Mad Madge, science fiction, and Pepys

Mad MadgeThis day in London history: On 15 December 1673 Margaret Cavendish (later Lady Newcastle) died aged 50. This extraordinary woman was a poet, philosopher, essayist, and playwright who had her works published under her own name, unusual for women of the time. She wrote The Blazing World, one of the earliest examples of science fiction, she was an early opponent of animal testing, and she argued philosophy and science with the great minds of the time.

Born Margaret Lucas, one of her brothers, John Lucas, was an Original member of the Royal Society and, in 1667, Margaret asked permission to attend a session of the  Society. This request caused a great deal of argument and dissatisfaction, but was eventually granted, and she became the first woman to attend a session. (The Royal Society was founded in 1660, but women were not permitted by statute to become fellows until 1945.)

Blazing worldAnother member of the Royal Society was Samuel Pepys, who was also at the session attended by Margaret, and he recorded in his diary that she made the gentlemen there uneasy because her attire was “so antic and her deportment so unordinary”.

Margaret was, indeed, known for her eccentric style of dress, which earned her the nickname of ‘Mad Madge”. By her own admission she enjoying expressing herself through uniqueness in her clothes, claiming to eschew fashions adopted by the majority of her peers.

Pepys was obviously not a fan of Margaret’s writing any more than of her dress and deportment. The same year as the Royal Society session, he also records in his diary that he had gone to see “the silly play of my Lady Newcastle’s, called ‘The Humourous Lovers;’ the most silly thing that ever come upon a stage. I was sick to see it, but yet would not but have seen it, that I might the better understand her”.

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