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The Blazing World and Other Writings

3.26  ·  Rating details ·  668 ratings  ·  78 reviews
Flamboyant, theatrical and ambitious, Margaret Cavendish was one of the seventeenth century's most striking figures: a woman who ventured into the male spheres of politics, science, philosophy and literature. The Blazing World is a highly original work: part Utopian fiction, part feminist text, it tells of a lady shipwrecked on the Blazing World where she is made Empress ...more
Paperback, 272 pages
Published March 31st 1994 by Penguin Classics (first published 1666)
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Mar 10, 2019 marked it as to-read
As sci-fi/fantasy this is way ahead of its time. A young woman is carried away by a suitor, but their vessel is driven off course toward the North Pole. At the pole one can access a parallel world (our pole meets their pole there, and the sun of the other world becomes visible) where bears, foxes, and geese have evolved to becomes dominant species with civilizations and advanced technology. Unlike humans, they get along fine, although there is still war in the Blazing World, an archipelagic ...more
Eric Anderson
Mar 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Ever since I read Danielle Dutton’s novel “Margaret the First” which fictionalizes the life of Margaret Cavendish and Siri Hustvedt’s extraordinary novel about a misunderstood female artist “The Blazing World”, I’ve had a fascination with this pioneering writer of the 17th century and wanted to read her books. Earlier this year I attended a feminist book club meeting about Dutton’s novel and that reignited my interest in Cavendish. In the lead up to the announcement of this year’s longlist ...more
Richard Abbott
Sep 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I first heard about Margaret Cavendish’s The Blazing World through a friend on Google+ and was intrigued. A female science fiction writer from the time of the Plague and the Great Fire of London? Since the kindle version is so extraordinarily cheap I had to follow this through, and am very glad that I did.

First though, let me say that not all readers will enjoy this book (as is obvious from other reviews!). It is, naturally enough, written in an older form of English in which many words do not
Mar 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
Introduction & Notes
Note on this Edition
Works by Margaret Cavendish
Further Reading

From Nature's Pictures (1656)
--'The Contract'
--'Assaulted and Pursued Chastity'

--The Description of a New World, Called The Blazing World (1666)

What a strange book, befitting the reputation of its author – the 17th-century English duchess Margaret Cavendish, one of the first women authors to consistently publish under her own name. These three tales (The Contract, Assaulted and Pursued Chastity, and The Blazing World) are filled with ideas about the power of virtue, the fluidity of gender, the wonder and perplexity of scientific theories, and the importance of speaking your own truth (whether it’s fashionable or not). Although Cavendish ...more
May 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
This review was originally published at:

I’m going to consider each story separately and then the collection as a whole because I think each story deserves attention rather than just the title story.

The Contract (1656)

The Contract is 40 pages long in this edition and it deals with love, duty, and the law. A very young girl in the care of her uncle is married to an older man her at the request of his father who is about to die. She continues to live with her
Shanlon Gilbert
Mar 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Margaret Cavendish lived a radical life. She blended genres to come up with one of the earliest works of utopian science fiction. While thoroughly early-modern in its tone, a thinly-veiled structure in which to present her ideas on natural philosophy and sass those whom she thought stupid, The Blazing World provides an empowering narrative for Early Modern women. In particular the second half (in reality about a quarter or less of the text) is exciting and action-packed.

Margaret deserves more
Tove Selenius
Oct 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I was going to review this book in my pretentious, scholarly persona, I had even started thinking up dry little witticisms about the state of the 17th century natural philosophy that Margaret Cavendish so thoughtfully spends two thirds of this volume to describe. But then came the second part of The Blazing World. And my inner nerd/feminist(Hi!) went wild.

So, we have Margaret Cavendish. Mad Maggie sometimes called by her contemporaries, who were not thrilled about the idea of a women writing...
Roman Clodia
Jun 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
Margaret Cavendish was an eccentric and nothing shows that more clearly than her Utopian fantasy A Blazing World. Drawing self-consciously on More and other male writers, she creates what has been called a 'feminist' Utopia, although I'm not sure in what this consists other than the fact that its written by a woman.

