Philosophy Margaret Cavendish
by
Deborah Boyle
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 September 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0375

Introduction

Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle (b. 1623–d. 1673), published at least six works of natural philosophy under her own name (the number depends on how one counts various second editions she published). Her prolific output also included poems, plays, essays, speeches, stories, science fiction, and letters to fictional correspondents. Despite Cavendish’s own desire for fame, her reputation has suffered at the hands of readers and biographers who dismissed her philosophical writings without giving them any serious consideration. However, interest in Cavendish’s philosophical theories has increased exponentially since the 1980s. Much of the secondary literature published in the 1980s and 1990s aimed to dispel the idea that Cavendish is not worthy of study and to establish both that Cavendish’s writings were informed by her careful readings of the work of her contemporaries, and that Cavendish’s own philosophical thinking consisted of a detailed, internally consistent alternative to the mechanistic natural philosophy embraced by many of those contemporaries. Now, fortunately, scholars do not feel the need to justify their study of Cavendish. Secondary literature published since the early 2000s on Cavendish’s philosophical work starts from the assumptions that studying Cavendish’s works enriches our understanding of the landscape of 17th-century philosophy and that the details of Cavendish’s views are inherently worth analyzing. The secondary literature on Cavendish is now extensive and comes from many disciplines—English literature, philosophy, history, history of science, political science, and cultural studies, among others—and, accordingly, draws on a variety of methodological approaches. For this bibliography, secondary literature has been chosen which is based on close textual analysis and sensitivity to the historical and philosophical contexts in which Cavendish was writing. Works are divided into the following sections: Primary Sources, Modern Editions, Biographies, Overviews, Online Resources, Anthologies, Natural Philosophy, Epistemology, Political Philosophy, Religion and Theology, and Rhetorical Style.

Primary Sources

Recent scholarship has recognized that Cavendish’s philosophical views can best be understood by examining the full range of her works, including her stories, poems, plays, speeches, and fictional letters as well as her philosophical treatises. Thus all of Cavendish’s texts (except her biography of her husband William Newcastle) are listed in this section, divided into two categories, Works on Natural Philosophy and Literary Works.

Works on Natural Philosophy

Cavendish’s natural-philosophical writings can be divided into three stages. First, she briefly engaged with atomism in Poems, and Fancies; because this volume has poems on many topics other than atomism it is included in the section Literary Works. In the second stage, Cavendish first embraced a theory that is usually called “vitalist materialism,” the first incarnation of which appears in Philosophicall Fancies and the first edition (1655) of Philosophical and Physical Opinions. In Cavendish’s theory, matter is composed of three “degrees”: rational matter, sensitive matter, and inanimate matter. The third stage of Cavendish’s natural-philosophical thought was her mature version of vitalist materialism, in which she argued that rational and sensitive matter are knowing, perceptive, and free, and in which she endorsed a theory of occasional causation against theories of causation promoted by mechanistic philosophers such as Descartes and Hobbes. This more elaborated version of her theory develops in the second (1663) edition of Philosophical and Physical Opinions (Cavendish 1663), Philosophical Letters, Observations upon Experimental Philosophy, and Grounds of Natural Philosophy. Although The Description of a New World, Called The Blazing World was published as a companion piece to Observations and addresses many themes in natural philosophy, it is a work of science fiction and is not devoted entirely to natural philosophy, so it is included in the section Literary Works.

  • Cavendish, Margaret. Philosophicall Fancies. London: Tho. Roycroft for J. Martin and J. Allestrye, 1653.

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    The first of Cavendish’s works to present her vitalist theory of matter as composed of a mixture of three types. Cavendish later reprinted its prose sections in the first (1655) edition of Philosophical and Physical Opinions. A preface “To the Reader” notes her thwarted intention to publish this book with the earlier Poems, and Fancies (cited under Literary Works). A PDF is available through the subscription-only database Early English Books Online. There is no modern edition.

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  • Cavendish, Margaret. Philosophical and Physical Opinions. London: J. Martin and J. Allestrye, 1655.

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    Part 1 reprints all but the poems from Philosophicall Fancies. Parts 2 through 5 are new to this volume, expanding on Cavendish’s theory of matter. All front matter is also new: two pieces by William Newcastle and ten by Cavendish, justifying her engagement with philosophy and defending her originality. Also contains “A Condemning Treatise of Atomes.” PDF available through the subscription-only database Early English Books Online. There is no modern edition.

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  • Cavendish, Margaret. Philosophical and Physical Opinions. London: William Wilson, 1663.

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    Differs substantially from the earlier edition of the same name (Cavendish’s 1655). No front matter from the first edition is retained, having been replaced by a new poem by William Newcastle, five new letters to the reader, and a preface explaining Cavendish’s terminology. Content has been completely reorganized, rewritten, and expanded. PDF is available through the subscription-only database Early English Books Online. There is no modern edition.

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  • Cavendish, Margaret. Philosophical Letters: Or, Modest Reflections Upon some Opinions in Natural Philosophy, Maintained by several Famous and Learned Authors of this Age, Expressed by way of Letters. London: n.p., 1664.

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    Cavendish engages with a fictional female correspondent to defend her philosophical views and to argue against the views of Hobbes, Descartes, Henry More, Van Helmont, Charleton, Gideon Harvey, and others. A PDF is available through the subscription-only database Early English Books Online. There is no modern edition. Prof. Stewart Duncan provides helpful descriptions and notes on the letters on his website, The Letters in the Philosophical Letters.

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  • Cavendish, Margaret. Grounds of Natural Philosophy. London: A. Maxwell, 1668a.

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    Although Cavendish describes this as a second edition of Philosophical and Physical Opinions (see Cavendish’s 1655 and Cavendish 1663), it omits earlier front matter and adds a new appendix on God, other worlds, and restoring the dead to life. Available as PDF through the subscription-only database Early English Books Online, or in facsimile with introduction by Colette V. Michael (West Cornwall, CT: Locust Hill Press, 1996). There is no modern edition yet.

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  • Cavendish, Margaret. Observations upon Experimental Philosophy. London: A. Maxwell, 1668b.

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    Second edition of the 1666 volume. Differences are primarily cosmetic (e.g., different capitalizations and pagination); however, it contains new material in “To the Reader” and chapters 21, 27, 35, and 37. It omits the first edition’s “Catalogue” and essay “An Explanation of Some Obscure and Doubtful Passages.” PDFs of both editions are available through the subscription-only database Early English Books Online. For a modern edition, see O’Neill 2001 (cited under Modern Editions).

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Literary Works

Cavendish’s literary works appear in a wide range of genres—poems (Poems, and Fancies), essays and allegories (Worlds Olio), stories and autobiography (Natures Pictures), speeches (Orations of Divers Sorts, Accommodated to Divers Places), plays (Playes and Plays, Never Before Printed), letters to a fictional correspondent (CCXI Sociable Letters), and science fiction (The Description of a New World, Called The Blazing World).

  • Cavendish, Margaret. Poems, and Fancies. London: J. Martin and J. Allestrye, 1653.

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    Contains poems on atomism, nature, fairies, hunting, the passions, and other topics. A second edition was published by William Wilson in 1664; a third edition, entitled Poems, or Several Fancies in Verse: with the Animal Parliament, in Prose, was published by Anne Maxwell in 1668. PDF versions of all three are available through the subscription-only database Early English Books Online. No modern editions exist, although selected poems are reprinted in Bowerbank and Mendelson 2000 (cited under Modern Editions).

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  • Cavendish, Margaret. Worlds Olio. London: J. Martin and J. Allestrye, 1655.

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    A miscellaneous collection of essays and analogies, on topics ranging from fame and fancy to politics and gender. A second edition was published by Anne Maxwell in 1671. PDF versions of both editions are available through the subscription-only database Early English Books Online. No modern edition exists, although some selections are included in Bowerbank and Mendelson 2000 (cited under Modern Editions).

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  • Cavendish, Margaret. Natures Pictures. London: J. Martin and J. Allestrye, 1656.

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    A collection of stories in prose and verse. Also includes Cavendish’s autobiography, “A True Relation of my Birth, Breeding, and Life.” A revised, second edition—omitting her autobiography—was published by Anne Maxwell in 1671. PDF versions of both editions available through the subscription-only database Early English Books Online. There is no modern edition, although two stories can be found in Lilley 1994 and the autobiography in Bowerbank and Mendelson 2000 (both cited under Modern Editions).

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  • Cavendish, Margaret. Orations of Divers Sorts, Accommodated to Divers Places. London: n.p., 1662a.

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    Contains speeches written for various contexts: on the battlefield; in peace and political turbulence; in marketplaces, towns, courtrooms, king’s council, and classrooms; on deathbeds and at funerals and weddings. Also contains seven speeches on the status of women, “Female Orations.” Second edition published in 1663, and a third edition by publisher Anne Maxwell in 1668. All three editions available as PDFs through the subscription-only database Early English Books Online. A modern edition is included in James 2003 (cited under Modern Editions).

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  • Cavendish, Margaret. Playes. London: A. Warren for John Martyn, James Allestry, and Thomas Dicas, 1662b.

