The Blazing World is a very early example of science fiction writing, and it is the first to contemplate new or parallel worlds. Initially, the story was included as an appendix to Margaret Cavendish’s Observations Upon Experimental Philosophy (1666), a serious scientific publication investigating the concepts of matter and atomic composition. This 1668 edition is The Blazing World’s debut as a standalone text.
What is The Blazing World?
The Blazing World is a ground breaking work of prose fiction which tells the story of a young woman’s journey into a new world (the eponymous Blazing World) via the North Pole, and her experience of the utopian society she encounters there.
Central to the narrative are the protagonist’s discussions on natural philosophy with the knowledgeable, anthropomorphic beasts that populate the Blazing World. Cavendish uses this narrative device to weave scientific theories from Observations Upon Experimental Philosophy into the story. Topics as diverse as the origins of thunder and lightning, alchemy, Galenic medicine and the use of microscopes and telescopes (which are denounced as ‘mere deluders’ on page 27) are debated.
The Blazing World also provides a very early reference to submarine technology, and the possibility of underwater exploration and warfare.
What is special about this copy?
This volume’s frontispiece was added long after the book was printed. The date on the engraving is 1799, and Cavendish’s clothes in the image are remarkably late 18th-century in style.
The static modesty of this portrait is starkly at odds with the three frontispieces Cavendish commissioned during her lifetime. In the original frontispieces Cavendish wears extravagant and revealing clothing amidst richly symbolic settings. This engraving may have been a late 18th-century attempt to re-present Cavendish and her work for a new, more conservative era.
- Full title:
- [Observations upon Experimental Philosophy. To which is added, The Description of a New Blazing World.]
- 1668, London
- Book / Folio / Illustration / Image / Engraving
- Margaret Cavendish
- Usage terms
- Public Domain
- Held by
- British Library
- Article by:
- Tamara Tubb
- Gender and sexuality
Margaret Cavendish and Katherine Philips both wrote across a range of genres and achieved considerable success in their day. Tamara Tubb explores their different approaches to the difficulties of being a 17th-century female writer: Philips created a reserved and modest literary persona, presenting herself as the ideal woman of the time, while Cavendish openly challenged literary and feminine conventions.
- Article by:
- Matthew White
- Politics and religion, Language and ideas
The Enlightenment's emphasis on reason shaped philosophical, political and scientific discourse from the late 17th to the early 19th century. Matthew White traces the Enlightenment back to its roots in the aftermath of the Civil War, and forward to its effects on the present day.
- Article by:
- John Mullan
- Rise of the novel, Politeness, sensibility and sentimentalism
John Mullan explains how the novel took shape in the 18th century with the works of Daniel Defoe, Samuel Richardson, Henry Fielding and Laurence Sterne, and the ways in which the book industry both shaped and responded to the new genre.