Worlds within Worlds: Community, Companionship and Autonomy in Margaret Cavendish’s The Blazing World

Bronwen Price


Margaret Cavendish’s The Blazing World (1666) draws on the utopian mode in order to investigate and test out various types of community: scientific, religious, political, platonic, erotic, and also provides a fantasy of female agency. In addition, the underlying trope of The Blazing World of two worlds conjoined bears a tangential relationship to a seventeenth-century discourse of a particular type of community – that of friendship. The relationship between the native world of the Empress (the text’s protagonist) and the Blazing World provides the starting point of this image, but these two worlds are contiguous, not united. Moreover, the various internal communities over which the Empress presides are by no means ideal and signal the contingency of her self-determining powers.

It is not until the Duchess of Newcastle’s entry into the Empress’s soul, having been invited by the Empress to help her write a cabbala, that the trope of friendship is fully played out as ‘two in one’. The focus shifts from community to companionship built on amity’s central components of consensus and counsel as the women become ‘like several parts of one united body’. But it is also the Duchess and Empress’s internal community that enables them both to gain autonomy when the Duchess, having created numerous world within her own head, advises the Empress to do the same: friendship therefore becomes the starting point for singularity.

Not only does the text signal how the creation of internal worlds within the worlds of companionship and community complicate friendship’s bonds, but also points to the interactions friendship must make with outside concerns when marital, social and national ties require the Duchess and the Empress to return to their native countries, albeit together. In contrast with some of the discourses of friendship prevalent in the period which stress exclusivity, mutuality and interdependence between friends, the utopia of The Blazing World wittily presents a negotiation between autonomy, companionship and community that is born out of amity.

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