Genre’s “Phantastical Garb”: The Fashion of Form in Margaret Cavendish’s Natures Pictures Drawn by Fancies Pencil to the Life
Smith, Emily. "Genre’s “Phantastical Garb”: The Fashion of Form in Margaret Cavendish’s Natures Pictures Drawn by Fancies Pencil to the Life". Early Modern Literary Studies 11.3 (January, 2006):6.1-40 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/11-3/smitcav.htm>.
several feigned Stories of Natural Descriptions, as Comical, Tragical, and Tragi-Comical, Poetical, Romantical, Philosophical, and Historical, both in Prose and Verse, some all Verse, some all Prose, some mixt, partly Prose, and partly Verse. Also, there are some Morals, and some Dialogues; but they are as the Advantage Loaves of Bread to a Bakers dozen; and a true Story at the latter end, wherein there is no Feignings. [unpaginated]Douglas Grant suggests that “a more specific and inclusive title could hardly have been devised,” and Emma L.E. Rees agrees with him, adding that the title “can only be designed to influence the mindset of the reader” and to delimit possible readings of the text. Can we say the same thing, though, for the following remarkably similar passage?
The best actors in the world, either for tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-comical-historical-pastoral, scene individable, or poem unlimited; Seneca cannot be too heavy, nor Plautus too light, for the law of writ and the liberty: these are the only men. [II.ii.396-402]No one would suggest that Shakespeare circumscribes readers’ interpretations of Hamlet. Through Polonius’s words, Shakespeare highlights the flexibility of drama as a medium but does not generically pin down Hamlet. What Cavendish—like Shakespeare—offers is a sense of the multifarious expansiveness of a text whose construction hinges on complex mixings of modes.
I have not endeavoured so much for the eloquence, and elegancy of speech, as the naturall and most usuall way of speaking, in severall Discourses, and ordinary Phrases; but perchance my Readers will say, or at least think I have dressed the several subjects of my Discourses too vulgar, or that the Garments, which is the language, is thread-bare: ’tis true, they are not drest up in constraint fashions, which are set phrases, nor tied up with hard words, nor bumbast sentences, but though they are carelesly, yet they are not loosely drest. [unpaginated]Cavendish knows how to artfully manipulate the garments that clothe her ideas, and she carefully articulates the ways in which she avoids both “constraint fashions” and loose dressing. By pointing out potential tensions between the subject matter and language of her narratives, Cavendish coyly suggests that her characters and her ideas are dressed to a purpose. Moreover, she places an emphasis on what readers will not find in Natures Pictures—a tactic that allows her to set up an open-ended description of her work. She does not actually tell her readers what to expect from Natures Pictures or delimit any fixed ways in which readers should approach the wide-ranging themes and modes that make up the complete text. Instead, she emphasizes what linguistic and stylistic devices are absent: “set phrases,” “hard words,” “bumbast sentences,” and “loosely drest” discourses.
pleased her Eyes for a time, and that their Dressings were like Bridal Houses, garnished and hung by some Ingenious Wit, and their Beauties were like fine Flowers drawn by the Pencil of Nature; but being not gathered by Acquaintance, said she, I know not whether they are vertuously sweet, or no; but as I pass by, I please my Eye, yet no other wayes than as senseless Objects; they entice me not to stay, and a short view satisfies the Appetite of the Senses, unless the rational and understanding part should be absent; but to me they seem but moving Statues. This is a neat social critique. Lady Deletia, a relative neophyte to city life, sees the contrast between external and internal sweetness and positions herself as one not swayed by such sensory gratification. Subtler is the connection between Lady Deletia’s critique and the full title of Natures Pictures, which again is Natures Pictures Drawn by Fancies Pencil to the Life. Lady Deletia here comments on the transitory nature of “Flowers drawn by the Pencil of Nature,” while Cavendish’s title reminds us how images made by “Fancies Pencil” can be made permanent: they can be published.
