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Title: Science, nature and politics : Margaret Cavendish's challenge to gender and class hierarchy
Author: Walters, E. M.
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2005
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Abstract:
Margaret Cavendish has been understood as a problematic literary figure. Scholars generally conceive Cavendish’s proto-feminism as being juxtaposed incongruously with staunch, hierarchical thinking. From this critical perspective, Cavendish’s radical gender critique creates unintentional contradictions within her absolutist politics and her conservative ideology ultimately negates the value of her proto-feminist theories. This study addresses Cavendish’s politics by exploring the political dimensions of her scientific and philosophical thought. Chapter 1 discuses how the patriarchal binaries that structure western scientific traditions and knowledges are subverted and redefined through Cavendish’s theory of nature. Exploring how her science rejects, yet appropriates spiritually, the disruption of religious understandings of gender are investigated in Chapter 2. As Cavendish’s depiction of religion challenges the spirit/matter and man/woman dichotomies, religious explanations of women’s subordinate status are dismantled. Though Cavendish has been understood as a conservative thinker, Cavendish is much less problematic when understood outside the parameters of staunch royalist ideology. Chapter 3 examines Cavendish’s theories of atoms and multiple worlds in relation to Hobbes and seventeenth-century political science, demonstrating that The Blazing World surprisingly challenges absolute politics. Cavendish’s critique of class and gender hierarchy are further examined in Chapter 4 where texts such as The Contract and Assaulted and Pursued Chastity advocate republican ideals such as popular sovereignty, the belief that a monarch’s power should be limited and that tyrannicide is sometimes justifiable. Through exploring some of the most radical politics of her time, these texts further consider women’s identity in relation to early modern legislation while demonstrating that by republican definitions of liberty, women were slaves. Though scholarship tends to seek ones opinion or voice within Cavendish’s texts, this study will also contribute to a highly neglected aspect of her work by examining the meaning of Cavendish’s multifarious voices and perspectives. Contrary to critical understandings of Cavendish, her contradictions were not incidental, but were part of a complex political and scientific project. Using plurality as a foundation for her theoretical thought, Cavendish’s conception of an infinite and diverse nature could radically invoke limitless interpretations, knowledges, realities, worlds and even selves.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID: uk.bl.ethos.663433  DOI: Not available
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