A Bolsover Castle story

She was a feminist writer who believed in religious tolerance and was against cruelty to animals. It does not sound that unique in the 21st century but bear in mind that we are talking about Margaret Cavendish, the Duchess of Newcastle, who actually lived in the middle of the 17th century. She was the youngest of eight children in her aristocratic family, and whilst her brothers received an excellent education, she was never formally educated. Margaret Lucas was born in an era when women were not supposed to show their intellect in public and so she had to learn everything independently. She became a lady in waiting to Queen Henrietta Maria, the wife of Charles I, and moved to Oxford to be close to her. She then later moved with the queen into exile to flee the country during the English Civil War. Whilst in exile, she met William Cavendish who was a Marquese and they fell in love and married. William was also a writer so it appeared to be the perfect match.

When the couple came back to England after the restoration of Monarchy in 1660, Margaret started to publish books using her own name. A few women had already achieved this by then, but they always did so anonymously. Margaret Lucas ( perhaps because of her peerage title), did not feel the urge to be anonymous, and in 1666, when her husband was elevated to become the Duke of Newcastle, she published what many people consider to be one of the first science fiction novels of all time.

Blazing World tells the story of a woman who is kidnapped by a merchant who falls in love with her. She is taken by a boat and a colossal storm sends the ship into the North Pole where all the men on board freeze to death and she becomes the only survivor. She is drifted into a new world through the North Pole populated by talking creatures, which she describes as “Bear Man”, “Bird Man”, “Lice Man” and even a “Spider-Man”. All of these creatures choose her to be their empress and she in return realises that the only way to rule is by creating harmony with no division between class, sex, or religion. While she is in the Blazing Worlds, our heroine learns that her own country on Earth is under attack and so she mobilises her new citizens to Earth by using submarines which are towed by fish men.

As you can imagine, not everyone liked the author’s ideas about harmony between religions, sex and class and so some started to nickname her “Mad Madge”. Samuel Pepys, the famous diarist, wrote about her that she was, “a mad, conceited, ridiculous woman”. However, not everyone agreed with Pepys and a year after she published the book, in 1667, she was invited to join the Royal Society. She became the first ever female to join the organisation and the next woman after her was only invited in 1945.

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