Margaret Cavendish’s Imaginary Friends
Rachel Warburton – Lakehead University
Session: “English Epistolary Friendships”
Paper given at the conference: Friendship In Pre-Modern Europe (1300-1700)
This paper analysed Margaret Cavendish’s sociable letters. They were written predominantly for a female audience but she includes a handful of letters to male friends. There were over 200 letters in total. Throughout the bulk of the letters, Cavendish discusses characters who are only identified by their initials; thought to refer mainly to herself and her husband. There is no real narrative arc to the letters and they sometimes give a sense of Margaret writing to herself, especially when she writes about the adultery of a husband, thus mirroring her own marriage. Margaret writes on numerous topics; scientific opinions, criticisms, opinions about the Civil wars etc. Her letters are essentially essays, but she uses the pretense of writing to a “female friend” to discuss different topics. Part of the purpose of this paper is to find different ways to read about women’s literary contributions. There is a feminist argument that women do not embrace the same genres as male writers. Cavendish went out of her way to set herself apart; she cultivated outlandish dress and wrote, ‘of, from and for herself’. Cavendish’s fictionalized letters are a substitute for female friendship when the separation of women was the norm. She writes about ‘discoursing with each other’ as if they were face to face, ‘what reports we hear of public affairs’, gossip and other topics of interest to women of the time. Margaret’s letters represented personal meetings. Her friendships are Neo-Platonic, homosocial, erotic, and written against social norms of her culture.