But lest my Fancy should stray too much, I chose such a Fiction as would be agreeable to the subject treated of in the former parts; it is a Description of a New World not such as Lucian’s, or the French-man’s World in the Moon; but a World of my own Creating, which I call the Blazing World: the first part whereof is Romancical, the second Philosophical, and the third is merely fancy, or (as I may call it) Fantastical, which if it add any satisfaction to you, I shall account my self a happy creatoress; If not, I must be content to live a melancholy Life in my own World. [unpaginated]Through her use of somewhat obscure, specialized words throughout this passage, Cavendish interlinks references to and subversions of language typically used in philosophical and scientific discourses. Cavendish recognizes that she has taken the language of science and inflected it with her own meaning; her use of the phrase “as I may call it” invests the term phantastical with an idiolectical value.
Cavendish’s fingers do not spin but her brain does; writing becomes a surrogate domestic act for her, and she uses it as a way of figuratively weaving garments that she believes will prove functional and lasting. Regardless of how the “Garment of Memory” turns out, it clothes Cavendish’s name and protects her from the cold. Being “meanly clad” can be a form of self-publication by which an author puts his or her body into circulation or on display.
Spinning with the Fingers is more proper to our Sexe, then studying or writing Poetry, which is the Spinning with the braine: but I having no skill in the Art of the first (and if I had, I had no hopes of gaining so much as to make me a Garment to keep me from the cold) made me delight in the latter; since all braines work naturally, and incessantly, in some kinde or other; which made me endeavour to Spin a Garment of Memory, to lapp up my Name, that it might grow to after Ages: I cannot say the Web is strong, fine, or evenly Spun, for it is a Course piece; yet I had rather my Name should go meanly clad, then dye with cold. [unpaginated]
After he had received this Letter, he put himself into a wooing Equipage; and so compleat he was in Apparel and Attendance, that the same eyes that had seen him when he followed his husbandry, and should view him now, would forswear they had ever seen him before: Such alterations fine Cloaths and many Followers make. By putting on his “wooing equipage,” he transforms from a laboring man into a suitor. Promptly he pays a visit to the young woman in question. The man immediately falls in love (no doubt a residual effect of wearing “wooing attire”) and amorously discourses with her until “they had discoursed themselves after this manner out of breath” (284). After this initial conversation, “the Gentleman was directed to his Chamber, where he laid by his riding Cloak, shifted his Boots, brusht his Hat, kemb’d his Hair, and set himself in order” (284). He prepares himself for further amatory conversation by making sure that his clothes and figure continue to adhere to the pattern of a wooer. The lady apparently buys into this representation, for she tells her maid that he “has a manly garb, and a wise countenance” (285). The couple decides very shortly to marry.
though time is apt to waste remembrance as a consumptive body, or to wear it out like a garment into raggs, or to moulder it into dust, yet I finde the naturall affections I have for my friends are beyond the length, strength, and power of time: for I shall lament the loss so long as I live, also the loss of my Lords Noble Brother, which died not long after I returned from England, he being then sick of an Ague, whose favours and my thankfulness ingratitude shall never disjoyne; for I will build his Monument of truth, though I cannot of Marble, and hang my tears as Scutchions on his Tomb. Rapidly, Cavendish moves from one analogy to the next. Memory is first a consumptive body (both her sister and her sister’s daughter had recently died from consumption) and then a worn out garment. On basic and external levels, bodies and garments corporeally engender memory. Through the process of writing out the truth—building a “Monument of truth,” and a story with “no Feignings”—these physical components of memory take on didactic and metaphoric functions.
seldom did I dress myself, as taking no delight to adorn myself, since he I onely desired to please was absent, although report did dress me in a hundred severall fashions: ’tis true when I did dress myself I did endeavour to do it to my best becoming, both in respect to myself, and those I went to visit, or chanc’t to meet, but after I had been in England for a year and a half, part of which time I writ a Book of Poems, and a little Book called my Philosophicall Fancies, to which I have writ a large addition, since I returned out of England, besides this Book and one other: as for my book entitled the Worlds Olio, I writ most part of it before I went into England. “Report did dress me in a hundred severall fashions,” she notes—and surely it did. John Evelyn, Mary Evelyn, and Thomas, Lord North each dressed Cavendish according to his or her own feelings about Cavendish as a writer, a scientist, a wife, and a woman. Dorothy Osborne asked William Temple to send her Cavendish’s Poems and Fancies because “they say tis ten times more Extravagant than her dresse” (37), and Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary on 30 March 1667 that Cavendish “hath been a good, comely woman; but her dress so antick, and her deportment so ordinary, that I do not like her at all” (8.243). Cavendish knew that this circulating body of information shaped the way her contemporaries perceived her. Acknowledging the fictionality of others’ descriptions catalyzes Cavendish’s assessment of her own role as a producer of fictions. She quickly reveals that the “best becoming” fashions she selects to appear in public are not just her garments but also her carefully collected, illustrated, and bound folios. Cavendish reiterates this relationship between public discourses, personal dressing strategies, and authorship when she explains “because I would not bury my self quite from the sight of the world, I go sometimes abroad, seldome to visit, but only in my Coach about the Town, or about some of the streets, which we call here a Tour, where all the chief of the Town goe to see and to be seen” (385-86).
