Margaret the First (Hardback)
  • Margaret the First (Hardback)

Margaret the First (Hardback)

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Hardback 176 Pages / Published: 08/12/2016
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'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.

Publisher: Scribe Publications
ISBN: 9781925228830
Number of pages: 176
Dimensions: 198 x 129 mm


'Luminous ... A small miracle of imaginative sympathy ... There is a whole blazing world in this warm, witty portrait of a visionary who was both passionately engaged with her time and strikingly ahead of it.'

-- Justine Jordan * The Guardian *

'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

'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 *

'Danielle Dutton's slim, charming debut, Margaret the First, gives us a sympathetic account [of Margaret Cavendish's life], largely from Cavendish's own viewpoint ... Colourful and full of flavour, with a style often as eccentric as its subject ... Dutton takes us briskly through Cavendish's life in short scenes, free of the pastiche period language that hampers so many historical novels ... Margaret the First leaves us wanting more, both of Cavendish's life and [Dutton's] writing.'

-- John Self * The Times *

[Margaret the First] aims to tell the story of Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, the 17th-century poet, philosopher and proto-feminist ... in a series of evocative vignettes, some written in Margaret's own voice, that bring this very definitely 'unordinary' woman to vivid life.'

-- Nick Rennison * The Sunday Times *

'This slender but dense imagining of the life of Margaret Cavendish, a pioneering 17th-century writer and wife of the aristocrat William Cavendish, could be classified as a more elliptical cousin of Hilary Mantel's Thomas Cromwell novels ... Ms. Dutton's style is tightly poetic. "It was indescribable what she wanted," she writes of Margaret. "She wanted to be 30 people ... To live as nature does, in many ages, in many brains."'

* The New York Times *

'Scintillating ... Dutton's prose is lambent and evocative, like Woolf's, and her narrative drifts, but it is attached to life through moments of intense specifity made possible by Dutton's research.'

-- Rohan Maitzen * TLS *

'Dutton's vibrant prose in this novelistic imagining of Cavendish's inner life has an air of defiance which serves her subject well. [She is] a trailblazing, self-promoting 'femme forte', blowing the whistle on contemporary class and gender imbalances few acknowledged and even fewer confronted.'

-- Jane Graham * The Big Issue *

'A brilliantly odd and absorbing historical novel... It's bold, tender, funny and strange; a short book, but not in any way slight, more like a fever dream which brings a real, eccentric, talented woman unnervingly to life even as it showcases its author's rare and lavish gift for the conjuring up of the unreal.'

-- Belinda McKeon * Irish Independent *

'Margaret the First is an exquisite piece of writing. It plunges the reader immediately into a world overflowing with interest, beauty, and sorrow. Peppered with Cavendish's own extraordinary writings, as well as phrases echoing down from Virginia Woolf, Dutton's writing is language at its most precise and evocative, and fictional biography at its most imaginative and deft. This book is the gorgeous work of a very fine mind.'

-- Katherine Angel * author of Unmastered *

'In Margaret the First, a remarkable novel that re-tells Margaret Cavendish's life, Danielle Dutton has pulled off the extraordinary feat of bringing to life that wildness, that generosity, and that passion for knowledge and understanding that so impressed Woolf, as well as redressing the silencing with which Margaret's life and achievements have been met, and which Woolf mourns.'

-- Sian Norris * 3:AM Magazine *

'Danielle Dutton's wonderfully strange new novel is a portrait of Margaret of Newcastle, whose perceived excesses and eccentricities were an object of fascination for her time, as well as for Virginia Woolf, who laments in A Room of One's Own, "What a vision of loneliness and riot the thought of Margaret Cavendish brings to mind!" And what a visionary portrait Margaret the First is, not only for the sheer joy of the sentences, but also as it's a marvel of tenderness, rewriting a historical caricature as a life, delighting in Margaret's passion for writing and love of the beautiful and strange from childhood on. I am in awe of what Dutton accomplishes here, in this novel of the small and the sublime. What a triumph!'

-- Kate Zambreno, author of Green Girl

'The duchess herself would be delighted at her resurrection in Margaret the First ... Dutton expertly captures the pathos of a woman whose happiness is furrowed with the anxiety of underacknowledgment ... [She] surprisingly and delightfully offers not just a remarkable duchess struggling in her duke's world but also an intriguing dissection of an unusually bountiful partnership of (almost) equals.'

* The New York Times Book Review *

'Although Margaret the First is set in 17th century London, it's not a traditional work of historical fiction. It is an experimental novel that, like the works of Jeanette Winterson, draws on language and style to tell the story ... There is a restless ambition to [Danielle Dutton's] intellect.'

* The Los Angeles Times *

'Margaret Cavendish (1623-73) did something that was vanishingly rare for women in 17th-century England: She became a famous writer ... This is the story Danielle Dutton tells in her beguiling biographical novel Margaret the First ... William, a poet and patron of the arts, encourages his wife's ambitions even as they bring notoriety upon the household ... Ms. Dutton sensitively shows how Margaret's iconoclasm complicates, but ultimately enriches their relationship. "A woman cannot strive to make known her wit without losing her reputation," Margaret laments when told of the scandal her writing provokes. Yet this inimitable woman made her reputation anyway, and Ms. Dutton's novel charmingly enhances it.'

* The Wall Street Journal *

'Beautiful, accessible, and hypnotic.'

