The Description of the New World, Called the Blazing World was first published in 1666 and again in 1668. It is a work of fiction that is often considered a forerunner to the genres of both science fiction and utopian novel. It is satirical in tone and can also be seen as a treatise on natural philosophy, which Cavendish was interested in. The work is divided into two parts and delineates different genres like ‘romantical’, ‘philosophical’, and ‘fancy’ or ‘fantastical’.
The narrative begins with the kidnapping of a young maiden by a widower merchant and his men. She gets abducted from the seashore of her homeland and carried onto the sea. A tempest turns the direction of their boat towards the North Pole. Due to deus ex machina, everyone but the lady dies. The maiden is transported to a different world which is called The Blazing World. By the virtue of marrying the Emperor, she becomes the Empress of the Blazing World. She discovers this fantastical world with an extremely diverse society, which is completely different from the world she comes from. With her taking over the Blazing World, the Empress establishes a peaceful order with one religion, one language, and no sexual discrimination. The latter part of the work deals with the platonic relationship between the Empress and Cavendish, the siege of the empress’ homeland, and the restoration of peace.
Cavendish addresses her readers and explains that she has added a fantastical piece of work, The Blazing World, at the end of her philosophical work to provide her readers with variety. The Blazing World was published along with Observations upon Experimental Philosophy, “a critique of the new science emphasizing the limitations of experiment founded on human perception and such instruments as the microscope and the telescope” (Greenblatt et al 1780).
This work is a creation of her imagination, in which the first part is ‘romantical, the second is ‘philosophical’, and the third is ‘fancy’ or ‘fantastical’ (Greenblatt et al 1780). In the seventeenth century, women were not given equal rights as men. They were expected to live their lives, following a strict code of conduct. Cavendish points out the way society discriminates, based on sex, especially against the female sex, while giving a glimpse of her personal experience. She remarks that she cannot (rather did not intend) be ‘Henry the Fifth’ or ‘Charles the Second’ she would rather be ‘Margaret the First’ (Greenblatt et al 1781). Despite this discrimination, she has dared to create a world of her own.
The paragraph describes the episode in which the lady is brought in front of the Emperor. Mesmerized by her mortal charms, the Emperor worships her as a goddess and makes her his wife. He grants her absolute power so she can rule as per her convenience. Although she explains that she is mortal, the subjects see her as a deity.
Cavendish describes the world and its inhabitants. The priests and governors are the princes of ‘imperial blood’. Ordinary people are of different complexions but their complexion is nothing like humans. Moreover, the inhabitants are of different sorts, shapes, figures, and so on. The Empress proceeds to assign each of the different types of men, different occupations and obligations. For instance, bear-men becomes experimental philosophers, the spider and lice-men become mathematicians, the satyrs are Galenic physicians, the fly, worm, and fish-men become natural philosophers the fox-men become politicians, and so on.
She investigates various aspects of this strange world. The newly formed Empress probes into the nature of the government and various laws. She gets to know their preference toward monarchical rule, as for them, “a monarchy is a divine form of government … so we are resolved to have but one emperor, to whom we all submit with one obedience” (Greenblatt et al 1782). This also hints at Cavendish’s predisposition towards royalty, as William and Margaret Cavendish both supported the monarchy. In fact, when Queen Henrietta Maria went into exile in France after the execution of Charles I, Cavendish accompanied her.
While explaining the customs of this world, Cavendish says that all the inhabitants follow only one religion and worship one God. The Empress queries about the different forms of worship. Her curiosity leads her to discover a special arrangement in which women are not allowed to gather at a place of devotion along with men. The reason is that it hinders men’s devotion and all their concentration is diverted towards their mistresses. Thus, women pray at home. She also learns why priests and governors are eunuchs. In this utopian world, every person holding a powerful position has to be a eunuch; to avoid the distractions created by women and children.
