The Blazing World
A weird one today for the Karavansara Free Library.
I found out about Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle-upon-Tyne in a piece on the BBC website – trust the beeb to expand our horizons.
Margaret Cavendish was born in 1623, and is listed in Wikipedia as
aristocrat, philosopher, poet, scientist, fiction-writer, and playwright
Not bad, uh?
She was of a Stoic disposition, and dabbled in Natural Sciences, and was generally regarded as the sort of woman that is doing what a woman should not do.
And this makes her welcome on Karavansara.
Virginia Wolf summed up her strengths and her weaknesses:
“though her philosophies are futile, and her plays intolerable, and her verses mainly dull, the vast bulk of the Duchess is leavened by a vein of authentic fire. One cannot help following the lure of her erratic and lovable personality as it meanders and twinkles through page after page. There is something noble and Quixotic and high-spirited, as well as crack-brained and bird-witted, about her. Her simplicity is so open; her intelligence so active; her sympathy with fairies and animals so true and tender. She has the freakishness of an elf, the irresponsibility of some non-human creature, its heartlessness, and its charm.”
Talk about back-handed compliments.
What might be fun to read, despite Virginia’s trenchant opinion, is The Description of a New World, Called the Blazing World, published in 1666 and a strong contender for the title of first science fiction novel, a much earlier entry than Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
You may have heard of the book because it is mentioned both in Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and in China Mieville Un-Lun-Dun.
It’s the story of a woman that finds an interdimensional passage (or who knows, maybe a wormhole) in the Arctic, and through it reaches a new world.
You can read it in the free ebook edition found on the pages of Project Gutenberg.
Yes, it’s been written in 1666, so it’s a bit dated.
But it stands a strong chance of being a founding document in the genre of speculative fiction, so it might be worth a look.
I certainly will give it a look, and maybe write a longer, more detailed piece.
But for the time being, you heard about it first.
Here, or through the BBC.