Margaret Cavendish – “The Blazing World” (excerpts)

Cavendish’s Blazing World is a romance-cum-utopia-cum-science fiction. In the excerpt from the preface she again unabashedly says she is after fame and that’s why she decided to encrust her philosophical observations with these pieces of fancy. If her readers do not like it, she is reconciled to stay alone in her imaginary world which has more gold and diamonds than this world every did, but (digressing here a bit) she would like only as many diamonds as to give to her friends, and as much gold as to pay for her husband’s losses during the years when he was in exile.

The first excerpt from the novel proper begins with the story of a young girl who through some improbable events finds her way into the alternative world, called the Blazing World. Its emperor on seeing her believes her to be a goddess, and when she tells him she is only mortal, he immediately marries her and relinquishes all the power into her hands. I would strongly suspect this girl to be a Mary Sue figure, except that apparently Margaret Cavendish herself also appears in the novel.  Then Cavendish describes this strange world where all the priests and governors are aristocrats and eunuchs. They have skins of various brilliant hues such as purple, green, orange etc., and Cavendish shows she knew a little bit about the various then current theories about the physics of colour. Other common people are “bear-men, some worm-men, some fish- or mear-men, otherwise called sirens; some bird-men, some fly-men, some ant-men” etc. As you can see, Cavendish basically invented all the superheroes exploited by Marvell and some who were not discovered by Marvell yet. They all practice such professions which are most appropriate for their species, which the empress encourages, but while I can see why the fox-men are politicians, I don’t quite understand why the lice-men should be mathematicians.

The empress has some interesting conversations with the priests and statesmen. They tell her they have so few laws because the more laws, the more problems and divisions. They praise the monarchy (unsuprisingly for a Royalist such as Cavendish) because it’s the most natural and logical form of government – one head, one God, one body. As for their religion, they are strictly monotheistic and there is no difference of religion between them. Some observations are more surprising, which shows Cavendish is a more complicated writer I gave her credit for, or that she still shared many of her eras misogynist prejudices. For instance, the empress thinks that her new subjects are Jews or Turks, because she can’t see any women in their places of worship, and they explain that when people of different sexes get together, they think more about flirting than worship, so women pray privately at home. Also, the priests and politicians castrate themselves because wives and children “most commonly make disturbance” in church or state, even though they are not admitted to any positions of power; indeed, their secret influence is much more dangerous than if they were exercising their power openly. I guess the “empress” as being almost a goddess and all, is exempt from the category of “women”.

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