Title

‘The Needle, as the Eye, Guides It About’: Women’s Imagination in Margaret Cavendish

Abstract

Margaret Cavendish’s debut volume, Poems and Fancies (1653), covers atomist science and the nature of simile in the same breath, often combining seemingly incongruent themes. The primary response to her work chalked up her engagement with disparity to feminine aristocratic eccentricity, branding her “Mad Madge”— a derisive nickname that still plagues much of the critical response to Cavendish’s work. This dismissive reaction masks the complicated, proto-feminist brilliance of an intensely original work, as the book refuses the strictures of a largely masculine poetic tradition in its content, form, and structure. By studying her inventive use of needles and eyes in the text, I show that Cavendish prioritizes a specifically feminine imagination, one that stems from the very bodies of women as well as their lived experience, and in doing so opens up new modes of expression all her own.

Faculty Sponsor

Theresa DiPasquale

Tracks

Literary Criticism

Terms of Use

ARMINDA Terms of Use

Location

Olin 129

Presentation Type

Oral Presentation

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‘The Needle, as the Eye, Guides It About’: Women’s Imagination in Margaret Cavendish

Olin 129

Margaret Cavendish’s debut volume, Poems and Fancies (1653), covers atomist science and the nature of simile in the same breath, often combining seemingly incongruent themes. The primary response to her work chalked up her engagement with disparity to feminine aristocratic eccentricity, branding her “Mad Madge”— a derisive nickname that still plagues much of the critical response to Cavendish’s work. This dismissive reaction masks the complicated, proto-feminist brilliance of an intensely original work, as the book refuses the strictures of a largely masculine poetic tradition in its content, form, and structure. By studying her inventive use of needles and eyes in the text, I show that Cavendish prioritizes a specifically feminine imagination, one that stems from the very bodies of women as well as their lived experience, and in doing so opens up new modes of expression all her own.

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