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    Contains fourteen plays: Loves Adventures, The Several Wits, Youths Glory and Deaths Banquet, The Lady Contemplation, Wits Cabal, The Unnatural Tragedy, The Public Wooing, The Matrimonial Trouble, Natures Three Daughters, The Religious, The Comical Hash, Bell in Campo, The Apocriphal Ladies, and The Female Academy. PDF is available through the subscription-only database Early English Books Online. Loves Adventures is in Shaver 1999; Bell in Campo is in both Shaver 1999 and Bennett 2002 (all cited under Modern Editions).

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  • Cavendish, Margaret. CCXI Sociable Letters. London: William Wilson, 1664.

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    In these letters addressed to a fictional female correspondent, Cavendish relates stories and gossip about (presumably fictional) friends and acquaintances, and opines on such topics as social mores; the status of women; virtue and vice; medical treatments and alchemy; and writings by Plutarch, Shakespeare, and others. A PDF of this work is available through the subscription-only database Early English Books Online. A modern edition is available (Fitzmaurice 2004, cited under Modern Editions).

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  • Cavendish, Margaret. The Description of a New World, Called The Blazing World. London: A. Maxwell, 1668a.

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    This work of science fiction was appended to both editions of Observations upon Experimental Philosophy (cited under Works on Natural Philosophy). Much of Part 1 discusses various natural-philosophical theories. The 1668 edition is a second edition, mainly correcting pagination errors in the 1666 edition and changing some capitalizations. PDF versions of both editions are available through the subscription-only database Early English Books Online. Modern editions include Bowerbank and Mendelson 2000, James 2003, Lilley 1994, and Mendelson 2016 (all cited under Modern Editions).

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  • Cavendish, Margaret. Plays, Never Before Printed. London: A. Maxwell, 1668b.

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    Contains four complete plays plus fragments: The Sociable Companions; The Presence; various scenes that Cavendish had originally planned to include in The Presence; The Bridals; The Convent of Pleasure; and “A Piece of a Play.” A PDF is available through the subscription-only database Early English Books Online. The Bridals is in Shaver 1999; The Convent of Pleasure is in Shaver 1999 and Bowerbank and Mendelson 2000; Sociable Companions is in Bennett 2002 (all cited under Modern Editions).

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Modern Editions

More of Cavendish’s “literary” works have been published in modern editions than have her natural-philosophical works. There are multiple modern editions of Blazing World (Bowerbank and Mendelson 2000, James 2003, Lilley 1994, Mendelson 2016). A few of Cavendish’s plays are available in modern editions (Bennett 2002, Bowerbank and Mendelson 2000, Shaver 1999), as are some selections from Natures Pictures (Lilley 1994, Bowerbank and Mendelson 2000), Poems, and Fancies (Bowerbank and Mendelson 2000), and Worlds Olio (Bowerbank and Mendelson 2000). The full texts of Orations of Divers Sorts and CCXI Sociable Letters are also available in modern editions (James 2003 and Fitzmaurice 2004, respectively). Of Cavendish’s natural-philosophical treatises, however, only Observations upon Experimental Philosophy has so far appeared in modern editions: the full text of the 1668 edition in O’Neill 2001, and an abridged version primarily meant for students (Marshall 2016).

  • Bennett, Alexandra, ed. Bell in Campo and the Sociable Companions. Orchard Park, NY: Broadview, 2002.

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    Contains the complete texts of the 1662 play Bell in Campo, a tale of war in which a female army is victorious, and the 1668 play Sociable Companions, a comic tale of restoration after a war. The introduction and appendices provide historical context and documentary evidence about women in the English Civil War, as well as selections from Cavendish’s autobiography, from her prefaces to the 1662 volume of plays, and from Sociable Letters.

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  • Bowerbank, Sylvia, and Sara Mendelson, eds. Paper Bodies: A Margaret Cavendish Reader. Peterborough, ON: Broadview, 2000.

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    A useful entrée into Cavendish’s fictional works. Divided into sections on “Birth, Breeding, and Self-fashioning,” “Gender and Serious Play,” and “Women and the New Science,” it contains excerpts from several of Cavendish’s literary works; complete texts of her autobiography, Blazing World, and The Convent of Pleasure; letters to Cavendish from Glanvill, Charleton, and Huygens; and selections from Aphra Behn and Francis Bacon to contextualize Cavendish’s views on science. Footnotes primarily explain obsolete terminology.

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  • Fitzmaurice, James, ed. Margaret Cavendish: Sociable Letters. Peterborough, ON: Broadview, 2004.

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    Contains the complete text of CCXI Sociable Letters (with original spelling, punctuation, and capitalization). Fitzmaurice’s introduction considers how Cavendish treats marriage, medicine, war and peace, and literature in some of the letters. Three appendices contain additional material relevant for understanding the practice of 17th-century letter-writing. Also includes a set of 1645 letters from Cavendish to William Newcastle.

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  • James, Susan, ed. Margaret Cavendish: Political Writings. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

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    Contains Blazing World and the only modern edition of Orations of Divers Sorts; both texts have modernized spelling, punctuation, and capitalization. Introduction focuses on fame, honor, and Cavendish’s political philosophy; it includes an extensive bibliography. Detailed footnotes offer valuable historical context, identify sources to which Cavendish alludes, and refer readers to related texts and relevant secondary sources. Unlike other modern editions of Blazing World, this one has an index.

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  • Lilley, Kate, ed. The Blazing-World and Other Writings. London: Penguin, 1994.

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    Useful primarily for its inclusion of two of Cavendish’s longer stories from Natures Pictures, “The Contract” and “Assaulted and Pursued Chastity,” not available elsewhere in modern editions. Also includes Blazing World, but footnotes are less extensive and informative than those in James 2003, Bowerbank and Mendelson 2000, or Mendelson 2016. Lilley’s introduction emphasizes how these three works exemplify the “romance,” and focuses on how they portray women’s agency and possibilities for power.

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  • Marshall, Eugene, ed. Observations upon Experimental Philosophy, abridged. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 2016.

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    An abridged version of Cavendish’s Observations, well suited for use in undergraduate courses, although without prefaces and the “Argumental Discourse.” Introduction provides an overview of themes in Cavendish’s natural philosophy as well as biographical details about Cavendish. Footnotes contain useful background information. An excellent selection of related texts (by Descartes, Hobbes, Boyle, and Hooke) is helpful for contextualizing Cavendish’s views. Spelling, punctuation, and capitalization have been modernized, and some paragraphs subdivided for easier reading.

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  • Mendelson, Sara H., ed. A Description of the Blazing World. Peterborough, ON: Broadview, 2016.

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    Based on Bowerbank and Mendelson 2000, this volume contains Blazing World and the same excerpts from Behn and Bacon and letters included in the 2000 volume. The revised introduction is wide ranging, covering such topics as the role of women in Early Modern science in Blazing World; Blazing World’s connection to genres of romance and travel writing; and contrasts between Cavendish and Henry More. Footnotes are more extensive than in Bowerbank and Mendelson 2000.

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  • O’Neill, Eileen, ed. Observations upon Experimental Philosophy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

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    Based on the 1668 edition, this is the edition of Observations now uniformly cited in secondary literature. Unfortunately, it omits the illuminating “Explanation of Some Obscure and Doubtful Passages” that Cavendish appended only to the 1666 edition. It also contains no cross-references to the original pagination of either the 1666 or 1668 editions. Notwithstanding these two drawbacks, this edition is trustworthy and useful. O’Neill’s introduction is excellent. Spelling, punctuation, and capitalization are modernized.

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  • Shaver, Anne, ed. The Convent of Pleasure and Other Plays. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999.

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    Contains Loves Adventures, Bell in Campo, The Bridals, and The Convent of Pleasure, plays that address issues of gender, marriage, and fame. The introduction discusses why Cavendish’s own fame was so belatedly achieved. Appendices contain some selections of prefatory material from Cavendish’s 1662 and 1668 volumes of plays. Faithful to Cavendish’s original spelling, punctuation, and capitalization.

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Biographies

Cavendish herself wrote an autobiography (Cavendish 1656), which has been a key source for her biographers. Earlier biographies of Cavendish tended to be condescending and dismissive of Cavendish’s work. Grant 1957 and Woolf 1925 are examples; while Woolf 1925 is a short overview of Cavendish’s life rather than a full-fledged biography, it is included here because her unfavorable views of Cavendish’s thought are so widely quoted. Jones 1988 is an interesting biography that gives a good sense of what Cavendish’s day-to-day life might have been like, but without engaging with Cavendish’s philosophical thought. Battigelli 1998 was the first sympathetic intellectual biography of Cavendish, but is somewhat constrained by its attempt to interpret her life and works as consistently manifesting themes of subjectivity and interiority. Whitaker 2002 covers the details of Cavendish’s life and also includes interesting accounts of her writings, both philosophical and literary; it is also a very engaging read. Fitzmaurice 2004 is a useful online resource.

  • Battigelli, Anna. Margaret Cavendish and the Exiles of the Mind. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1998.

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    A short intellectual biography focusing on Cavendish’s writing career. It is sometimes overly concerned to defend Cavendish against charges of eccentricity and incoherence. Chapters cover the influence of court life and Platonism on her plays; her metaphorical use of atomism in her poems; her engagement with Hobbes’ political theory; and her visit to the Royal Society. One appendix addresses debates over dating Cavendish’s birth; another contains Cavendish’s 1645 letters to her husband.