my serious study could not be much, by reason I took great delight in attiring, fine dressing and fashions, especially such fashions as I did invent myself, not taking that pleasure in such fashions as was invented by others: also I did dislike any should follow my Fashions, for I always took delight in a singularity, even in accoutrements of habits, but whatsoever I was addicted to, either in fashions of Cloths, contemplation of Thoughts, actions of Life, they were Lawfull, Honest, Honorable, and Modest. This statement has been taken seriously by readers as astute as Virginia Woolf. However, recently scholars like Margaret J.M. Ezell have pointed out that women’s literary assertions of inferiority and ignorance are often interpreted as being literal, when in fact they are as formulaic as humility topoi in men’s writings. Cavendish’s assertion that she could not spend much time in “serious study” should thus be considered as a rhetorical trope of modesty or humility typical in seventeenth-century writing. When she suggests that her “delight in attire” took away time from her studies, Cavendish emphasizes a stereotypical hierarchical arrangement much like that espoused in Mary Evelyn’s (John and Mary’s daughter) slightly later poem Mundis Muliebras: Or, The Ladies Dressing-Room Unlocked and Her Toilette Spread (1690). Yet Cavendish complicates and even subverts such stereotypes by pointing up the creative aspects of personal dress. Closely bound for her are fashion, invention, and singularity, all of which she represents as intimately connected to “contemplation of Thoughts” and “actions of Life.” 
though I desire to appear to the best advantage, whilest I live in view of the public world, yet I could most willingly exclude myself, so as Never to see the face of any creature, but my Lord, as long as I live, inclosing myself like an Anchoret, wearing a Frize-gown, tied with a cord about my waste. Here, Cavendish returns to the language of clothing that has circulated throughout Natures Pictures with two specific references, one to “The Tale of a Traveler” and the other to “The She Anchoret.” Significantly, these are the tales to which she specifically directs her readers’ attention in the final prefatory letter to her readers: “I do recommend two as the most solid and edifying, which are named, The Anchoret, and the Experienced Traveller, but especially the Anchoret, they are the last of my feigned stories in my Book” (unpaginated). Cavendish integrates these pivotal tales in “A True Relation” by imagining herself dressed in “a Frize-gown, tied with a cord about my waste.” There is, on a very literal level, a sense of gendered ambiguity here. Cavendish chooses the term anchoret rather than she-anchoret for herself (although both terms could apply to a woman, it is notable that Cavendish prefers she-anchoret for her character and anchoret for herself). Additionally, the “Frize-gown” she would wear should remind readers of the male traveler rather than of the women in “The Tale of a Traveler” who wore “stammell petticoats” and “grey Cloth.” By alluding to these narratives in the final paragraph of her unfeigned narrative, Cavendish reminds readers of the fictions to which “A True Relation” is annexed. She thus implies that she has constructed “A True Relation” from bits of fiction; what is unfeigned depends materially on the feigning antecedent to it.
The Sun crowns Natures Head, Beams splendent are,When she revised Poems and Fancies for its “much altered and corrected” edition in 1664, she replaced Wast with Waste (156). Both of these words do mean waist; however, only waste means blank pages. That Cavendish bothered to re-spell a word that was technically correct suggests that she wanted to access both meanings. Moreover, as in “A True Relation,” these lines do lend themselves to a layered interpretation in which the waste is both literally a woman’s waist and figuratively an incomplete document, a story that needs to be written. After all, nature is something that Cavendish repeatedly tries to write; in Poems and Fancies, twenty-two of the poems have titles that include the word nature. The idea of nature as an unwritten—and writeable—body would certainly have appealed to Cavendish.
