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Pure Wit The Revolutionary Life of Margaret Cavendish

"This splendid biography of a trailblazing, scandal-inciting 17th-century female writer lays bare hidden histories and a remarkable life."

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LoveReading Says

LoveReading Says

Oh, to have met Margaret Cavendish back in her 17th-century heyday! What. A. Woman. Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, was a revolutionary seventeenth-century writer who incited outrage, penned one of the first works of science fiction, and advocated for women. Just as Margaret Cavendish sparked scandal back in her day, it’s quite a scandal that the woman and her work aren’t more widely known. But now, thanks to Francesca Peacock ‘s Pure Wit biography, that wrong is set to be put right, and in dazzlingly engaging style. 

This biography will, in all likelihood, have you in its hold from the Introduction, when it launches with an account of Cavendish’s outrageous entrance to the first performance of a play written by her husband. Wearing a low-cut dress that meant her breasts were “all laid out to view”, replete with “scarlet trimmed nipples”, she’s said to have arrived on a “triumphal chariot.” So far, so exuberant, as befits a woman who frequently, unashamedly spoke of her desire for fame: “My ambition is not only to be Empress, but Authoress of a whole world”.

Skipping back to her origins, Cavendish was born in 1623, and entered the court of Queen Henrietta Maria at Oxford in 1644, just as civil war erupted in England. On following the court to exile in France, she met her partner for life. Namely, William Cavendish, Marquess of Newcastle- upon-Tyne, a man thirty years her senior.

In these lively pages, we discover fascinating details of Cavendish’s flamboyant life, and her work too, which covered a remarkable range of prescient topics, from why marriage is bad for women and lesbian love, to scientific and philosophical subjects. In addition, she used her plays as potent vehicles for her more radical views, while her most seminal work, The Blazing World, a forerunner of science fiction, imagines a world ruled by an empress. Though sometimes contradictory, and frequently inflammatory, the strident force of Cavendish’s work, and her convictions, cannot be denied.

Quite simply, Pure Wit is a must-read for anyone interested in history, literature and fabulous women who refuse to play by the book, and for those who love to immerse themselves in biographies of the most engaging order.

Joanne Owen

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