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As if my ignorance were not obvious enough, I have only just encountered the extraordinary Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle (1623-1673).


Cavendish was  a prolific writer, poet, scientist and all-round genius by the looks of things.  She came to my eye in a collection of Rennaissance verse for the following delightfully xenotopic poem (complete with original footnote).

Of many Worlds in this World

Just like unto a Nest of Boxes round,
Degrees of sizes within each Boxe are found,
So in this World, may many Worlds more be,
Thinner, and lesse, and lesse still by degree;
Although they are not subject to our Sense,
A World maybe no bigger than twopence.
Nature is curious, and such a worke may make,
That our dull Sense can never find, but scape.
For Creatures, small as Atomes, may be there,
If every Atome a Creatures Figure beare.
If foure Atomes a World can make*, then see,
What severall Worlds might in an Earering bee.
For Millions of these Atomes may bee in
The Head of one small, little, single Pin.
And if thus small, then Ladies well may weare
A World of Worlds, as Pendents in each Eare.

*As I have before shewed they do, in my Atomes

[1653, emphasis original]

In addition to the nicely woven conceit of the multiple worlds, Cavendish’s suggestion that it is the ‘ladies’ who will carry these universes in their earrings speaks to her already highly developed feminism.  She also seems to stand in that tradition of utopic writers – More, Erasmus, et al – who used their fictive worlds to say things that were still perhaps unsayable in the society of the time.  Cavendish was (according to her Wikipedia page anyway) a writer of early ‘science-fiction’ in her book: The Description of a New World, Called the Blazing World (1666) in which she wrote herself in as ‘Margaret I’ as a logical mirror to the Charles I of the real world.  I suppose if you’re a proto-feminist aristocrat there’s only one place you can go in your own fictional universe. (Click on the image below for the full text).