Thomas Library

Honors Thesis Archive

Author Taylor Burmeister
Title Margaret Cavendish and the Demystification of the King as a Means of Self-Fashioning
Department English
Advisor Cynthia Richards
Year 2014
Honors Departmental Honors
Full Text View Thesis (327 KB)
Abstract Hailing from a prominent English Royalist Family, but spending much of her life in exile, Margaret Cavendish's life was just as conflicted as her prose. Her childhood was spent in relative luxury, but her adult life was filled with tragedy and loss. Working as a handmaid to Queen Henrietta Maria during the onset of the English Civil, she was forced to flee England to France, where she met her husband, William Cavendish. He granted her autonomy and support to experiment with forms and ideas; Cavendish used this to create a prolific breadth of writings, all published under her own name. Through her writing, Cavendish challenges and demystifies culturally held assumptions about political and social power, and then rather than using this knowledge to further social rebellion, she uses it to both reinforce Royalist ideals and create a name for herself. Yet after the Civil War, the concept of fame, once reserved only for kings, was completely demystified and democratized to the point that even kings could not be famous. So, then, Cavendish's attempts at self-fashioning lead to as close of a level of kingly renown that was possible, that is to say, celebrity. Cavendish, I argue, works as an important intermediary figure, existing in between the era of kingly renown and the current era of celebrity renown. Across two chapters, I look at a variety of works from different genres and periods in Cavendish's life: a short story, The Contract; her incomplete autobiography, A True Relation of my Birth, Breeding, and Life; a collection of orations, Orations of Divers Sorts; one of her unproduced closet drams, The Convent of Pleasure; and, of course, Cavendish's most well known work, A Description of a New World, Called The Blazing World. By examining these works as representations of Cavendish's struggle to carve out a space for herself, we can gain a better understanding of not only this complex and prolific writer, but also the war-torn world she was living in, and even the fragmented, fame-centered culture of today.

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