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Saturday, 1 July 2017

Margaret the First by Danielle Dutton - my review

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Margaret the First dramatizes the life of Margaret Cavendish, the shy, gifted, and wildly unconventional 17th-century Duchess. The eccentric Margaret wrote and published volumes of poems, philosophy, feminist plays, and utopian science fiction at a time when “being a writer” was not an option open to women. As one of the Queen’s attendants and the daughter of prominent Royalists, she was exiled to France when King Charles I was overthrown. As the English Civil War raged on, Margaret met and married William Cavendish, who encouraged her writing and her desire for a career. After the War, her work earned her both fame and infamy in England: at the dawn of daily newspapers, she was “Mad Madge,” an original tabloid celebrity. Yet Margaret was also the first woman to be invited to the Royal Society of London—a mainstay of the Scientific Revolution—and the last for another two hundred years.

Margaret the First is very much a contemporary novel set in the past, rather than “historical fiction.” Written with lucid precision and sharp cuts through narrative time, it is a gorgeous and wholly new narrative approach to imagining the life of a historical woman.


Danielle Dutton is the author of Attempts at a Life and S P R A W L, which was a finalist for the Believer Book Award. Her work has appeared in Harper's, BOMB, NOON, Fence, etc. She is an assistant professor at Washington University in St. Louis and the founder and editor of Dorothy, a publishing project (having published Nell Zink, Renee Gladman, Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi, Manuela Draeger, Joanna Ruocco, Suzanne Scanlon, Amina Cain, & Barbara Comyns). In 2015, Siglio published Here Comes Kitty: A Comic Opera, with texts by Dutton and images by Richard Kraft. In March 2016, Catapult will publish her novel Margaret the First, about the seventeenth century writer Margaret Cavendish.


I found this beautiful book to be a fascinating story of a fascinating woman. Sad to say that I knew very little, if nothing, of Margaret Cavendish who was a 17th century Duchess. But through this book her life is brought into stunning detail with an imagining of how the events of the day affected her and how her life as a female writer - unheard of at the time - brought her notoriety and the nickname of Mad Madge!

It is fascinating historical piece as well and I loved how this slim book captured so much of the time, her struggles and has totally inspired me to find out more about this amazing woman. Not only did she speak her mind through her plays, poems and stories but she had a flair for making amazing clothes and this also made her stand out from the crowd.

Life was never easy for Margaret but she had such belief in herself and it is fascinating to see how the years change her personality to the point where she no longer cares what others think and she does what she feels is right.  Her life was quite the rollercoaster at times and this captures that journey in a brilliant fashion.

An inspiring and enthralling read and I'm grateful for the author in introducing me to another amazing woman in history.

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