in her Observations upon Experimental Philosophy (1666) published with it, this essay asks whether apparent contradictions between those agendas can be explained as satire—and particularly as satire targeting the Royal Society. As some critics have suggested, the presence in the text of multiple figures standing in for Cavendish herself strongly indicates satirical intent. But this multiplicity circumscribes the serious lesson about independent worldmaking that Cavendish is so eager to promote. Ultimately, the text suggests that to learn that lesson is simultaneously to submit to a highly authoritarian form of didacticism.