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  • Cavendish, Margaret. “A True Relation of my Birth, Breeding, and Life.” In Natures Pictures Drawn by Fancies Pencil to the Life. By Margaret Cavendish, 368–391. London: J. Martin and J. Allestrye, 1656.

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    This autobiography describes Cavendish’s life from her childhood to her years in exile on the Continent. Cavendish lived to be fifty; this covers only her first thirty-three years. A modern edition is in Bowerbank and Mendelson 2000, cited under Modern Editions.

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  • Fitzmaurice, James. “Cavendish, Margaret, Duchess of Newcastle upon Tyne (1623?–1673).” In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online edition. Edited by Lawrence Goldman. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

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    A straightforward account of Cavendish’s life and works, including an account of the reception of Cavendish’s works (now rather outdated, as it makes no mention of the 21st-century interest in Cavendish by philosophers).

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  • Grant, Douglas. Margaret the First: A Biography of Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, 1623–1673. London: University of Toronto Press, 1957.

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    A frequently patronizing account of Cavendish written in a time when few scholars yet took her work seriously. Focusing on the details of her life and on her poems, stories, and plays, Grant is dismissive of her mature natural philosophy. Contains several high-quality illustrations, including a reproduction of one of Cavendish’s letters to William Newcastle from 1645.

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  • Jones, Kathleen. A Glorious Fame: The Life of Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle. London: Bloomsbury, 1988.

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    A lively and readable account of Cavendish’s life. Takes the rather unusual approach of treating Cavendish’s prefaces and plays as documentary evidence about her own life. Cavendish’s philosophical writings are not examined, and Cavendish is not presented as having a coherent philosophical program. Nonetheless, this book is rich in interesting detail about the political and social situations in which Cavendish found herself.

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  • Whitaker, Katie. Mad Madge: The Extraordinary Life of Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, the First Woman to Live by Her Pen. New York: Basic Books, 2002.

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    An engaging and extremely well-researched account of Cavendish’s life and writings, with vibrant descriptions of the places Cavendish lived—Colchester, London, Oxford, Paris, Rotterdam, Antwerp, and her husband’s estate, Welbeck—as well as plenty of historical detail that situates Cavendish in the turmoil of the mid-1600s. Contains illustrations, including portraits and a letter from Cavendish to Newcastle.

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  • Woolf, Virginia. “The Duchess of Newcastle.” In The Common Reader: First Series. By Virginia Woolf, 70–79. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1925.

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    This oft-cited essay by Woolf draws on Cavendish’s own autobiography (Cavendish 1656) to provide an overview of her life and an assessment of her achievements. The essay is important in the historiography of Cavendish studies, for Woolf presented Cavendish and her writings as childish, undisciplined, and without talent, a view that persisted until the late 1990s.

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Overviews

Cavendish wrote on a broad range of philosophical topics, including ontology and epistemology, natural philosophy, virtue and vice, moral psychology, human nature and the nature of nonhuman animals, political organization, and gender. There are only three book-length treatments that focus specifically on Cavendish’s philosophical work: Boyle 2018, Cunning 2016, and Sarasohn 2010. Broad 2002 and Cunning 2009 are shorter pieces that give a good sense of the range of Cavendish’s thinking.

  • Boyle, Deborah. The Well-Ordered Universe: The Philosophy of Margaret Cavendish. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018.

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    Argues that disparate topics covered in Cavendish’s corpus can be explained by her focus on order and disorder. Contains chapters on Cavendish’s atomism, vitalist materialism, social and political philosophy (especially the role of fame in human life), and on Cavendish’s views on gender, animals, the environment, and human health. Several earlier journal articles on Cavendish by the author are incorporated into this book.

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  • Broad, Jacqueline. “Margaret Cavendish.” In Women Philosophers of the Seventeenth Century. By Jacqueline Broad, 35–64. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

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    This book chapter includes a concise overview of Cavendish’s philosophical thinking, making it especially useful for newcomers to Cavendish’s work. Much of the chapter examines how Cavendish engaged with Descartes, the Newcastle Circle, Hobbes, Henry More, and Ralph Cudworth on such topics as atomism, the mind-body relationship, knowledge of God, causation, animal minds, and immaterial spirits.

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  • Cunning, David. “Margaret Lucas Cavendish.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. Stanford, CA: Stanford University, 2009.

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    This online encyclopedia entry (revised in 2017) provides a comprehensive overview of main themes in Cavendish’s work, with special attention to her materialism and its epistemological implications, her views on freedom, her social and political philosophy, and her treatment of “fancy.” It nicely connects Cavendish’s views with those of both previous thinkers (such as Plato, Plotinus, and Descartes) and later thinkers (Locke, Hume, and 21st-century philosophers working on naturalism and consciousness).

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  • Cunning, David. Cavendish. London: Routledge, 2016.

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    Provides a clear, accessible interpretation of Cavendish’s views, with critical interrogation of many of her arguments. Covers Cavendish’s views on knowledge, thinking matter, God, spirits, the plenum, causation, human freedom, human wisdom, and politics. While there is some attention to Cavendish’s immediate philosophical context, the book attends more to connections between Cavendish and later philosophers such as Spinoza, Malebranche, Leibniz, Hume, and even Heidegger.

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  • Sarasohn, Lisa T. The Natural Philosophy of Margaret Cavendish: Reason and Fancy during the Scientific Revolution. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010.

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    An overview of Cavendish’s natural philosophy, including chapters on Cavendish’s visit to the Royal Society; fideism, atomism, and fairies; development of her vitalistic materialism; use of stories in Natures Pictures to express her natural philosophy; political implications of her theory of matter; criticisms of Descartes, More, and van Helmont in Philosophical Letters; criticisms of experimental philosophy in Observations; and fanciful scenarios in Grounds of Natural Philosophy. Attends carefully to the role of gender throughout.

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Online Resources

The websites listed in this section bring together information that is useful for research and teaching but unavailable in print. Cavendish at Project Vox includes sample syllabi and compilations of data on Cavendish’s correspondence, portraits, and front matter. The Digital Cavendish Project contains an assortment of otherwise unpublished original research and searchable texts of some of Cavendish’s writings. Both sites include bibliographies, as does the site for the International Margaret Cavendish Society. Other useful online sources include the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Cavendish (see Cunning 2016, cited under Overviews) and the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (see Fitzmaurice 2004, cited under Biographies).

  • Cavendish.” Project Vox.

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    This valuable website includes Cavendish’s biography (with an inventory of portraits of the Newcastles); a chronology; an extensive bibliography; materials for teaching Cavendish; detailed information about Cavendish’s correspondence with Huygens and Glanvill; information about her interactions with philosophers such as Descartes, Charleton, Digby, Hobbes, and More; a chart listing all Cavendish’s front matter (prefaces, letters, etc.); and quotations about Cavendish from some of her contemporaries. Work on this site is ongoing.

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  • Digital Cavendish Project. Directed by Shawn Moore.

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    A collaborative site for scholarly research on all aspects of Cavendish’s life and works. Many of Cavendish’s books are available here as searchable digitized text. Also contains resources such as a visual representation of Cavendish’s social network; original research by Cavendish scholars; and links to other sites on Cavendish, such as Project Vox. Contributions to this site are ongoing.

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  • International Margaret Cavendish Society.

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    This site contains information about past and upcoming conferences on Cavendish. Also included is a link to the Margaret Cavendish Bibliography Initiative, a collection of twenty downloadable bibliographies on Cavendish and her historical context created in 2012 by students at Brigham Young University, and a link to a Margaret Cavendish bibliography created by James Fitzmaurice.

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Anthologies

The papers in Clucas 2003 cover a wide variety of topics by examining works from multiple genres—Cavendish’s prose, plays, poetry, and natural-philosophical treatises. The papers in Mendelson 2009 are similarly wide-ranging, but are facsimiles of previously published articles. The theme of the papers in Cottegnies and Weitz 2003 is Cavendish’s use of genre, in her natural-philosophical writings as well as in her more literary works. Siegfried and Sarasohn 2014 focuses specifically on Cavendish’s engagement with religion. Some particular essays from these anthologies will be listed in the appropriate sections of this article.

  • Clucas, Stephen, ed. A Princely Brave Woman: Essays on Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2003.

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    Contains papers ranging over many of Cavendish’s writings, both “literary” and more strictly philosophical. The topics are similarly wide-ranging, from Cavendish’s rhetoric in her depictions of marriage to elements of autobiography in Sociable Letters to reasons why Cavendish did not wish her plays to be staged.

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  • Cottegnies, Line, and Nancy Weitz, eds. Authorial Conquests: Essays on Genre in the Writings of Margaret Cavendish. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2003.

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    This volume opens with a paper on Cavendish and genre, and the subsequent ten essays range over Cavendish’s treatment and use of genre in Philosophical Letters and Observations, her autobiography, her biography of her husband William Newcastle, and her poetry, plays, and two stories (“Assaulted and Pursued Chastity” and Blazing World).

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  • Mendelson, Sara H., ed. Ashgate Critical Essays on Women Writers in England, 1550–1700. Vol. 7, Margaret Cavendish. Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2009.

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    A collection of facsimile copies of previously published essays. These are divided into five categories: “Self-Fashioning as a Female Writer,” “Genre: Essays and Drama,” “Natural Philosophy,” and “The Blazing World: New Trends in Cavendish Scholarship.”

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  • Siegfried, Brandie R., and Lisa T. Sarasohn. God and Nature in the Thought of Margaret Cavendish. Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2014.

