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Brandie R. Siegfried “considers three characteristics of [Cavendish's] volume of verse,” Poems and Fancies, arguing first that the book is "thoroughly engaged with philosophers and mathematicians, both ancient and modern: understanding the import of her poems often requires setting them in dialogue with those thinkers.” Second, Siegfried investigates the prefaces of Cavendish's poetry, further contending that they demonstrate a feminist sensibility as they explain her views for an audience that pointedly included women. Finally, Cavendish’s eclectic ideas are not simply the musings of a careless author, but rather are the works of a committed philosopher who uses the form of poetry to clarify her theories, making them more accessible to readers while “enhancing aesthetic pleasure through increased complexity and wit.” Giving special attention to Cavendish’s poetic revisions in Poems and Fancies, Siegfried further emphasizes the importance of Cavendish’s poetry for understanding the natural philosophy espoused in Philosophical and Physical Opinions, Philosophical Letters, and Observations upon Experimental Philosophy.
Margaret Cavendish has recently become the subject of intense academic interest among scholars from a wide range of disciplines. In addition, she is increasingly becoming visible in popular culture. In the Introduction of this collection, Brandie R. Siegfried and Lisa Walters explore Cavendish’s influence upon Western philosophy, science, literature and women’s rights. The Introduction also provides contextual information about Cavendish’s life and works and her importance in early modern literary culture as well as the scientific revolution. Indeed, Cavendish is an important figure for understanding the seventeenth century’s collective efforts at advancing knowledge, particularly in philosophy. However, no other natural philosopher of the early modern era developed the sheer breadth of literary versatility and inventiveness peculiar to Cavendish, who explored her philosophy and science in poetry, romance, orations, fictional letters, science fiction, and drama. Hence, this chapter emphasizes the importance of understanding of Cavendish’s diverse and wide-ranging body of thought by situating her ideas within a multidisciplinary conversation among scholars.
Margaret Cavendish's prolific and wide-ranging contributions to seventeenth-century intellectual culture are impossible to contain within the discrete confines of modern academic disciplines. Paying attention to the innovative uses of genre through which she enhanced and complicated her writings both within literature and beyond, this collection addresses her oeuvre and offers the most comprehensive and multidisciplinary resource on Cavendish's works to date. The astonishing breadth of her varied intellectual achievements is reflected through elegantly arranged sections on History of Science, Philosophy, Literature, Politics and Reception, and New Directions, together with an Afterword by award-winning novelist Siri Hustvedt. The first book to cover nearly all of Cavendish's major works in a single volume, this collection brings together a variety of expert perspectives to illuminate the remarkable ideas and achievements of one of the most fascinating and prolific figures of the early modern period.