Margaret Cavendish, The Duchess of Newcastle was a poet, philosopher, writer of prose romances, essayist, and playwright who published under her own name at a time when most women writers published anonymously. Her writing addressed a number of topics, including gender, power, manners, scientific method, and animal protection. Her romance, The Blazing World, is one of the earliest examples of science fiction.
She became the second wife of William Cavendish, 1st Duke of Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1645. Wiliam Cavendish had been a good friend of King Charles I and Henrietta Maria, and had been chosen to take charge of their son and heir Charles (later Charles II) from the age of eight, in his education. Cavendish would prove to be a stong influence upon Charles throughout his life, particually regarding his attitude towards women, whom he taught to always treat with great civility and respect.
William was very encouraging of his wifes talents. Letters and poems of praise written by him were included in several of Margaret Cavendish’s published works.
Margaret wrote critiques of Descartes, Hobbes and Hooke. Her proposed visit to the Royal Society in 1667 caused much debate among Fellows as to whether a woman’s presence would damage the Society’s reputation. Her elevated social status won the day and she became the first woman to attend a Society demonstration. Pepys records that she was ‘all admiration’ for Boyle’s air-pump.
Despite her many accomplishments and high social status, Margaret described herself as naturally shy and reserved, and wrote an essay on what she called her “extreme bashfulness”. Margaret wrote that her husband liked her bashfulness. She also states that he was the only man she was ever in love with, loving him not for title, wealth or power, but for merit, justice, gratitude, duty and fidelity.
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