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    Papers in this volume focus on the intersection of natural philosophy and theology in Cavendish’s works, especially in her plays, autobiography, Sociable Letters, and Blazing World. Topics covered include Cavendish’s relationship to libertinism, Christianity, and Judaism and the Jewish Cabbala, and her views on death, sin and evil, perception of God, and natural magic. Readers interested in historical context will find this collection especially valuable.

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Natural Philosophy

This section is divided into sections on Atomism, Critiques of Experimental Philosophy and Alchemy, Medicine, and Vitalist Materialism. It includes only articles and book chapters; for book-length treatments of Cavendish’s natural philosophy, see Boyle 2018, Cunning 2016, and Sarasohn 2010 (all cited in Overviews).

Atomism

Cavendish presents an atomistic account of many natural phenomena in some of the poems in Poems, and Fancies (cited under Literary Works), a view she clearly subsequently rejected in Philosophical and Physical Opinions (cited under Works on Natural Philosophy). However, there is scholarly debate over the extent of her rejection of atomism; Clucas 1994 suggests that Cavendish’s arguments against atomism apply only to a mechanistic form of atomism, while Detlefsen 2006 maintains that Cavendish had arguments against any form of atomism at all. See also Shaheen 2017 (cited under Vitalist Materialism) for another discussion of Cavendish’s rejection of atomism.

  • Clucas, Stephen. “The Atomism of the Cavendish Circle: A Reappraisal.” The Seventeenth Century 9.2 (1994): 247–273.

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    Through an analysis of the eclectic early-17th-century atomic theory of Walter Warner, this important article shows the complexity of Early Modern atomism and examines influence on the Cavendish Circle atomists (Margaret, William, and Charles Newcastle; Hobbes; Charleton; and Digby). Discusses Cavendish’s atomism in Poems, and Fancies and her subsequent rejection of atomism, suggesting that her objections were directed to mechanistic forms of atomism.

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  • Detlefsen, Karen. “Atomism, Monism, and Causation in the Natural Philosophy of Margaret Cavendish.” In Oxford Studies in Early Modern Philosophy. Vol. 3. Edited by Daniel Garber and Steven Nadler, 199–240. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2006.

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    Responding to Clucas 1994, this paper examines reasons why Cavendish did, and indeed should have, repudiated the atomism of her 1653 Poems, and Fancies. Detlefsen maintains that Cavendish’s conception of real disorder in nature, a libertarian account of freedom, and her theory of occasional causation play a role in her late anti-atomism. Also considers the extent of Cavendish’s parallels between the political state and nature.

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Critiques of Experimental Philosophy and Alchemy

In addition to offering her own natural philosophy, Cavendish offered various critiques of the natural philosophy of other philosophers in her own day (see Observations upon Experimental Philosophy and Philosophical Letters, both cited under Works on Natural Philosophy). Keller 1997 and Wilkins 2014 examine Cavendish’s critique of experimentalism and empiricism, with Keller 1997, like Sarasohn 1984, maintaining that Cavendish’s critique of experimental philosophy was linked with feminism. Wilkins 2014 criticizes this view (see also Lewis 2001, cited under Epistemology). Clucas examines Cavendish’s critiques of various philosophers in Philosophical Letters; Clucas 2011 focuses more specifically on Cavendish’s arguments against the alchemist van Helmont. Sarasohn 2003 considers her critiques of Hobbes. Akkerman and Corporaal 2004 considers some rarely examined evidence of Cavendish’s critique of experimental philosophy, her letters with Constanijn Huygens about a phenomenon known as “Rupert’s drops.” Broad 2007 considers Cavendish’s rejection of the belief in witches held by some of her contemporaries. Focusing more on historical context than philosophical argument, Lawson 2015 reads Cavendish’s criticisms of the “Bear-Men” in Blazing World as engaging with 17th-century practices of bear-baiting.

  • Akkerman, Nadine, and Marguérite Corporaal. “Mad Science Beyond Flattery: the Correspondence of Margaret Cavendish and Constantijn Huygens.” Early Modern Literary Studies 14 (2004).

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    Examines hitherto neglected evidence of Cavendish’s status in 17th-century science and her efforts to disseminate her work beyond England: letters exchanged with Constantijn Huygens; the auction catalogue of Huygens’ library establishing that he possessed several of her books; and a presentation volume Cavendish sent the University of Leiden. Appendix includes some of the correspondence with Huygens, letters otherwise unavailable in print. This paper is also included in Mendelson 2009, cited under Anthologies.

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  • Broad, Jacqueline. “Margaret Cavendish and Joseph Glanvill: Science, Religion, and Witchcraft.” Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 38.3 (2007): 493–505.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.shpsa.2007.06.002Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    By examining letters from Glanvill to Cavendish and Cavendish’s comments in Philosophical Letters and Observations upon Experimental Philosophy, this article reconstructs the debate between the two philosophers regarding the existence of witches. Pointing out that both Glanvill and Cavendish use inference to the best explanation, the paper argues that Cavendish provides the more reasonable argument.

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  • Clucas, Stephen. “Margaret Cavendish’s Materialist Critique of Van Helmontian Chymistry.” Ambix 58.1 (March 2011): 1–12.

    DOI: 10.1179/174582311X12947034675596Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Examines passages in Philosophical Letters where Cavendish objects to the alchemical concepts and theories of Jan Baptista van Helmont, and compares her objections to those by Robert Boyle in his 1661 Sceptical Chymist. While noting some similarities in their attitudes toward van Helmont’s iatrochemistry, the paper focuses on their differing views regarding van Helmont’s use of art and experiment.

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  • Clucas, Stephen. “‘A double Perception in All Creatures’: Margaret Cavendish’s Philosophical Letters and Seventeenth-Century Natural Philosophy.” In God and Nature in the Thought of Margaret Cavendish. Edited by Brandie R. Siegfried and Lisa T. Sarasohn, 121–139. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2014.

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    A careful, close exposition of passages in Philosophical Letters where Cavendish objects to mechanistic theories of Hobbes, Descartes, Galileo, and Charleton, and to the immaterialism of Henry More and van Helmont.

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  • Keller, Eve. “Producing Petty Gods: Margaret Cavendish’s Critique of Experimental Science.” English Literary History 64.2 (1997): 447–471.

    DOI: 10.1353/elh.1997.0017Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Written when Cavendish’s natural philosophy was still often dismissed as unimportant or incoherent, this article seeks to rehabilitate Cavendish by reading her critique of experimental philosophy as prefiguring 20th-century feminist critiques of neutrality and objectivity in science. Argues that Cavendish’s critique undermines distinctions between subject and object, fact and fiction, although it also notes Cavendish’s reluctance to critique class distinctions. This paper is also included in Mendelson 2009, cited under Anthologies.

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  • Lawson, Ian. “Bears in Eden, or, This is Not the Garden You’re Looking For: Margaret Cavendish, Robert Hooke and the Limits of Natural Philosophy.” British Journal for the History of Science 48.4 (December 2015): 583–605.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0007087415000588Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Speculates about connections between Cavendish’s criticisms of experimental philosophers such as Robert Hooke, her depictions of the fictional “bear-men” in her Blazing World, and the brutal practice of bear-baiting in 17th-century England in order to draw conclusions about Cavendish’s beliefs about truth and the possibilities for human knowledge.

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  • Sarasohn, Lisa T. “A Science Turned Upside Down: Feminism and the Natural Philosophy of Margaret Cavendish.” Huntington Library Quarterly 47 (1984): 289–307.

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    Interprets Cavendish as a “full-scale” skeptic (p. 136) and feminist whose natural philosophy was the basis for a critique of gender roles, particularly the exclusion of women from natural philosophy, but also concludes that Cavendish oscillated between defending and criticizing women. This paper is also included in Mendelson 2009, cited under Anthologies.

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  • Sarasohn, Lisa T. “Leviathan and the Lady: Cavendish’s Critique of Hobbes in the Philosophical Letters.” In Authorial Conquests: Essays on Genre in the Writings of Margaret Cavendish. Edited by Line Cottegnies and Nancy Weitz, 40–58. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2003.

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    Argues that in Poems, and Fancies Cavendish endorsed a deterministic, mechanistic materialism similar to Hobbes’ materialism, later reformulated in Philosophical Letters, where she opposes Hobbes. Sarasohn maintains that Cavendish rejected Hobbes’ political philosophy as well as his natural philosophy.

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  • Wilkins, Emma. “Margaret Cavendish and the Royal Society.” Notes and Records: The Royal Society Journal of the History of Science 68 (2014): 245–260.

    DOI: 10.1098/rsnr.2014.0015Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A carefully argued challenge to the view (expressed in Sarasohn 2010, cited under Overviews, and Keller 1997, among others) that Cavendish’s anti-experimentalism was due to her gender, by showing that both her criticisms of microscopy and her endorsement of “reason” over “sense” were shared by other (male) thinkers. Also argues that Cavendish was not as opposed to experimentalism as some scholars have claimed.

