Paper Bodies
A Margaret Cavendish Reader
  • Publication Date: January 20, 2000
  • ISBN: 9781551111735 / 155111173X
  • 332 pages; 5½" x 8½"
Exam Copy

Academics please note: this title is classified as having a restricted allocation of complimentary copies. However, electronic complimentary copies are readily available for those professors wishing to consider this title for possible course adoption.

Availability: Worldwide

Paper Bodies

A Margaret Cavendish Reader

  • Publication Date: January 20, 2000
  • ISBN: 9781551111735 / 155111173X
  • 332 pages; 5½" x 8½"

Margaret Cavendish was one of the most subversive and entertaining writers of the seventeenth century. She invented new genres, challenged gender roles, and critiqued the new science as well as the mores of society. “Paper Bodies” was the wonderful phrase she used to described her manuscripts, which she hoped would continue to make “a great Blazing Light” after her death. There are connections here to Cavendish’s most famous work, The Description of a New World, Called the Blazing World (1666), a unique tale of a woman travelling through the north pole to a strange new world.

In addition to The Blazing World, this volume includes Cavendish’s brief autobiography, A True Relation of My Birth, Breeding and Life (1667), her play The Convent of Pleasure, and selections from her Sociable Letters, her poetry, and her critical writings. A variety of background documents by other seventeenth-century writers helps to set her work in context for the modern reader.


Paper Bodies gathers together important and representative selections from the poetry, fiction, prefaces, and letters of Margaret Cavendish. The book also sets the work in context by printing extracts from Francis Bacon, Mary Evelyn, and Aphra Behn. Cavendish scholars will be very pleased by the appearance of this highly useful collection.” — James Fitzmaurice, Northern Arizona University

“Cavendish always hoped that a future audience might read her texts—the ‘paper bodies’ that remained after her death—more attentively than had her contemporaries. This anthology facilitates that readership. Its lucid introduction and careful selection of texts and contexts adumbrate key topics in Cavendish studies, and its potential to enrich courses on early modern literature, the history of science, and gender studies is great.” — Anna Battigelli, SUNY, Plattsburgh


  1. Birth, Breeding, and Self-fashioning
  2. Gender and Serious Play
  3. Women and the New Science

Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle: A Brief Chronology

Part I: Birth, Breeding, and Self-fashioning

  1. A True Relation of my Birth, Breeding, and Life (1656)
  2. Selections from CCXI Sociable Letters (1664)
  3. Preface to Orations of Divers Sorts (1662)
  4. Letter of Mary Evelyn to Ralph Bohun (c.1667)

Part II: Gender and Serious Play

  1. The Convent of Pleasure (1668)
  2. Preface to the Reader, The Worlds Olio (1655)
  3. Female Orations, from Orations of Divers Sorts (1662)

Part III: Women and the New Science

  1. The Description of a New World, Called the Blazing World (1666)
  2. Selections from Poems and Fancies (1635)
  3. Francis Bacon, New Atlantis (1627)
  4. Selections from Letters and Poems in Honour of … Margaret, Duchess of Newcastle (1676)
  5. Aphra Behn, Preface to her translation of Fontenelle’s Entretiens sur la pluralite des mondes (1688)

Works Cited and Select Bibliography

Sylvia Bowerbank holds a joint apointment in the Arts and Science Programme and the English Department at McMaster University.

Sara Mendelson is a historian who teaches in the Arts and Science Programme at McMaster University.