And in her Hair, as Jewels, hang each Star.
Her Garments are made of pure Bright watchet Sky,
The Zodiac round her Wast those Garments tie. 
 Many thanks are due to Martyn Smith for comments and corrections, as well as to two anonymous readers who provided helpful feedback. Transcriptions preserve original spelling, capitalization, and punctuation.
 I borrow the term paratext from Genette. See especially Genette’s introduction: “the paratext is what enables a text to become a book and to be offered as such to its readers and, more generally, to the public” (1). The paratext, as Genette describes it, serves as a threshold, as a zone of transition and transaction, and as a fringe or boundary that controls one’s reading of a text.
 See Grant, 159, and Rees, “Triply Bound,” 28. Rees complicates Grant’s description of Natures Pictures’s title by rightly pointing out that Cavendish playfully confronts the tension between a title (usually open to multiple interpretations) and the designated text with her lengthy description of Natures Pictures’s contents.
 Whitaker, 21: “Cervantes’s Don Quixote in particular was a family favorite whose larger-than-life characters provided the [Lucas] sisters with material for jokes and the typecasting of real-life people.” Rees also notices that much of Cavendish’s generic self-consciousness seems rooted in Cervantes. In Margaret Cavendish: Gender, Genre, Exile, Rees focuses more on the political coding that these similar generic tactics offered: “In Don Quixote genre operates in a way similar to that in which Cavendish establishes generic expectations which allow her to publish apparently seditious material” (89).
 Compare Don Quijote, 29-34, in which the priest and the barber decide to burn “the true authors of all the damage.”
 Lewalski describes the importance of self-fashioning in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century women’s writing: “Women also appropriated and redirected genres and discourses associated with self-definition and self-fashioning, claiming them in the position of subject, not object” (312). Compare also to the process that Greenblatt describes as involving an “increased self-consciousness about the fashioning of human identity as a manipulable, artful process” (2).
 At the 1999 conference of the Margaret Cavendish Society in Paris, Loughlin delivered a paper that made a similar claim; in her abstract, she states that the concentration “on a few exceptional pieces from the rich miscellany of Natures Pictures deprives us of the opportunity to explore how the works various pieces shape our reading of its final autobiographical account.” Loughlin ultimately suggests that Natures Pictures is “an exploration and problematization of the inter-penetration of romance and life-writing, of the different cultural standards which apply to the expression of desire and the self in these two genres.” My argument differs from Loughlin’s by emphasizing the way that images of clothing lend coherence to the text, thereby making it function less as a miscellany than as a unified narrative arranged of various yet carefully connected components.
 Gallagher, xx. Gallagher’s study focuses primarily on Aphra Behn, Delarivier Manley, Charlotte Lennox, Frances Burney, and Maria Edgeworth.
 This is an image that Cavendish also uses in one of the poems in the first book of Natures Pictures:
The Prince the Letter read, and pleased so,
As by his smiling Countenance did shew;
Which made all cloudy thoughts disperse, and clears
His mind, as in dark days when Sun appears. (14)
Here, Cavendish uses the analogy in a more private context, even though the image of the sun ultimately hints at the ultimately public nature of a prince’s changing emotional state.
 Compare this description to Cavendish’s husband William’s comedy The Varietie (1649), in which Mistris Voluble (a self-described “professor of the female sciences”) explains: “you must be sure to have so many leaves and curtaines before your windows, that you may shew your selves at more various lights than the most cozening Mercer his faded and deceitfull Ware, for the youth of your white Satin will be then but pearle colour at the best, it may be but ash colour, and therefore refuse no advantage to give it gloss” (16). Throughout the play, William uses Elizabethan fashion to demarcate a system of moral codes.
 Although the Royal Society was not chartered until 1662, the group existed as a forum for scientific inquiry and exchange before the English Civil War. Cavendish’s early interests in science were supported by her husband’s brother Charles, an original Fellow of the Royal Society. Charles—along with William—had studied Hobbes and later studied mechanical philosophy in Paris. For some fairly recent accounts of Cavendish’s later visit to the Royal Society, see Grant, Whitaker, Sarasohn, and Mintz.