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Medicine

Cavendish devoted many pages of her various writings to issues of health and medicine; for example Philosophical and Physical Opinions (see Cavendish’s 1655 and Cavendish 1663, cited under Works on Natural Philosophy) explains the causes of various diseases and how they may best be treated. Comments on health and illness appear throughout her other works. Not much has yet been published on this aspect of her work, however. Broad 2011 looks specifically at Cavendish’s comments on women, madness, and birth defects in Philosophical Letters (cited under Works on Natural Philosophy), while Fitzmaurice 2003 considers the medical advice Cavendish dispenses in CCXI Sociable Letters (cited under Literary Works). Chapter 9 in Boyle 2018 (cited in Overviews) also examines Cavendish’s views on health and order in the human body.

  • Broad, Jacqueline. “Cavendish, van Helmont, and the Mad Raging Womb.” In The New Science and Women’s Literary Discourse: Prefiguring Frankenstein. Edited by Judy A. Hayden, 47–63. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

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    Examines Cavendish’s views on medicine and disease in Philosophical Letters. Argues that despite Cavendish’s critique of van Helmont’s views about the inferiority of women, their susceptibility to witchcraft, and their role in so-called “monstrous” births, Cavendish should not really be read as a feminist. Also contributes to the debate over the extent of Cavendish’s feminism by focusing on a little-studied aspect of her work, her medical theory.

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  • Fitzmaurice, Susan. “Margaret Cavendish, the Doctors of Physick and Advice to the Sick.” In A Princely Brave Woman. Edited by Stephen Clucas, 210–241. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2003.

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    While this essay does not situate Cavendish’s medical theory in her broader natural-philosophical theory, it is an interesting comparison of Cavendish’s medical advice in Sociable Letters to other forms of 17th-century medical literature, such as letters from physicians to their patients or other physicians.

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Vitalist Materialism

Cavendish’s mature natural philosophy is generally known as “vitalist materialism,” but has also been called “anthropomorphic naturalism” (Detlefsen 2007) and “materialist panpsychism” (Duncan 2012). She presented an early form of it in Philosophicall Fancies (cited under Works on Natural Philosophy) and the first edition of Philosophical and Physical Opinions (cited under Works on Natural Philosophy), and further developed it in her natural-philosophical writings of the 1660s (Cavendish 1663, Philosophical Letters, Observations upon Experimental Philosophy, and Cavendish’s 1668a, all cited under Works on Natural Philosophy). James 1999 and Detlefsen 2007 provide careful, detailed discussions of Cavendish’s vitalist materialism. Several articles show links between Cavendish’s vitalist materialism and views of her contemporaries, establishing that Cavendish was attuned to the philosophical context in which she was writing: Hutton 1997 and Hutton 2003 show connections to Hobbes’ and Henry More’s views, respectively; Clucas 2000 and Duncan 2012 show links to Hobbes and Henry More; and Wilkins 2016 explores connections with Hobbes, More, van Helmont, and Henry Power. Wilson 2007 explores philosophical and rhetorical reasons why Cavendish’s vitalist materialism and criticisms of atomism fell into obscurity while Leibniz’s rather similar philosophical views did not. O’Neill 2013 takes up an interesting issue in Cavendish’s vitalist materialism, her account of causation, while Shaheen 2017 investigates how to interpret Cavendish’s claim that the three degrees of matter are completely interblended. For book-length treatments of Cavendish’s vitalist materialism, see Boyle 2018, Cunning 2016, and Sarasohn 2010 (all cited in Overviews).

  • Clucas, Stephen. “The Duchess and the Viscountess: Negotiations between Mechanism and Vitalism in the Natural Philosophies of Margaret Cavendish and Anne Conway.” In-between: Essays and Studies in Literary Criticism 9.1 (2000): 125–136.

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    This relatively short article shows how the vitalist systems of Cavendish and Conway were both (although different in the details) alternatives to materialist mechanism (like Hobbes’ system) while resisting More’s “pneumatological” hypothesis about nature. Compares and contrasts the details of their two vitalist systems, emphasizing the difference of the role of God: for Cavendish, God is extrinsic to nature, while for Conway, God’s role is central in natural philosophy.

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  • Detlefsen, Karen. “Reason and Freedom: Margaret Cavendish on the Order and Disorder of Nature.” Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie 89.2 (2007): 157–191.

    DOI: 10.1515/AGPH.2007.008Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This carefully argued article reveals important connections between Cavendish’s theories of matter, perception, occasional causation, and freedom. Detlefsen argues that Cavendish was committed to the view that nature is perceptive because it grounds her theory of causation, and that her account of causation allows Cavendish to maintain a distinction between order and disorder in nature.

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  • Duncan, Stewart. “Debating Materialism: Cavendish, Hobbes, and More.” History of Philosophy Quarterly 29.4 (October 2012): 391–409.

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    Illuminates the varied connections between materialism and panpsychism in the works of Cavendish, More, and Hobbes. While much of the paper is about Hobbes and More, there are helpful discussions of Cavendish’s materialism and her views on incorporeal souls and witches.

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  • Hutton, Sarah. “In Dialogue with Thomas Hobbes: Margaret Cavendish’s Natural Philosophy.” Women’s Writing 4.3 (1997): 421–432.

    DOI: 10.1080/09699089700200029Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Defends Cavendish against earlier critics who viewed her work as idiosyncratic and unconnected with that of her contemporaries. Identifies ways in which Cavendish both critiqued Hobbes and followed Hobbes’ natural philosophy in her Philosophical Letters, Blazing World, and Grounds of Natural Philosophy. This paper is also included in Mendelson 2009, cited under Anthologies.

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  • Hutton, Sarah. “Margaret Cavendish and Henry More.” In A Princely Brave Woman: Essays on Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle. Edited by Stephen Clucas, 185–198. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2003.

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    Includes a helpful overview of More’s notion of the spirit and an account of Cavendish’s critique of More in Blazing World and Philosophical Letters; compares Cavendish’s concept of nature with More’s Spirit of Nature.

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  • James, Susan. “The Philosophical Innovations of Margaret Cavendish.” British Journal for the History of Philosophy 7.2 (1999): 219–244.

    DOI: 10.1080/09608789908571026Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Among the earliest articles to examine Cavendish’s vitalist-materialist natural philosophy, this paper locates Cavendish’s views in the broader context of 17th-century philosophy. Clearly elucidates a broad range of Cavendish’s views, including her early atomism, her vitalism, her accounts of perception and causation, and connections between her philosophical and religious views. This paper is also included in Mendelson 2009, cited under Anthologies.

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  • O’Neill, Eileen. “Margaret Cavendish, Stoic Antecedent Causes, and Early Modern Occasional Causes.” Revue Philosophique 138.3 (2013): 311–326.

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    A careful and nuanced discussion of Cavendish’s notion of an occasional cause. Contextualizes Cavendish’s theory by discussing the Stoic concept of an “antecedent cause,” the Galenic medical tradition’s adoption of that concept, and van Helmont’s identification of antecedent with occasional causes. Perhaps controversially, O’Neill reads Cavendish as allowing for cases of transeunt efficient causation despite rejecting accounts that treated natural change as involving the mechanistic transfer of motion.

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  • Shaheen, Jonathan L. “Part of Nature and Division in Margaret Cavendish’s Materialism.” Synthese (2017).

    DOI: 10.1007/s11229-017-1326-ySave Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Examines Cavendish’s doctrine of complete blending and its implications for individuating parts in nature. Argues that Cavendish’s notions of parts and divisibility were non-geometrical, and thus (against views such as O’Neill 2001, cited under Modern Editions) that they do not rule out spatial regions being composed of only one or two degrees of matter; instead, Shaheen argues, this is ruled out by her theory of place. Shows interesting consequences of this interpretation for understanding Cavendish’s arguments against atomism.

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  • Wilkins, Emma. “‘Exploding’ Immaterial Substances: Margaret Cavendish’s Vitalist-Materialist Critique of Spirits.” British Journal for the History of Philosophy 24.5 (2016): 858–877.

    DOI: 10.1080/09608788.2016.1210567Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Examines Cavendish’s arguments against immaterialism by focusing on her explanations of magnetism, a phenomenon that vexed Cavendish’s mechanistically minded contemporaries. Contributes to understanding how Cavendish’s views engaged with the views of her contemporaries (including Hobbes, More, van Helmont, and Henry Power) as well as how her own views developed over time.

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  • Wilson, Catherine. “Two Opponents of Material Atomism.” In Leibniz and the English-Speaking World. Edited by Pauline Phemister and Stuart Brown, 35–50. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer, 2007.

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    Compares Cavendish’s and Leibniz’s engagement with 17th-century materialist neo-Epicureanism and contrasts how their views were subsequently received. Argues that Cavendish’s criticisms have been ignored in the history of philosophy not because Cavendish’s arguments were inferior to Leibniz’s but because Cavendish’s works lacked signs of theological commitments, skill in formal reasoning, commitments to truth, and self-confidence that would have established her credibility.

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Epistemology

Cavendish identifies two kinds of knowledge: perception and self-knowledge. Her account of sensory perception in terms of “patterning” is the subject of Adams 2016, Boyle 2015, and Michaelian 2009; see also James 1999 (cited under Vitalist Materialism). Self-knowledge is considered in Boyle 2015 and Michaelian 2009. There is no consensus on whether Cavendish should be read as an empiricist, a rationalist, or a skeptic; on these topics, see Boyle 2015, Clairhout and Jung 2011, and Lewis 2001 (see also Cunning 2016, cited under Overviews). Peterman 2017 takes up Cavendish’s views on mathematical knowledge, and Sokol 2003 suggests that Cavendish may have been familiar with the mathematical work of Thomas Harriot. As Michaelian points out, Cavendish’s natural philosophical system is so “highly integrated” that “there is no sharp distinction, for Cavendish, between epistemology and metaphysics” (Michaelian 2009, p. 32). Thus, readers interested in the secondary literature on Cavendish’s epistemology should also consult the literature listed in Vitalist Materialism.

