“For the riches of the mind must do as other riches, which is to disperse about, not to lie unprofitably and hoarded up.” – Margaret Cavendish, CCXI Sociable Letters Written by The Thrice Noble, Illustrious, and Excellent Princess, The Lady Marchioness of Newcastle
When asking the analog-interlaced guru known as Google the question “Who invented science fiction?”, chances are that Mary Shelley’s name is primary, followed by angry masculine essays defending Chaucer, then finally ending with obscure biographies of unknown 2nd century sci-fi patriarchs. Sure, there are multiple ancient texts that hint towards a sci-fi approach, and Mary Shelley may have paved the way for modern science fiction, but her like-minded predecessor was the first to put her name to a strange, interplanetary utopia in 1666, where she herself was the intellectual ruler, for the most part.
Oh, and did I mention she was, in fact, royalty?
Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, practically had her country fooled. Disguised as a meek, fan-fluttering poetess, this woman was brimming with stories that reached (way) beyond court life and possessed the enviable gumption to publish under her own name when female writers at the time preferred to remain anonymous (hooray for the Renaissance!). Cavendish held the titles of playwright, philosopher, essayist, and mingler among the likes of Descartes and Hobbes. She even criticized them both on and off paper. The Duchess also released numerous works on the subject of philosophy. Most importantly, Cavendish cited that upon releasing her prose, that her own writing would be labeled as a “disease” of some sort from the male littérateurs of the age. If so, why weren’t the iconic publications of Cicero and Aristotle deemed unruly under the same negative “disease”? Again, let’s have three cheers for 17th century patriarchal delusions!
In attempts to materialize the very dreamscapes of her mind, Miss Cavendish released her prose tale titled The Description of a New World, Called the Blazing World. Personally, this story can only be described as (to newcomers of Cavendish, like me) a post-Shakespearean, intergalactic kitsch romance and imperial satire lacking an actual conflict. Yes – conflict-less, but nonetheless entertaining. The story begins with its heroine being whisked away by a lovesick stranger to a foreign land attached to planet Earth via Santa’s house (aka the North Pole). Now, the following occurrences would bring one back to the classical era of Doctor Who, as educated bird-men, fish-men, lice-men, and mermen are abound, and are eventually ruled by our heroine and newly throned Empress. Cavendish even makes a cameo herself as scribe to the Empress, who informs her that the planet/empire is under attack. A retaliation is eventually organized, complete with (what else?) – submarines and stones.
Now, wouldn’t this make the most epic bedtime story?