Full of strange hybrid men-animals (including the talking worm men) this showcases the breadth of Cavendish's reading (science, astronomy, medicine, philosophy) but muddles it all up
Dec 17, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: literature
Ok, so a lady is kidnapped by horny merchants, shipwrecked, rescued by "bear-men" from another dimension, escorted to said dimension, MADE EMPRESS of said dimension, receives instruction in metaphysics from a procession of "fly-men," "worm-men," giants, etc., and goes on to have a multi-dimensional 3-way (platonic) love-fest with the author (!) and her husband, culminating in an fiery orgy of violence and yet another piece of evidence (along with Quixote) that everything 'postmodern' was already ...more
Feb 03, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: science-fiction
Margaret Cavendish, the Duchess of Newcastle was an English aristocrat from the seventeenth century and also a very prolific writer... a bit too prolific considering her gender and her time. People of her time regarded her as a failed writer with an interesting life. Margaret Cavendish was known for being quite an eccentric with an extravagant wardrobe (apparently, she often dressed her maids and servants to match her outfits... and I'm called vain when my socks match my earings! She totally ...more
I was interested in reading Margaret Cavendish's The Blazing World (1666) as an early example of feminist science fiction — a precursor to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818) — and an oft-cited example of early utopian, speculative and interstitial fiction.

Editor Kate Lilley calls The Blazing World, "...a narrative of the liberty of the female soul and the emancipatory possibilities of utopian speculation and writing specifically for women."

It starts off with an intriguing story. A woman who is
Nov 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
History can be cruel—or at best, random—in deciding what lives or dies in the balance of art. True, when a work lasts for multiple centuries it always has something going for it, even when the language and allusions require a short novel of footnotes. In time, however, the genius shines through and on further acquaintance a work that initially baffled becomes a treasured companion. The key word here is acquaintance: almost every work of art requires time and understanding to foster a ...more
The Contract
This was ok, couple of points of interest, a pretty good bit of servant/master comedy and some meditations on why discretion is the better part of valour. [2/5]

Assaulted and Pursued Chastity
Again like the last tale really terrible love interest characters and that makes the female characters that love them look pretty bad too. However this tale is so random with some weird fantasy/lost world elements thrown in and wars and all sorts of stuff happening.
Its interesting how Cavendish
Jan Priddy
Aug 18, 2018 rated it liked it
I do not like giving this book a rating. I did not actually "like" it, though I found it interesting. The first romance in this volume was amusing, I had no patience for the second, and the utopian vision of The Blazing World was about using fiction to discuss and play out the values and position of Cavendish. Not a particularly nice person. (Neither the Empress nor Cavendish.)

I grew tired of objects made of precious gems, blazing diamonds, flaming metals, and so forth. It was all too much.

Marie Michaels
Sep 12, 2013 rated it liked it
I have no idea how to rate this book, which was written in the latter part of the 17th century by the prolific and eccentric Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle. This seems like the kind of book that would benefit from being read in an academic setting to give the author and her many ideas some context.

