Margaret Cavendish was born in 1623 into a wealthy, aristocratic family. Cavendish lacked formal education, but she made up for it by reading from private scholarly libraries. She married the Duke of Newcastle, and he encouraged her on her writings about natural philosophy which is now known today as science.
Although Cavendish did not write a text on a rhetorical theory similar to Aristotle or Scudéry, that does not make her any less noteworthy. She debated some of the leading scientific and philosophical figures of her day. She also challenged women to branch out in the subject matter of their writing.
She focused on natural philosophy (known now as science). She dared to write and publish as a woman using her own name which was extremely uncommon for the time.
Cavendish is famous today for her plays, letters, orations, poetry, and fiction, and was a very popular writer in her time. She published well over a dozen works using her own name, and her husband supported her in these efforts. She would typically mention him in the preface of her writings simply for it to be seen as a respectable piece of writing, but the actual writings were hers. She loved to debate natural philosophy even though she lacked formal education. She was taught, as most women of her time were, to sing and dance, but she decided to take her education into her own hands. She would read pieces on philosophy to help better her intelligence. She held a high social status, which helped her to be able to express her ideas and publish her works under her own name. Publishing under a woman’s name on topics such as natural philosophy was quite unheard of for her day and age; however, she did it and stood strongly behind her ideas. She was a female writer who challenged other women living in her time period. Most women were concerned with topics like religion or women’s education, so Cavendish challenged the role of women by bringing in the question of natural philosophy. She also learned some of her information on natural philosophy from her brother.
Some of her quotes include, “The truth is, we [women] live like bats, or owls, labor like beasts, and die like worms” (Female Orations). Also, she states in The Blazing World, “I had rather die in the adventure of noble achievements than life in obscure and sluggish security.” She challenged women to question the bigger things in life. She wanted to make a change in the world and provide women with a voice that went beyond just the simple home-life matters such as religion and housewifery. Her husband supported her and also helped to justify the significance of what she was saying. They were a highly admired couple based on social status, so for William Cavendish to also support her writings on natural philosophy helped the males of the time period see the status given to Margaret Cavendish.
- Herrick, James A. The History and Theory of Rhetoric: An Introduction. 6th ed., Routledge, 2018.
- Project Vox team. (2019). “Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle-upon-Tyne.” Project Vox. Duke University Libraries. http://projectvox.org/cavendish-1623-1673/