The Blazing World (PHI4246.01)

Catherine McKeen

Margaret Cavendish’s The Blazing World, published in 1666, is many things- an early experiment in science fiction; a biting satire of gender norms; a visionary feminist utopia (or unsettling authoritarian dystopia); a sample of imagination-driven travel writing; the work of a 17th c. woman making a daring claim to literary, political, and intellectual authority; and a text very much in conversation with the “new science” and philosophy of the early modern period in England and Europe. Throughout the text, Cavendish plays with genre, gender, and hybridized bodies. Cavendish herself described The Blazing World as a “hermaphroditical” text, one that is by turns “romancical…philosophical, and…fantastical.”

In this course, we will engage in a close study of Cavendish’s The Blazing World, in conjunction with philosophical work from Cavendish and other thinkers of the period (e.g., Descartes, Hobbes, Gassendi, Bacon). Three main questions will guide our investigation: (1) How do Cavendish’s unconventional philosophical ideas find expression in The Blazing World? (2) How does Cavendish use fantasy fiction to explore the limits and possibilities of human nature? (3) How does Cavendish navigate the gendered spaces of intellectual authority?


Learning Outcomes:
• Develop skills in close reading and textual analysis
• Ask strong questions, engage thoughtfully with a range of philosophical views
• Deepen understanding of philosophical views, arguments, and the history of philosophy
• Develop your ideas in writing using appropriate evidence and support

Delivery Method: Fully in-person
Prerequisites: One course in philosophy or permission of the instructor (email:
Course Level: 4000-level
Credits: 2
W 2:10PM - 5:50PM (1st seven weeks)
Maximum Enrollment: 18
Course Frequency: One time only

Categories: 4000 , All courses , First Seven Week , Fully In-Person , Philosophy , Two Credit