Saturday, 21 September 2019

The Blazing World by Margaret Cavendish + #FreeBook

The Description of a New World, Called the Blazing-World by Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle
Published in the UK by A. Maxwell in 1668.

One of my Classics Club Challenge reads

How I got this book:

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Blazing World is a utopian kingdom in another world (with different stars in the sky) that can be reached via the North Pole. A young woman enters this other world, becomes the empress of a society composed of various species of talking animals, and organizes an invasion back into her world complete with submarines towed by the "fish men" and the dropping of "fire stones" by the "bird men" to confound the enemies of her homeland, the Kingdom of Esfi.

If you read my Monster, She Wrote book review a few days ago you'll know that it inspired me to get reading some of the women speculative fiction and horror authors Kroger and Anderson presented. Their hint that I could find possibly the earliest female-authored scifi story still in existence for free online got me searching and it didn't take long to stumble across a transcribed copy of The Blazing World. By coincidence, we watched the Simon Schama History Of Britain episode about the downfall of King Charles I while I was in the midst of reading The Blazing World. The book was written within a couple of decades of the tumultuous English Civil Wars, mentioned by Cavendish in the story, and this really brought home to me just how long ago 350 years really is! And how different Cavendish's England was to mine.

I've given The Blazing World a 3 star rating which is unfair on pretty much every level. Had I read this story as a modern-day effort it would undoubtedly have been a DNF 1 star! The plot is bonkers and I have several problems with its ideas surrounding colonialism and tolerance. Characterisation is practically non-existent, explanations of the hows and whys of the new world are sorely lacking, and the interminable philosophical and scientific question and answer session goes beyond tedious. That said though, I could see how Cavendish was using those scientific discussions to poke fun at the scholars of her time. In an era when most women were not even allowed to be literate, this woman is not only openly engaging in the debates, but doing so in a published story. I understand too that this scifi-fantasy tale was published alongside a serious philosophical work of hers. I'm not sure if that still exists?

I did love Cavendish's insertion of herself as a leading player in the story though. Also wonderfully appealing is the premise of every woman being an Empress in her own inner world - one just has to imagine its structures and governance to one's own satisfaction! I am aware that I would probably have got a lot more out of reading The Blazing World if I had a greater knowledge and understanding of named men such as Plato and Hobbs. Cavendish was obviously very familiar with their works and seemed to expect a similar educational level from her readers. Its lack is to my detriment (and that is probably not going to change any time soon), but I am still delighted to have had the opportunity to read this ground breaking story. I am also grateful that science fiction writing has progressed dramatically in the intervening centuries!

Etsy Find!
by Minouette in
Toronto, Canada

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Books by Margaret Cavendish / Science Fiction / Books from England


  1. I laughed out loud when you said the plot was bonkers.

    1. It absolutely is! Ideas about what constitutes a scifi novel have changed a lot in 350 years