Thursday, March 23, 2017

Margaret the First, by Danielle Dutton

Staff review by Chris Saliba

American novelist Danielle Dutton has created a spirited portrait of an early feminist pioneer. 

Margaret Cavendish (1623-1673) was an English aristocrat, poet, scientist, playwright and philosopher. An early feminist figure, she wrote that she would be remembered as Margaret the First, just as King Charles was called Charles the First. She is considered to be the first woman who penned books under her own name (women usually published anonymously) and her prose tale The Blazing World (1666) is one of the earliest examples of science fiction.

In Margaret the First, American novelist Danielle Dutton has written a fictional account of the trailblazing Cavendish. Written at a cracking pace, this is a dizzying ride through 17th century intellectual, scientific and cultural life. Cavendish was active in philosophical circles, engaging with such leading figures as Thomas Hobbes, Rene Descartes and Robert Boyle. She was the first woman to attend the Royal Society of London, an event wonderfully recreated by Dutton.

Margaret the First provides a vibrant and colourful imagining of Margaret Cavendish’s life and times. Dutton throws in many fascinating details and descriptions - of food, dress and domestic arrangements - that make the story leap off the page. Ultimately, there is a pathos to Dutton’s Cavendish: an energetic intellectual spirit, shackled by the times, ridiculed, who died before her time and underappreciated.

Margaret the First, by Danielle Dutton. Published by Scribe. ISBN: 9781925321654  RRP: $29.99

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