Friday, January 17, 2014

Woman Scientist of the Day 1/17/14 - Lady Margaret Cavedish

Scientist of the Day 1/17
Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle-upon-Tyne

The multi-talented Duchess, a poet, playwright, essayist, philosopher and novelist was a British royalist, living for some time in exile with the queen in France.  A reluctant wife, she finally married the Marquess "because he was a worthy man ... respectful towards her."  The author of 14 books (unusually for the time, published under her own name), she explored a wide array of subjects, even writing what is seen as one of the first science-fiction novels "The Blazing World," an exploration of a utopia.
The Marquess (later Duke) and Duchess lived not just in France (where they had met and married), but also in Belgium and the Netherlands before returning to England upon the restoration of the monarchy.  Her choice of the Duke as spouse seems to have been a good one, as they remained in good relations through various trials, including poverty, exile, and childlessness - Margaret endured several procedures for improving fertility - the Duke having sired children with his first wife was not suspected as being the source of barrenness.
"Mad Madge" as she is sometimes known, followed her own path in fashion and literature and language, sometimes being accused of coarse language, and often dressing in unconventional ways.  Her writings are among the earliest to address gender roles, as well.
Cavendish was among the earliest natural philosophers to reject Aristotelianism.  A self-taught natural philosopher (what we now call scientist), she likely learned much from study and discussion with both her husband and brother, both of whom showed deep interest in natural philosophy.  The odds were great that she also encountered more well-known contemporaries such as Thomas Hobbes and Robert Boyle.
Although she published 6 (six!) books on Natural Philosophy, she never was allowed to join the Royal Society of London.  The mores of the time did allow her to attend one meeting.
Despite being quite the outlier, Lady Cavendish nonetheless illustrates what a determined woman (with appropriate means, of course) can accomplish in a world whose unwritten social rules try to prevent such accomplishment.

The Blazing World may be read here:

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