‘I am as Ambitious as ever any of my Sex was, is, or can be; though I cannot be Henry the Fifth, or Charles the Second, yet I endeavour to be Margaret the First.’
When Margaret Cavendish addressed the Royal Society in 1667, Samuel Pepys recorded that her dress was ‘so antic and her deportment so unordinary, that I do not like her at all’. And indeed, here vividly brought to life by Danielle Dutton, the shy, gifted, and wildly unconventional duchess is wholly ‘unordinary’, and all the better for it.
Exiled to Paris at the start of the English Civil War, Margaret meets and marries William Cavendish and, with his encouragement, begins publishing volumes of poetry and philosophy, which soon become the talk of London. After the Restoration, upon their return to England, Margaret’s infamy grows. She causes controversy wherever she goes, once attending the theatre with breasts bared, and earns herself the nickname ‘Mad Madge’.
Yet while scorned by many, to others Margaret is a visionary, and to later readers — including Virginia Woolf — she was to become an early precursor of feminism. She was the first woman invited to the Royal Society — and the last for 200 years — and the first Englishwoman to write explicitly for publication. Unjustly neglected by history, Margaret the First — as she styled herself — was a bright, shining paradox. Here, she is brought intimately and memorably to life, tumbling pell-mell across the pages of this exhilarating novel — an 'unordinary' portrait of a woman whose ambitions, and marriage, were often centuries ahead of her time.
‘Margaret the First is set in the seventeenth century, but don't let that fool you. It's a strikingly smart and daringly feminist novel with modern insights into love, marriage, and the siren call of ambition.’
Jenny Offill, author of Dept. of Speculation
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‘Dutton’s style is as remarkable as her subject; this curious, beautiful novel is sensitive interrogation of the conflicting attractions of celebrity, femininity, marriage and ambition.’
Francesca Wade, The Sunday Telegraph