Importunate Persuasions: Anxiety of Authorship and the Female Fight for Self-Sovereignty

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In Margaret Cavendish’s essay The Blazing World she creates a world of her own where she rules as a sovereign and is afforded a power that would not otherwise be possible for her: “…if any should like the world I have made and be willing to be my subjects, they may imagine themselves such, and they are such, I mean in their minds…; but if they cannot endure to be subjects, they may create worlds of their own and govern themselves as they please” (1785). In this passage, Margaret Cavendish exposes her own idiosyncratic philosophy concerning her position in society as a woman, female author and a member of a court that was ostracized. By prolifically writing about herself, she attempts to exercise her right to a voice and uses it as an instrument of power and resistance in an oppressed and powerless situation. However, her language bears traces of an internalization of the oppressive social structure and an anxiety of authorship1 that prevents her from successfully establishing herself as autonomous. In this essay, I will attempt to demonstrate how Margaret Cavendish, through her poetry and prose, endeavors to achieve self-sovereignty through singularity but fails due to fear of social alienation from not just the patriarchal hegemony but also from the women of her era that perpetuated it.

In The Poetess’s Hasty Resolution, Margaret Cavendish establishes herself as not only a poet but a gifted one at that. “Reading my verses, I liked them so well/Self-love did make my judgment to rebel/Thinking them so good, I thought more to write” (1-3). Here, Margaret introduces her desire for self-sovereignty and her initial willingness to exercise it through the vocation of writing. She writes of a “self-love” initiated by the sound of her own voice and empowers her to fight against the status quo, “to rebel”. She decides to go about her rebellion through writing and putting forth the female voice. However, she compromises her own self-adulation with the criticism that she receives. She recognizes and notes that “others” appose her voicing her opinion: “Considering not how others would them like” (4). By interjecting this criticism in with her self-congratulatory treatise, she refutes them with an impervious tone in her language, as if she intended to rebel and dismiss the reader’s response to her style. Conversely, she also acknowledges them, within the first four lines of her poem, which alludes to a deep concern. This indicates a woman who cares deeply for what others think. This concern could be due to her position in society. Being the wife of a Duke and lady to an ostracized Queen, it was well within her interest to be aware of her social milieu. Moreover, the aristocracy was used to people caring about what they thought and effecting how others acted and spoke, in other words, exercising their hegemony. While she is amongst this power structure, she pushes the limits of her position and acceptance by speaking out and seeks to establish agency, which was not readily afforded to women in the seventeenth century. Even though Margaret Cavendish’s rank was high enough to enjoy an element of immunity, she expresses concern over the fragility of her position. In A True Relation of My Birth, Breeding and Life Margaret appreciates how the breadth of her status is afforded to her through marriage, “second wife to the Lord Marquis of Newcastle, for my lord having had two wives, I might easily have been mistaken, especially if I should die and my lord marry again” (1780). Her language seems humble yet uncertain. One could postulate that this uncertainty is due to her position being conditional of a male counterpart. In her texts, she relies heavily upon a male for information and education. In A True Relation… she diminishes her own ability “…I had a natural stupidity” (1779) and relays how she would be dependent upon a male member of her household to explain matters to her: “…and when I read what I understood not, I would...
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