The Blazing World (1666)

The Description of a New World, Called The Blazing-World, or known simply as The Blazing World was published in 1666 and created by Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle.  A second edition was published in 1688 along with Observations upon Experimental Philosophy.  The narrative is replete with references to otherworldly characters, including sentient beings that are half-man and half-beast.  It is one of the earliest examples of what would eventually become the genre of science fiction, and the only example of such exotic subject matter to have been penned by a woman during the 17th Century.  The book is an early example of bildungsroman, tracing the development of a young woman from her adventure as an abducted maiden to her becoming the empress of the Blazing World.

The book is a tapestry of utopian, bildungsroman, romance, adventure, politics, logic, and autobiography.  Arguably, the subject matter also includes strong psychological and theological content as the Empress enters into discourse with her subjects on a broad array of topics.  The deployment of logic, or lack thereof, is a discursive catalyst as the Empress banters with the half-men.  The Blazing World is populated by a heterogenic race of half-human, half-beast creatures that are sentient and live together under a peaceful, cooperative system of government.  Eventually, however, the Empress successfully conducts a war against the enemies of her homeland, the Kingdom of Esfi, by deploying the extraordinary talents of her subjects in the Blazing World.

The book’s relatively exotic subject matter conjured a paradox for 17th Century scholars, who often expressed views that The Blazing World was an irrelevant work of fancy, but scholarly interest in the works of Cavendish, especially The Blazing World, has been accompanied by high profile references in contemporary popular culture.  It is referenced in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen as a paradise.  In Un Lun Dun, by China Miéville, it is suggested that two-way travel between the Blazing World and Earth is possible.  The Blazing World inspired her husband, William Cavendish, 1st Duke of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, to write a congratulatory sonnet in honor of her accomplishment.  Academic interest can be found in the writings of scholars like Marina Leslie, who states that “To take Cavendish’s argument about the relationship of fancy and reason seriously requires that we think of The Blazing World less as an escape from the world or a vision of a possible world than as a material engagement with the world that is” (88). Sujata Iyengar explores Cavendish’s representation of race as an irrelevant factor in establishing social hierarchy, as illustrated by her deployment of trans-human traits throughout The Blazing World.  Other writers, such as Carrie Hintz argue that the preservation of a stable society involves the obliteration of any diversity of ideas, thereby rendering Cavendish’s utopia to be doomed to stagnation.  Such debates indicate a renewed interest in The Blazing World as a continued source of scholastic investigation across a broad spectrum of topics ranging from Cavendish’s proto-feminism to her invention of an early form of science fiction.


Barry Cole


Works Cited

Fitzmaurice, James. “Cavendish , Margaret, duchess of Newcastle upon Tyne

(1623?–1673).” James FitzmauriceOxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Online ed. Ed. Lawrence Goldman. Oxford: OUP, . 15 Sept. 2014


Hintz, Carrie. “‘But One Opinion’: Fear of Dissent in Cavendish’s New Blazing

World.” Utopian Studies 1996: 25. JSTOR Journals. Web. 14 Sept. 2014.

Iyengar, Sujata. “Royalist, Romancist, Racialist: Rank, Gender, and Race in the

Science and Fiction of Margaret Cavendish.” ELH 2002: 649. JSTOR Journals.

Web. 14 Sept. 2014.

Wikipedia contributors. “The Blazing World.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 13 Jun. 2014. Web. 15 Sep. 2014.