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.
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.
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.