Book Review: The Description of a New World, Called the Blazing World, by Margaret Cavendish

The sentences in Cavendish’s most important work of fiction, The Description of a New World, Called the Blazing World, intertwine and tangle as if without breathe, run on as if they must perspire, and it was in these sentences, so delightfully exuberant, so unabashedly flamboyant, that I found that this was a book worth reading, though I admittedly had little sense of the world that was being created. While this book is often labeled as one of the first works of science-fiction, I felt that there were too many questions of the philosophical bend being asked for it to be so simply categorized. On the surface level, this is the story of a woman who becomes the empress of a world run by many types of animals, who organizes them to reinvade her human world and take back her home kingdom. This plot line in-and-of-itself is an almost a post-colonial reimagining of a pre-colonizing world, but of the birds and the fish rather than of any different race. In the meantime,
Cavendish asks many questions related to nature, the body, and the human spirit. What is the difference between man in the woman? Do other animals in fact have souls?

Of course, much of the philosophy becomes riddled too much in 17th century logic and the mind-befuddling prose to be easily digested. A part of me felt the sense that there was something greater being said here, something worth re-reading into, but as I tried to re-read, I didn’t find myself considering that souls require a vehicle to travel, or that the earth is in fact a giant worm.

Alas, this is a book that functions mostly as a one-time good read. It’s more than odd, it’s more than quirky, it’s probably good science-fiction, a work of a first-rate imagination, but one that was little tamed to think deeper than the world of fantasy. But, at least the language did me in. The prose intrigues no matter how much the sentences heave.

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