Her poems, her plays, her philosophies, her orations, her discourses. All these folios and quartos in which, she protested, her real life was enshrined. Moulder in the gloom of public libraries, or are decanted into tiny thimbles which hold sex drops of profusion.
--Virginia Woolf, writing about Margaret Cavendish
In light of recent critical interest in Utopian and futuristic writing, as well as historical figures in women's literary works, the reissue of the Description of The New Blazing World, first published in 1666 and one of the earliest examples of science fiction writing, is essential. It tells the story of a voyage to another work of speculative science in which women effortlessly rise to absolute power and sexual roles blur. Cavendish, as a character in the fantasy herself, emerges as an ironically self designated hermaphroditic spectacle who dramatizes a heroic figure of woman, ingeniously turning patriarchalized scenes of power and seduction to her own benefit. Dismissed by Pepsys as mad, conceited, and ridiculous, Cavendish lived a life devoted to excess, and the number of elaborately produced books she wrote and published at her own expense during her twenty year career became her most radical and deliberate break from contemporary social etiquette.
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Kate Lilley is a lecturer in English at the University of Sydney.
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