The paragraph is from the section, “The Empress Brings The Duchess Of Newcastle To The Blazing World”. It showcases the beginning of the platonic relationship between the Empress and the Duchess of Newcastle, Margaret Cavendish. The spirits offer the Empress a ‘scribe’. Initially, the Empress asks for the soul of either Aristotle, Epicurus, Plato, Pythagoras, Galileo, Descartes, Hobbes, H. More, and so on but finally, she settles on the Duchess of Newcastle to be her scribe. One of the reasons to choose her is, “neither will the emperor have reason to be jealous, she being one of my own sex” (Greenblatt et al 1783). She welcomes her with a ‘spiritual kiss’ and develops a deep friendship with the Duchess.
The paragraph is from the section, “The Duchess Wants A World To Rule”. Here, the Duchess expresses her ambition to be ‘an emperor of a world’. The Empress lends her support to the Duchess’ ambition. They are informed by the spirits about the infinite worlds and discuss the possibility of obtaining one of the worlds by the Duchess. The Duchess expresses her views and wants to pursue her goal of conquest. The Duchess remarks, she would rather die while pursuing the “adventure of noble achievements” than experience a dull and boring life; she would rather have a split second of fame than a lifetime of oblivion (Greenblatt et al 1784). The spirits advise the Duchess to create her own world. The Duchess happily rejects all the other worlds while wholeheartedly agreeing to create her world.
The paragraph is from the section, “The Epilogue to the Reader”. Cavendish addresses the reader again. She informs that she has fulfilled her desire of being an Empress by becoming the “authoress of the world” that she created. She claims that both the worlds that she has engineered, The Blazing World and the Philosophical world (Observations upon Experimental Philosophy) have been created through her labour involving ‘pure reason’ and determination. She did not use any brutal force like the conquerors, Alexander, the Great, and Julius Caesar but killed only a few men, that too in the name of justice in the Blazing World.
She feels delighted and takes pride in the fact that she created a peaceful world as she chose peace over war, honesty over beauty, and reason over policy; instead of following in the footsteps of the heroic figures like Achilles, Hector, Caesar, Alexander, Ulysses, and so on (Greenblatt et al 1785). She declares herself the Empress of the Philosophical world, as The Blazing World already has an Empress, who is her platonic friend. She declares, “[she] shall never prove so unjust, treacherous, and unworthy to her, as to disturb her government, much less to depose her from her imperial throne, for the sake of any other; but rather choose to create another world for another friend” (Greenblatt et al 1785).
The Blazing World (1666, 1668), as a literary work, defies all the literary traditions of the seventeenth century. The Neo-Classical age writers advocated reason as the basis of literary endeavour, not imagination. The writers followed rigid guidelines that were inspired by classical writers. Cavendish created this Utopian fiction and moved beyond the boundaries of reason and compartmentalized standards. For Cavendish, creating her own world gave her a sense of control that society denied its fair sex. As Holmesland puts it, “Fancy and imagination provide compensation for their lack of power in England – and especially for being women” (469). The Blazing World explores “the themes of imperialism, science, discovery, and travels present, creating a literal and symbolic textual conquest” (Evans 6).
In addition to being classified as Utopian and science fiction, the work can be seen as a feminist manifesto. It is written by a female writer, for the female readers in seventeenth-century England, and has women as central characters, the Empress, and the Duchess, discussing topics like science, governance, and philosophy in a fantastical setting (Moran 31- 34). The character of the Empress can be seen as a symbol of the ‘power’ that Cavendish wished the women of then English society possessed. She always felt women were never given their due and wholeheartedly believed that women could engage in politics and understand philosophy, just as well as men. She also advocated for the right to education for women. In The Blazing World, she creates an ideal world that is starkly different from the real world. Her world is based on scientific research, understanding, and harmony with nature.
In The Blazing World, Cavendish shows that women can be phenomenal rulers when power is given to them. She also shows that women can be as creative and capable as male writers and calls for abandoning the masculine restrictions.