  • Adams, Marcus P. “Visual Perception as Patterning: Cavendish against Hobbes on Sensation.” History of Philosophy Quarterly 33.3 (July 2016): 193–214.

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    Focuses on Cavendish’s “two-men” objection in Philosophical Letters, arguing that Cavendish aims to show the explanatory superiority of her model of perception as patterning over Hobbes’ model of perception as pressure between bodies.

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  • Boyle, Deborah. “Margaret Cavendish on Perception, Self-Knowledge, and Probable Opinion.” Philosophy Compass 10.7 (2015): 438–450.

    DOI: 10.1111/phc3.12232Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Examines Cavendish’s accounts of self-knowledge and perception, distinguishing two senses of “rational perception” and elaborating the relationship between sensitive and rational perception. In response to scholars who have characterized Cavendish as a skeptic, this paper argues that Cavendish was only a modest skeptic.

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  • Clairhout, Isabelle, and Sandro Jung. “Cavendish’s Body of Knowledge.” English Studies 92.7 (2011): 729–743.

    DOI: 10.1080/0013838X.2011.622160Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Following the interpretation in Keller 1997 (cited under Critiques of Experimental Philosophy and Alchemy) of Cavendish as erasing the distinction between the subjective and objective, this essay treats Cavendish’s epistemology using the work of Bruno Latour. Contains some interesting observations on ways that Cavendish links empiricism with women’s domestic work, and draws parallels between Cavendish’s account of bodies as composed of parts and her view of human knowledge as necessarily fragmented.

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  • Lewis, Eric. “The Legacy of Margaret Cavendish.” Perspectives on Science 9.3 (2001): 341–365.

    DOI: 10.1162/10636140160176189Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Much of this essay traces shifts in Cavendish’s reputation in 20th-century scholarship, focusing especially on (and criticizing) interpretations from the 1980s and 1990s that emphasized connections between Cavendish’s scientific views, feminism, and postmodernism. It also contains a valuable examination of Cavendish’s attitude toward skepticism.

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  • Michaelian, Kourken. “Margaret Cavendish’s Epistemology.” British Journal for the History of Philosophy 17.1 (January 2009): 31–53.

    DOI: 10.1080/09608780802548259Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    An excellent treatment of Cavendish’s theories of “exterior” knowledge (perception) and “interior” knowledge (self-knowledge and conception) in her later works. Considers Cavendish’s distinction between patterning and figuring and her explanations of illusions and hallucinations; interprets self-knowledge in terms of knowledge-how and knowledge of an entity’s current activity.

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  • Peterman, Alison. “Empress vs. Spider-Man: Margaret Cavendish on Pure and Applied Mathematics.” Synthese (2017).

    DOI: 10.1007/s11229-017-1504-ySave Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    An astute analysis of the Empress’ criticisms of the pure and applied mathematics of the “spider-men” and “lice-men” in Blazing World that illuminates features of Cavendish’s views about the regularity of nature and her epistemology, such as her anti-abstractionism and her view that mental representation is a kind of “assimilation” of perceiver and perceived.

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  • Sokol, B. J. “Margaret Cavendish’s Poems and Fancies and Thomas Harriot’s Treatise on Infinity.” In A Princely Brave Woman. Edited by Stephen Clucas, 156–170. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2003.

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    Shows that some of Cavendish’s poems allude to mathematical issues being debated in her day; suggests that Cavendish may have been familiar with mathematician Thomas Harriot’s work on infinity and thus that she understood the importance of mathematics for natural philosophy.

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Political Philosophy

While Cavendish did not devote any single text to issues of political philosophy, her writings do contain discussions of the ways that social structures and governments can constrain individuals’ freedom, as well as discussions of the best form of government. Secondary sources on these topics are included in the sections Liberty and Political Theory, respectively. Scholars have also examined the relationship between Cavendish’s political theory and her vitalist materialism (see Politics and Nature), her views on social categories such as race and class (see Race and Class), and her presentations of utopias in Blazing World and other texts (see Utopianism). Sources that focus on the question of whether Cavendish should be described as a feminist or proto-feminist are listed in the section Women and Proto-feminism.

Liberty

This section includes work on Cavendish’s accounts of political and social freedom. Hutton 2013 explores the influence of Cavendish’s social and cultural context on her understanding of liberty, while Detlefsen 2012 examines the role of gender in Cavendish’s account of liberty. Discussions of Cavendish on the metaphysics of free will and necessity can be found in Boyle 2018 (cited under Overviews), Cunning 2016 (cited under Overviews, and Detlefsen 2007 (cited under Vitalist Materialism).

  • Detlefsen, Karen. “Margaret Cavendish and Thomas Hobbes on Freedom, Education, and Women.” In Feminist Interpretations of Thomas Hobbes. Edited by Nancy J. Hirschmann and Joanne H. Wright, 149–168. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2012.

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    Argues that while Cavendish appeals to a Hobbesian concept of freedom from external interference, she recognizes (as Hobbes does not) the social conditions that constrain the liberty of women, such as marriage, having children, and lacking education. Draws on three of Cavendish’s plays to argue that Cavendish thought women were not naturally intellectually inferior. Links Cavendish’s theories of freedom and education with her account of matter as radically free and rational.

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  • Hutton, Sarah. “Women, Freedom, and Equality.” In The Oxford Handbook of British Philosophy in the Seventeenth Century. Edited by Peter R. Anstey, 501–518. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

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    Examining the works of both Cavendish and Mary Astell, this chapter argues that Cavendish’s understanding of liberty and equality was shaped by her social and political context.

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Political Theory

Most scholars agree that Cavendish was a royalist who endorsed absolute monarchy (see Lewis 2001, cited under Epistemology). Jowitt 1997 argues for this view by examining her fictional portrayals of female monarchs. For a dissenting view, see Walters 2014. Smith 1997 compares Cavendish’s political views to those of her husband, while Wright 2011 considers Cavendish’s attitude toward war. Smith 2007 and Wright 2006 consider the role of gender in Cavendish’s political philosophy, Smith by considering Cavendish’s critique of allegedly gender-neutral and universal political principles, and Wright by examining Cavendish’s analysis of gender and the private sphere. Suzuki 2016 provides historical and literary context to explain some of Cavendish’s views about women’s political and social status.

  • Jowitt, Claire. “Imperial Dreams? Margaret Cavendish and the Cult of Elizabeth.” Women’s Writing 4.3 (1997): 383–399.

    DOI: 10.1080/09699089700200019Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Drawing on Cavendish’s poem “A World in an Eare-ring” and Blazing World, this paper argues that Cavendish expresses political views about monarchy, imperialism, and the status of women through her invocation of images of Queen Elizabeth I.

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  • Smith, Hilda L. “‘A General War amongst the Men . . . But none amongst the Women’: Political Differences between Margaret and William Cavendish.” In Politics and the Political Imagination in Later Stuart Britain. Edited by Howard Nenner, 143–160. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 1997.

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    Re-evaluates the happiness of the Newcastles’ marriage; points out differences in the political views of Margaret Cavendish and her husband William Newcastle by considering Cavendish’s Sociable Letters and Orations and Newcastle’s advice to Charles II; and examines tensions in Cavendish’s claims and arguments on political issues.

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  • Smith, Hilda. “Margaret Cavendish and the False Universal.” In Virtue, Liberty, and Toleration: Political Ideas of European Women, 1400–1800. Edited by Jacqueline Broad and Karen Green, 95–110. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer, 2007.

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    Examines Cavendish’s views on women’s political standing and her critiques of supposedly universal 17th-century political principles that actually excluded women (what Smith refers to as “false universals”), such as the principle that (male) citizens after the Restoration must profess loyalty to the crown. Interprets Cavendish’s underlying political theory as broadly utilitarian. Tangentially to the main argument, includes discussion of aspects of Cavendish’s personal life.

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  • Suzuki, Mihoko. “‘Royalist’ Women and the English Revolution.” In Subordinate Subjects: Gender, the Political Nation, and Literary Form in England, 1588–1688. By Mihoko Suzuki, 165–202. Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2016.

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    The second part of this chapter (pp. 182–202) analyzes views Cavendish expresses in Orations and Bell in Campo on the place of women in politics and society. Suzuki draws connections with historical and literary antecedents and contemporary debates and practices, such as the 16th- and 17th-century “pamphlet wars” over the nature of women, as well as women Levellers’ petitions to participate in government. Also examines the gendered reception of Cavendish’s works.

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  • Walters, Lisa. Margaret Cavendish: Gender, Science and Politics. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781107588912Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This ambitious, provocative book challenges the prevailing view of Cavendish as a royalist, instead reading Cavendish as questioning authority in politics, the family, science, and religion. Chapters examine Cavendish’s natural philosophy; her views on magic, fairies, and witchcraft; Blazing World, Renaissance theories of the mind, freedom and necessity, and pluralism; and Cavendish’s stories “Assaulted and Pursued Chastity” and “The Contract.”