 For example, Shakespeare uses the burning-glass in The Merry Wives of Windsor: “The appetite of her eyes did seem to scorch me up like a burning-glass” (1.iii.74). Compare also to Cavendish’s Poems and Fancies: “But with a Glass those scatter’d Beams draw in, / When they’re united, pierce through every thing” (mispaginated 21, corrected to read 23).
 The sumptuary laws were designed to prevent transgressions of class and to protect the English wool trade. There were five “Acts of Apparel” and at least nineteen proclamations regulating dress. Kastan discusses these laws and their implications, 152-53.
 Cavendish takes on Hooke directly in Observations upon Experimental Philosophy and more obliquely in The Description of a New World, Called the Blazing World (published together in 1666). Observations simultaneously imitates and subverts Micrographia at several points. For instance, Cavendish's section “Of Colours” is followed by “Whether an Idea have a Colour, and of the Idea of a Spirit” (79-90); both of these arguments are steeped in knowledge of Hooke’s and others’ experiments and observations on color.
 The Oxford English Dictionary defines stammell petticoats as garments, usually dyed red, that were made of coarse wool.
 Bruster defines embodied writing as “a kind of text and a textual process that, increasingly during the 1590s, put resonant identities and physical forms on the printed page,” thereby allowing an author to produce a text that “mediated the imaginary and actual in its bodily address” (50).
 Willett and Cunnington explain how clothing became darker and more subdued during the seventeenth century than it was during the sixteenth century. Except for the color red, muted tones (especially black) were popular (12).
 Cavendish frequently situates her writing in relation to needlework, spinning, and other domestic work, as in Sociable Letters:
I cannot Work, I mean such Work as Ladies use to pass their time withall, and if I could, the Materials of such Works would cost more than the Work would be worth, besides all the Time and Pain bestow’d upon it. You ask me, what Works I mean; I answer, Needle-works, Spinning-works, Preserving-works, as also Baking and Cooking-works, as making Cakes, Pyes, Puddings, and the like, all which I am Ignorant of; and as I am Ignorant in these Imployments, so am I Ignorant in Gaming, Dancing, and Revelling. (38)
As in Poems and Fancies, Cavendish humbly and formulaically suggests that she only writes because she lacks domestic talents (or, more to the point, she lacks interest in and patience with household arts).
 Cavendish makes a similar point in “Ages Folly,” a narrative in Book Two of Natures Pictures: an older man is ensnared by a younger woman, and his wife recognizes his infidelity in part because he becomes “extravagant in his actions, phantastical in his dress, loose in his discourse” (117). She also connects “phantastical garbs” with absurdities of courtship in her play The Several Wits: “in seeing their phantastical garbs, their strutting postures, their smiling faces, and the jackanapesy actions” (87).
 Woolf notes: “Already she liked reading better than needlework, dressing and ‘inventing fashions’ better than reading, and writing best of all” (70). Also, see Ezell, especially 1-13.
 Chalmers notices that “Cavendish’s wish to achieve singularity through the display of ‘fine dressing’ offers an analogy with her yearning to acquire a unique fame by means of displaying her texts” (328).
 According to The Oxford English Dictionary, an obsolete meaning of waste that was fairly common during the seventeenth century describes time or leaves in a book as “Spare, unoccupied, unused.”
 Page is harsh about Cavendish’s supposed orthographic errors, and he assesses her works as demonstrating only “the empowering possibilities of bad writing” in an online description of her life, works, and reception. Selections from his book are available at http://homepage.ntlworld.com/nick.page1/worst/Cavendish/cavendish.html.
 Lilley notes that although Cavendish’s “extremely idiosyncratic punctuation and grammar have usually been seen as simply a function of her lack of formal education, and carelessness in overseeing the preparation and printing of her manuscripts,” we should not “discount the defiance with which Cavendish treated normative writing practices at every level” (xxxiv). Bennett supports Lilley’s assessment in her own “A Note on the Texts” of Bell in Campo and The Sociable Companions.