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Margaret Cavendish and the Exiles of the Mind

Margaret Cavendish and the Exiles of the Mind

Anna Battigelli
Copyright Date: 1998
Edition: 1
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    Margaret Cavendish and the Exiles of the Mind
    Book Description:

    Margaret Cavendish, duchess of Newcastle (1623-1673), led a dramatic life that brought her into contact with kings, queens, and the leading thinkers of her day. The English civil wars forced her into exile, accompanying Queen Henrietta Maria and her court to Paris. From this vantage point, she began writing voluminously, responding to the events and major intellectual movements of the mid-seventeenth century.

    Cavendish published twenty-three volumes in her lifetime, including plays, romances, poetry, letters, biography, and natural philosophy. In them she explored the political, scientific, and philosophical ideas of her day. While previous biographers of Cavendish have focused almost exclusively on her eccentric public behavior, Anna Battigelli is the first to explore in depth her intellectual life. She dismisses the myth of Cavendish as an isolated and lonely thinker, arguing that the role of exile was a rhetorical stance, one that allowed Cavendish to address and even criticize her world. She, like others writing during the period after the English civil wars, focused squarely on the problem of finding the proper relationship between mind and world. This volume presents Cavendish's writing self, the self she treasured above all others.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4752-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Note on Dates, Spelling, Editions, and Titles
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. 1 Introduction: The Writing Life
    (pp. 1-10)

    No seventeenth-century English woman focused her energies more intensely on the life of the mind than did Margaret Cavendish. This characteristic more than any other distinguishes her work. She became a compulsive writer, so furiously driven that by her own account she could not be bothered to revise for fear that doing so might “disturb [her] following Conceptions.”¹ That she considered her thoughts worthy of recording for a future audience, one that might evaluate them with greater equanimity than she credited her contemporaries with possessing, is not surprising. She led a sensational life marked by public and historic moments that...

  6. 2 A Strange Enchantment: “The Wooing of the Mind” at the Court of Henrietta Maria
    (pp. 11-38)

    Margaret Cavendish—then Margaret Lucas—first encountered Platonism when she joined the court of Henrietta Maria at Oxford in 1643. She became a maid of honor at a moment of crisis, as the hostilities of the English civil war intensified, focusing in large part on the Catholic queen, whom the House of Commons had that summer accused of high treason.¹ Lucas’s brief attendance on the queen would have profound consequences for her later writing career as Margaret Cavendish. She accompanied Henrietta Maria into exile in France, and though she could not have foreseen it at the time, she spent most...

  7. 3 World and Mind in Conflict: Cavendish’s Review of the New Atomism
    (pp. 39-61)

    As a new bride in Paris, Cavendish experienced a bewildering concurrence of intellectual exhilaration and deep emotional pain. From her privileged place at the center of her husband’s salon, she had the rare opportunity of learning about the leading scientific and philosophic ideas of her day directly from their expositors and indirectly from her husband and her brother-in-law, both of whom tutored her. She became particularly fascinated with atomism, which was then the rage in Paris. As members of her husband’s salon pieced together competing atomist systems, she too began to explore the world as an atomist system, one that,...

  8. 4 “No House But My Mind”: Cavendish’s Hobbesian Dilemma
    (pp. 62-84)

    When Cavendish rejected atomism as a theory of matter in 1655, she did so because such a system would result in “an infinite and eternal disorder.”¹ With this statement a new political anxiety enters her writing. In 1663 she was still elucidating her reasons for having rejected atomism: “As for Atoms, after I had Reasoned with my Self, I conceived that it was not probable, that the Universe and all the Creatures therein could be Created and Disposed by the Dancing and Wandering and Dusty motion of Atoms.”² The dance of atoms was unlikely, in her mind, to result in...

  9. 5 Rationalism versus Experimentalism: Cavendish’s Satire of the Royal Society
    (pp. 85-113)

    By the time Cavendish returned to England from her “long banishment,” she had integrated the role of exile into the core of her identity. It had ceased to be a geographical imposition and had become instead a voluntary interiority, a retreat from the ungovernable external world to the more tractable worlds of the mind constructed within her texts. Perhaps remembering Henrietta Maria’s interest in the contemplative life, Cavendish had devoted herself to it, claiming repeatedly to prefer retirement and isolation to a more public life. Yet her retirement from the world was, due to her prolific publishing career, very public;...

  10. 6 Conclusion: The Exiles of the Mind
    (pp. 114-116)

    Margaret Cavendish spent her last years revising and republishing her work with characteristic energy.Orationsreappeared in revised form in 1668, as didPoems, or, Several Fancies in Verse, Grounds of Natural Philosophy,and a Latin version of her biography of her husband translated by the faithful Walter Charleton.¹ To these she added a new volume,Plays, Never Before Printed,which was probably composed earlier. In 1671 she added revisions ofNature’s PicturesandThe World’s Olio.She had written compulsively throughout her mature life, “convers[ing] with few” and engaging with the world on her own terms—exclusively through her...

  11. Appendix A Problems in the Dating of Margaret Lucas’s Birth
    (pp. 117-118)
  12. Appendix B The Letters of Margaret Lucas Addressed to William Cavendish
    (pp. 119-132)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 133-158)
  14. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 159-174)
  15. Index
    (pp. 175-180)