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  • Wright, Joanne. “Reading the Private in Margaret Cavendish: Conversations in Political Thought.” In British Political Thought in History, Literature and Theory, 1500–1800. Edited by David Armitage, 212–234. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

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    Argues for retaining the concepts of public and private spheres even if recent feminist political thought has tended to reject those concepts; as Wright points out, Cavendish herself draws distinctions between the public and the private. Examines Cavendish’s analyses of the dangers of the private sphere (marriage and motherhood) for women as well as the possibilities a retired, contemplative life might offer women.

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  • Wright, Joanne. “Questioning Gender, War, and ‘the Old Lie’: The Military Expertise of Margaret Cavendish.” In The History of British Women’s Writing, 1610–1690. Vol. 3. Edited by Mihoko Suzuki, 254–269. Houndmills, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

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    Argues that Cavendish’s texts show not only conventional knowledge of war, but also a feminist critique of militarism that draws on a bluntly realistic perception of the horrors of war. Also examines the themes of death and grief in Cavendish’s writings.

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Politics and Nature

Since Cavendish uses social and political metaphors in characterizing her natural philosophy, several scholars, such as the author of Webster 2011, have suggested that Cavendish thought there were parallels between the natural world and human polities. Ankers 2003 and Rogers 1996 suggest that Cavendish’s natural philosophy indicates her political views.

  • Ankers, Neil. “Paradigms and Politics: Hobbes and Cavendish Contrasted.” In A Princely Brave Woman: Essays on Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle. Edited by Stephen Clucas, 242–254. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2003.

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    Reading Hobbes’ views about the “physical” body and the “body politic” as analogous, Ankers suggests a similar approach for understanding Cavendish’s views about the connection between nature and political organization, and thus concludes that her natural philosophy is “coded political commentary” (p. 252).

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  • Rogers, John. “Margaret Cavendish and the Gendering of the Vitalist Utopia.” In The Matter of Revolution: Science, Poetry, and Politics in the Age of Milton. By John Rogers, 177–211. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1996.

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    An influential older article that argues that Cavendish saw the materialism of her contemporaries as inflected with masculine bias and that her vitalist materialism provided the philosophical basis for a progressive anti-patriarchalism. Suggests parallels between Cavendish’s theory of active, self-moving matter and her political theory, reading the latter as anti-authoritarian and republican.

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  • Webster, Erin. “Margaret Cavendish’s Socio-Political Interventions into Descartes’ Philosophy.” English Studies 92.7 (November 2011): 711–728.

    DOI: 10.1080/0013838X.2011.622158Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Part 1 is the section most relevant to politics and nature, as it examines implications of Cavendish’s representation of the human being as a “society” for her critique of Descartes; it also considers the extent of Cavendish’s parallels between the political state and nature.

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Race and Class

These areas of Cavendish’s thought have received relatively little attention so far. Both Iyengar 2002 and Malcolmson 2013 consider passages in Cavendish’s writings that seem to be in tension regarding her views on race. Dear 2007 examines the role played by Cavendish’s upper-class status in her critique of experimental philosophy.

  • Dear, Peter. “A Philosophical Duchess: Understanding Margaret Cavendish and the Royal Society.” In Science, Literature and Rhetoric in Early Modern England. Edited by Juliet Cummins and David Burchell, 125–142. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2007.

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    Seeks to explain how Cavendish became a published natural philosopher despite the near-total exclusion of women from 17th-century natural philosophy. Argues that Cavendish’s critique of experimental philosophy and art was based not only on gendered associations (as others such as the author of Keller 1997, cited under Critiques of Experimental Philosophy and Alchemy, have noted) but also on associations with class, including her nobility as a duchess and a defender of the royalist cause.

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  • Iyengar, Sujata. “Royalist, Romancist, Racialist: Rank, Gender, and Race in the Science and Fiction of Margaret Cavendish.” ELH 69.3 (Fall 2002): 649–672.

    DOI: 10.1353/elh.2002.0027Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Argues that Cavendish takes different perspectives on race in her fictional and scientific works. Ranges over 17th-century theories of race, skin color, and polygenesis; Cavendish’s theory of fixed and changeable colors and its relation to the views of Hooke, Boyle, and Descartes on color; and connections between gender, race, and rank in the stories “Assaulted and Pursued Chastity” and Blazing World. This paper is also included in Mendelson 2009, cited under Anthologies.

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  • Malcolmson, Cristina. “Race, Gender, and the Response to Boyle in Cavendish’s Blazing World.” In Studies of Skin Color in the Early Royal Society: Boyle, Cavendish, Swift. By Cristina Malcolmson, 113–146. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2013.

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    Examines the role of polygenesis in two 17th-century tales of moon travel, showing connections to Cavendish’s Blazing World. Argues that the creatures of varied skin colors in Blazing World reveal and criticize the cultural bias of English observers of non-Europeans. Also argues that a passage added to the 1668 edition of Observations about the descent of all humans from Adam shows that Cavendish thought Adam was white.

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Utopianism

Various scholars have argued that The Description of a New World, Called The Blazing World is a utopian work and have compared it to works both before and after Cavendish’s time. Cottegnies 2010 compares it to Bacon’s New Atlantis; Khanna 1994 suggests that it prefigures 20th-century feminist utopian works. Fowler 1996 draws on an additional text from Worlds Olio to examine Cavendish’s conception of utopia.

  • Cottegnies, Line. “Utopia, Millenarianism, and the Baconian Programme of Margaret Cavendish’s The Blazing World (1666).” In New Worlds Reflected: Travel and Utopia in the Early Modern Period. Edited and with an introduction by Chloë Houston, 71–91. Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2010.

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    This richly detailed paper explores parallels between Blazing World and Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis, arguing that just as Bacon’s work can be situated in the context of Protestant millenarianism, so too can Cavendish’s. It compares the utopias of the two texts, focusing especially on religion, to argue that Cavendish was an astute and critical reader of Bacon.

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  • Fowler, Ellayne. “Margaret Cavendish and the Ideal Commonwealth.” Utopian Studies 7.1 (1996): 38–48.

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    Examines an otherwise neglected political text by Cavendish, “The Inventory of Judgment’s Commonwealth” in Worlds Olio, suggesting that it, like Blazing World, should be read as feminist utopian writing. “Judgment’s Commonwealth” is compared to and contrasted with William Newcastle’s political advice to Charles II; the paper argues that although there are similarities between the two, Cavendish’s text shows more concern with social and cultural issues than with political issues.

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  • Khanna, Lee Cullen. “The Subject of Utopia: Margaret Cavendish and Her Blazing-World.” In Utopian and Science Fiction by Women. Edited by Jane L. Donawerth and Carol A. Kolmerton, 15–34. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1994.

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    Through a detailed discussion of key points in the plot of Blazing World, this paper argues that the varied representations of female authority in the book prefigure later works of utopian fiction by women which reject binary oppositions and emphasize subjectivity.

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Women and Proto-feminism

While many articles and books written on Cavendish engage in some way with questions of Cavendish’s views on women and the extent of her feminism, the articles in this section focus exclusively on these questions. McGuire 1971 and Smith 1982 survey the inconsistencies in Cavendish’s remarks on women across all her writings. Price 1996 suggests that Cavendish’s poems present a feminine epistemology; for a counterargument, see Boyle 2004. Other sources relevant to this topic include Lewis 2001 (cited in Epistemology) and Sarasohn 1984 (cited in Critiques of Experimental Philosophy and Alchemy).

  • Boyle, Deborah. “Margaret Cavendish’s Nonfeminist Natural Philosophy.” Configurations 12 (2004): 195–227.

    DOI: 10.1353/con.2006.0002Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Argues, against Price 1996, Brown 1991 (cited in Rhetorical Style), Keller 1997 (cited in Critiques of Experimental Philosophy and Alchemy), and others, that there is insufficient textual evidence for reading Cavendish as foreshadowing 20th-century feminist epistemologies and philosophies of science, and thus that she is not a protofeminist in this respect.

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  • McGuire, Mary Ann. “Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, on the Nature and Status of Women.” International Journal of Women’s Studies 1.2 (1971): 193–206.

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    An early article on Cavendish’s claims about the nature and social status of women. Considers Cavendish’s examples of fictional female heroes, but observes that Cavendish evidently believed that, in reality, women were naturally inferior to men.

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  • Price, Bronwen. “Feminine Modes of Knowing and Scientific Enquiry: Margaret Cavendish’s Poetry as Case Study.” In Women and Literature in Britain, 1500–1700. Edited by Helen Wilcox, 116–139. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

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    Argues that Cavendish’s Poems, and Fancies reveals an alternative, “feminine” epistemology to those of both Baconian empiricism and Cartesian rationalism, which Price reads as forms of “masculine epistemology” (p. 130).

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  • Smith, Hilda. “‘Daughters are But Branches’: English Feminists, 1650–80.” In Reason’s Disciples; Seventeenth-Century English Feminists. By Hilda Smith, 75–113. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1982.

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    Painting a rather unflattering picture of Cavendish as a rambling, inconsistent writer, the first twenty pages of this book chapter catalogue the many passages in which Cavendish discusses distinctions between the sexes and women’s subordinate social status. Smith maintains that while Cavendish’s focus on these issues was a significant contribution to feminist thought, ultimately Cavendish did not hold consistent views on women’s nature. (The remainder of the chapter focuses on other 17th-century women writers.)

