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Forms of EngagementWomen, Poetry and Culture 1640-1680$
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Elizabeth Scott-Baumann

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199676521

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199676521.001.0001

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Margaret Cavendish: Nature and Originality

Margaret Cavendish: Nature and Originality

(p.31) 1 Margaret Cavendish: Nature and Originality
Forms of Engagement

Elizabeth Scott-Baumann

Oxford University Press

This chapter examines Margaret Cavendish's early works, including the philosophical poetry of Poems, and Fancies, and the esoteric essays of The Worlds Olio. As she starts her literary career, Cavendish frequently claims to have read nothing. She shuns bookish learning for an ideal of originality which is organic and spontaneously productive. It is argued that Cavendish's denials of reading are not simply feminine modesty or defensiveness, but show her embracing ideals of modernity; parallels emerge with thinkers including Thomas Hobbes, and poets like William Davenant who were championing originality over imitation as their literary ideal. The chapter traces Cavendish's witty critique of the blazon tradition in which women are described through a catalogue of natural objects. She upturns this Petrarchan and Cavalier tradition in two ways, through science and through poetic genre. These witty connections challenge our conception of women's relationship to science at the birth of the Royal Society.

Keywords:   Margaret Cavendish, blazon, petrarchism, new science, originality, female authorship, ancients and moderns

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