Womanhood, melancholy and the problem of genius in the work of Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne (1623-73)

Bridges, Molly (2020). Womanhood, melancholy and the problem of genius in the work of Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne (1623-73). University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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The study of Margaret Cavendish’s life and work has been marked by accusations of madness. In recent scholarship, however, such ‘madness’ has been interpreted in terms of her eccentricity and audacity as it manifested in both her prolific publications and extravagant public appearances. Any suggestion that she experienced a clinical form of madness has been reduced to myth. Yet, during her own lifetime, Cavendish was diagnosed with melancholy, a condition that could affect both body and mind. In her own work, she ennobled her diagnosis to one synonymous with genius, vindicating her imagination and her writing ability.

The nexus of melancholy and genius formed part of a time-honoured tradition, dating back to Aristotle, that endowed its experients with praise and reputation. The problem was, as a woman, Cavendish could not (or rather should not) claim to ‘suffer’: genial melancholy was reserved only for the male scholar. This study will reinterrogate her engagement with the notion of mental trouble, tracing her re-evaluation of womanhood as she sought to authenticate her melancholic experience. Cavendish’s ‘madness’ might therefore be more accurately understood as her self-conscious adoption of a genial melancholic persona with its promise of lasting fame.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
Licence: All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: School of English, Drama and Creative Studies, Department of English Literature
Funders: Arts and Humanities Research Council
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature
URI: http://etheses.bham.ac.uk/id/eprint/9861


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