The imaginative scope of these works, especially "The Blazing World," is impressive, and Cavendish delights in melding genres -- "The Blazing World" is part philosophical/metaphysical
This is a must-read for fantasy and science-fiction fans everywhere. The mother of the genre, Margaret Cavendish, inspired generations of readers and writers after her. This is like the grandmother of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials with bear-men at the North Pole, travelling between worlds, and religious introspection. I found it fun and easy to read, not weighed down by the usual conventions of seventeenth-century writing. There is a lot of focus on Cavendish's thoughts on science and the ...more
Jan 25, 2012 rated it it was ok
I read this book for class, and while it was interesting to discuss, it was incredibly tedious to read. The writing style that she chose because it rejected traditional conventions ended up coming off as very clunky and long-winded to me. Sometimes, there were paragraphs that went on for pages, for instance.
It was a mildly intriguing idea, with a strong critique of the happenings in England around the time it was written, but the execution made my head spin. I wouldn't recommend reading it
Oh boy. If you had fun reading More's Utopia and the adventures of Raphael Hythloday, The Blazing World brings it to the next level. Lit crits will have fun trying to categorize this work: is it a satire? a political treatise? sci-fi? fantasy? philosophy? feminist treatise? I gave the book 3* because it's hard to say whether I enjoyed reading it or not.
Dec 25, 2013 rated it did not like it
such a huge gap between expectation and reality.... The idea of a 17th century proto feminist proto Sci Fi story was great in theory but due to the almost complete lack of narrative for the most part this fails as a story and becomes little more than a curiosity.
Had to read The Blazing World for class, just not my fancy. It was all unrealistic and very narcissistic and fake educational.
Apr 09, 2016 added it
re: Assaulted and Pursued Chastity - she's just not that into you, dude.
Hunter Tidwell
Nov 11, 2019 rated it did not like it
Historical curiosity, not Literature.
Ian Jones
Jul 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A few months ago, I read an article in the Guardian Review about the Penguin Classics series. The author of the article selected ten titles – apparently at random – to illustrate the richness and variety of the works available from Penguin. I realised that of the ten works, I had only read one, so I resolved to read the other nine this year. This is the fourth of those nine that I’ve read so far.
Like most female writers before the modern era, Margaret Cavendish was of the elite. The fact that
Nov 25, 2017 rated it did not like it
This is one of the most horrendously written books I have ever read. This isn't because I'm unfamiliar with early modern writing either, I won't complain about the semi-colons and antiquated theories. The narration itself is fucking appalling.

The description of The Blazing World is a whimsical daydream one would begrudgingly listen to a four year old present to them. Everything in the world is made of a precious stone, and this might make for a poetic idealization of the imagination if it
Jan 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
Very interesting. Margaret Cavendish was a 17th century British aristocrat who wrote on scientific and other matters and published in her own name (extremely rare for a female in that time). This book contains an overview of her life and three short stories: The Contract, Assaulted and Pursued Chastity, and The Blazing World. Have avoided giving too much plot away in this review!
In the first story, a girl orphaned at a young age was brought up by her uncle. She was betrothed at a very young age
Kiran Bhat
May 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
The sentences in Cavendish's most important work of fiction, The Description of a New World, Called the Blazing World, intertwine and tangle as if without breathe, run on as if they must perspire, and it was in these sentences, so delightfully exuberant, so unabashedly flamboyant, that I found that this was a book worth reading, though I admittedly had little sense of the world that was being created. While this book is often labeled as one of the first works of science-fiction, I felt that ...more
Alison Zoccola
Mar 27, 2019 rated it liked it
3.5 stars, 1.5 stars off for being written before 1700 and because I read it for school (each takes off .75 stars), as long as we're using an arbitrary system of 1-5 stars to distill the arguably irreducible complexity of good literature of any kind. While the prose is very much of its time, the 17th century, almost to a fault (I swear all sentences were run-on until like 1920 when Hemingway, Woolf, Steinbeck, and Fitzgerald brought some sanity to sentence structure), it nevertheless is full of ...more
Jun 05, 2011 marked it as to-read
As mentioned in China Mieville's video tour of the British Library's exhibition of science fiction.

"It is the only known work of utopian fiction by a woman in the 17th century, as well as one of the earliest examples of what we now call 'science fiction' — although it is also a romance, an adventure story, and even autobiography." Via.
Oct 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I’m working on this for my dissertation, and this is not my first time reading this.

It’s wildly inventive, and highly enjoyable. Cavendish is a fascinating woman. This book contains three short fictions, and though all very different in plot, they complement each other nicely, and give you a nice taste of Cavendish’s style.
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Margaret Lucas Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, was the youngest child of a wealthy Essex family. At the age of 20 she became Maid of Honour to Queen Henrietta Maria and traveled with her into Persian exile in 1644. There she married William Cavendish, Marquis (later Duke) of Newcastle.

Between 1653 and 1668 she published many books on a wide variety of subjects, including many stories that are
“...that much gold, and great store of riches makes them mad, insomuch as they endeavour to destroy each other...” 4 likes
“Besides, we shall want employments for our senses, and subjects for arguments; for were there nothing but truth, and no falsehood, there would be no occasion for to dispute, and by this means we should want the aim and pleasure of our endeavours in confuting and contradicting each other; neither would one man be thought wiser than another, but all would either be alike knowing and wise, or all would be fools...” 3 likes
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