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Religion and Theology

Cavendish emphasizes that theology and philosophy should be kept separate, and says that we cannot know God’s essence—yet references to God abound in her works of natural philosophy. This has raised interpretive questions about how to handle these tensions, addressed in Boyle 2018, Detlefsen 2009, Fitzmaurice 2014, Mendelson 2014b, and Sarasohn 2014 (see also Cunning 2016, cited under Overviews). On Cavendish’s views on specific Christian doctrines, see Mendelson 2014b and Sarasohn 2014. On her relationship to Judaism, see Mendelson 2014a.

  • Boyle, Deborah. “Margaret Cavendish on the Eternity of Created Matter.” In Early Modern Women on Metaphysics. Edited by Emily Thomas, 111–130. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2018.

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    Argues that Cavendish held both that the universe is eternal and that the universe was created ex nihilo, two theses that various other philosophers have contended were incompatible. Argues that Cavendish appeals to God’s nature to establish the eternity of the universe, and that her distinction between self-knowledge and perception allowed her to claim that knowledge of God is possible.

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  • Detlefsen, Karen. “Margaret Cavendish on the Relation between God and World.” Philosophy Compass 4.3 (2009): 421–438.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1747-9991.2009.00216.xSave Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Argues that while Cavendish separates theology and religion from natural philosophy, her natural philosophy requires ascribing a role to God. Provides background information about teleological theories in the 17th century and an overview of Cavendish’s natural philosophy. Argues that, given Cavendish’s own views about natural kinds and norms and her claims about God and God’s creation, God must be the source of order in nature for Cavendish.

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  • Fitzmaurice, James. “Paganism, Christianity, and the Faculty of Fancy in the Writing of Margaret Cavendish.” In God and Nature in the Thought of Margaret Cavendish. Edited by Brandie R. Siegfried and Lisa T. Sarasohn, 77–92. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2014.

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    Compares Cavendish’s remarks about God in Observations upon Experimental Philosophy and in her plays. Observes that her remarks in Observations seem conventionally Christian and latitudinarian, whereas characters in her plays fancifully invoke pagan gods. Suggests that Cavendish was simply inconsistent in her religious beliefs, but that Cavendish valued fancy over consistency.

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  • Mendelson, Sara. “Margaret Cavendish and the Jews.” In God and Nature in the Thought of Margaret Cavendish. Edited by Brandie R. Siegfried and Lisa T. Sarasohn, 171–184. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2014a.

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    Explores a neglected topic in Cavendish studies, her interest in Judaism. Provides useful historical context about the status of Jews in 17th-century Europe, discusses her representation of Judaism and Cabbalism in Blazing World, and discusses her relationship with the crypto-Jewish Duarte family in Antwerp.

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  • Mendelson, Sara. “The God of Nature and the Nature of God.” In God and Nature in the Thought of Margaret Cavendish. Edited by Brandie R. Siegfried and Lisa T. Sarasohn, 27–42. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2014b.

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    Examines Cavendish’s pronouncements on belief in God, including her gendered representations of God and nature, her use of metaphor and genre to express (or conceal) her religious beliefs, and the consistency of her natural philosophical views with traditional Christian dogma. Argues that Cavendish oscillates between speculating about God’s existence and essence and expressing “theological skepticism” (p. 28).

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  • Sarasohn, Lisa T. “Fideism, Negative Theology, and Christianity in the Thought of Margaret Cavendish.” In God and Nature in the Thought of Margaret Cavendish. Edited by Brandie R. Siegfried and Lisa T. Sarasohn, 93–106. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2014.

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    Surveys Cavendish’s responses to various theological questions (God’s creation of and interaction with nature, the problem of evil, the existence of immaterial souls). Argues that, given her materialism, Cavendish was led to endorse a negative theology as well as fideism. Compares Cavendish’s remarks on God with her conception of nature and explores implications for doctrines such as the eternity of the universe, the Trinity, and bodily resurrection.

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Rhetorical Style

Two differences between Cavendish and canonical philosophers from the 17th century such as Descartes and Spinoza are that she wrote in a wide range of genres, often employing dialogic styles, and that she sometimes seemed to defend contradictory views. The articles listed in this section address these issues of genre and rhetoric. Barnes 2009 considers Cavendish’s choice of letters to a fictional correspondent as a genre for writing philosophy (see also the papers in Cottegnies and Weitz 2003, cited under Anthologies). Nate 2001 and Stark 1999 examine the relationship between Cavendish’s rhetorical style and the Royal Society, taking opposite positions on Cavendish’s attitude to the “plain style” advocated by members of the Royal Society. Semler 2012 traces Cavendish’s language and use of metaphors in order to establish that she was engaging with specific texts. Clucas 2003 and Santana 2015 suggest approaches for handling the existence of contradictions in Cavendish’s writings; Suzuki 1999 considers this question as it applies specifically to the contradictory views expressed in Worlds Olio. Brown 1991 examines rhetoric and its interactions with gender.

  • Barnes, Diana. “Familiar Epistolary Philosophy: Margaret Cavendish’s Philosophical Letters (1664).” Parergon 26.2 (2009): 39–64.

    DOI: 10.1353/pgn.0.0163Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Focuses on Cavendish’s choice of genre in Philosophical Letters, arguing that the letters can fruitfully be read in light of humanist epistolary theory, which emphasized sociability, community, civility, and decorum. Shows that Philosophical Letters can be read as a text in ethics as well as in natural philosophy.

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  • Brown, Sylvia. “Margaret Cavendish: Strategies Rhetorical and Philosophical Against the Charge of Wantonness, Or Her Excuses for Writing So Much.” Critical Matrix 6.1 (1991): 20–45.

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    Suggests that Cavendish responded to contemporary strictures against women’s learning and writing by presenting herself as a teacher of virtue; by creating an alternative female rhetoric in which “wit” is associated with abundant freewheeling creativity and capriciousness; and by retreating to realms of imagination and metaphor.

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  • Clucas, Stephen. “Variation, Irregularity and Probabilism: Margaret Cavendish and Natural Philosophy as Rhetoric.” In A Princely Brave Woman: Essays on Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle. Edited by Stephen Clucas, 199–209. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2003.

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    Examines the alleged contradictions in Cavendish’s natural philosophy by comparing her writings to the work of Boyle, Charleton, and Glanvill, arguing that their shared writing styles and rhetorical approaches reveal an emphasis on probabilistic reasoning rather than absolute certainty.

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  • Nate, Richard. “‘Plain and Vulgarly Express’d’: Margaret Cavendish and the Discourse of the New Science.” Rhetorica: A Journal of the History of Rhetoric 19.4 (Autumn 2001): 403–417.

    DOI: 10.1525/rh.2001.19.4.403Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Focusing on rhetorical style and terminology in Cavendish’s natural philosophy, this paper compares Cavendish’s earlier works, written while she was on the Continent, with works she wrote in England. Argues that Cavendish’s later works were influenced by members of the Royal Society (such as Sprat and Glanvill) who said natural philosophy should be written in a “plain style.” This paper is also included in Mendelson 2009, cited under Anthologies.

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  • Santana, Carlos. “‘Two Opposite Things Placed Near Each Other, Are the Better Discerned’: Philosophical Readings of Cavendish’s Literary Output.” British Journal for the History of Philosophy 23.2 (2015): 297–317.

    DOI: 10.1080/09608788.2014.1002073Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Argues that Cavendish’s fiction contains various unresolved tensions about normative issues such as the value of peace, marriage, and female leadership. Rather than trying to explain away these tensions, this paper argues that we should read Cavendish as intentionally using tensions within and across her texts to reveal the complexity of these issues. Argues for parallels between Cavendish’s fictional writings and the works of Plato and Kierkegaard.

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  • Semler, L. E. “Margaret Cavendish’s Early Engagement with Descartes and Hobbes: Philosophical Revisitation and Poetic Selection.” Intellectual History Review 22.3 (2012): 327–353.

    DOI: 10.1080/17496977.2012.695182Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This carefully researched article traces Cavendish’s language, especially metaphors, in order to establish with more precision which texts by Descartes and Hobbes she had likely read, and when. Establishes a very precise timeline for the composition of Cavendish’s 1650s texts. Argues that Cavendish returned in her 1660s works to texts she had considered earlier, such as Descartes’ Discourse and Passions of the Soul, engaging those texts in new ways in those later works.

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  • Stark, Ryan John. “Margaret Cavendish and Composition Style.” Rhetoric Review 17.2 (1999): 264–281.

    DOI: 10.1080/07350199909359245Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Argues that Cavendish chose to write natural philosophy in an elaborate style rather than the plain style that members of the Royal Society recommended, and thus that Cavendish can be seen as a philosophical dissenter.

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  • Suzuki, Mihoko. “The Essay Form as Critique: Reading Cavendish’s The World’s Olio through Montaigne and Bacon (and Adorno).” Prose Studies 22.3 (1999): 1–16.

    DOI: 10.1080/01440359908586682Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Argues that Cavendish used the aphoristic essay form in Worlds Olio to advance multiple perspectives on a single topic, including views that those in her social class would have rejected. Suzuki suggests that her style in these short essays falls between the impersonal approach in Bacon’s essays and the “self-revelatory” approach of Montaigne, and that some of Worlds Olio’s essays explicitly engage with questions raised by Montaigne.

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