* Bustle *

'"All this trouble for a girl," say the bears in the book Margaret Cavendish writes ... Margaret the First is the story of a very real woman at a very particular moment in history, that is at the same time the story of every woman artist who has ever burst loose the constraints of her particular moment in history to create "a new world called the blazing world."'

-- Kathryn Davis, author of The Thin Place and Duplex

'Dutton, an accomplished writer and daring publisher, here upends the genre of the historical novel in a brilliant book about Margaret Cavendish, a mold-breaking British Duchess of the 17th century who wrote poetry, drama, philosophy, and even science fiction.'

* Flavorwire *

'Danielle Dutton engagingly embellishes the life of Margaret the First, the infamous Duchess of Newcastle-upon-Tyne.'

* Vanity Fair *

'Dutton's remarkable second novel is as vividly imaginative as its subject, the 17th-century English writer and eccentric Margaret Cavendish ... Reminiscent of Woolf's Orlando in its sensuous appreciation of the world and unconventional approach to fictionalized biography. Dutton's boldness, striking prose, and skill at developing an idiosyncratic narrative should introduce her to the wider audience she deserves.'

* Publishers Weekly (starred review) *

'Dutton's profile constructs [Margaret] as a fully formed, complicated human being, as a woman whose interests and inclinations stem from a complex personal history. It's this profile that's the star of the novel as much as its subject, since it deftly weaves together primary and secondary sources to form a wholly integrated, believable and gripping account of a woman who didn't belong to the times in which she was born, not least because these times were too volatile for her to ever plant herself in them.'

* Electric Literature *

'A fabulous (and fabulist) re-imagining of the infamous Margaret Cavendish ... Margaret the First isn't a historical novel, however; magnificently weird and linguistically dazzling, it's a book as much about how difficult and rewarding it is for an ambitious, independent, and gifted woman to build a life as an artist in any era as it is about Margaret herself. Incredibly smart, innovative, and refreshing, Margaret the First will resonate with anyone who's struggled with forging her own path in the world.'

* Book riot *

'A perfect dagger of a book: sharp, dark sentences, in and out quick.'

* Literary Hub *

'A slim, poetic meditation on the writing life as seen through the experiences of Margaret Cavendish ... Virginia Woolf hovers over this brief novel, audible in its cadences and visible in its cascading images of nature, artistry, and oddity ... Despite its period setting and details, this novel - more poem than biography - feels rooted in the experiences of contemporary women with artistic and intellectual ambitions. Margaret's alternating bursts of inspiration and despair about her work may feel achingly familiar to Dutton's likely readers, many of whom will probably also be aspiring writers.'

* Kirkus *

'"I had rather be a meteor, singly, alone," writes Margaret Cavendish, the titular character in Dutton's novel Margaret the First. Cavendish is "a shy but audacious" woman of letters, whose writing and ambitions were ahead of her time. The taut prose and supple backdrop of courtly life are irresistible. (Witness: quail in broth and oysters; bowls stuffed with winter roses, petals tissue-thin; strange instruments set beside snuffboxes.) Dutton is something of a meteor herself, as founder of the Dorothy Project and with two wondrous books already under her belt, including the Believer Book Award-nominated novel Sprawl.'

* The Millions, 'Most Anticipated: The Great 2016 Book Preview' *

'This vivid novel is a dramatization of the life of 17th century Duchess Margaret Cavendish, who wrote and published fantastical fiction and feminist plays well before it was acceptable for women to do so ... While the novel takes place in the 1600s, the explorations of marriage, ambition, and feminist ideals are timeless.'

* The Boston Globe *

'With refreshing and idiosyncratic style, Dutton portrays the inner turmoil and eccentric genius of an intellectual far ahead of her time.'

-- Jane Ciabattari * *

'In Margaret the First, there is plenty of room for play. Dutton's work serves to emphasize the ambiguities of archival proof, restoring historical narratives to what they have perhaps always already been: provoking and serious fantasies, convincing reconstructions, true fictions.'

* Lucy Ives, The New Yorker *

'Dutton has captured the tumultuous life in a novel that is as radically inventive as its subject. Like [Margaret's] plays, it eschews traditional structure, but instead naturally flits through her life, from scene to scene, place to place. Some events are consigned to a few sentences, while others are explored in detail, such as Margaret's arrest at gunpoint, along with her Royalist family's, by Parliamentarian forces near the start of the Civil War. The result is a short, 177-page novel that is a sharply focused, intimate portrait of a remarkable woman who lived in a tumultuous time.'

* Maclean's *

'A literary page-turner, which explores Cavendish's adventurous life, weaving historical details into a spool of crafted, poetic prose ... Three hundred and forty-three years after Margaret Cavendish's death, the Duchess speaks.'

* The Literary Review *

'A brilliantly odd and absorbing historical novel ... Bold, tender, funny and strange.'

* Belinda McKeon, author of Tender *

'Dutton's profile constructs [Margaret] as a fully formed, complicated human being, as a woman whose interests and inclinations stem from a complex personal history. It's this profile that's the star of the novel as much as its subject, since it deftly weaves together primary and secondary sources to form a wholly integrated, believable and gripping account of a woman who didn't belong to the times in which she was born, not least because these times were too volatile for her to ever plant herself in them.'

-- Simon Chandler * Electric Literature *

'Historical fiction like you've never read it before! Dutton captures the ferocious intelligence of a woman far ahead of her time and breathes fresh spirit into her life story. Gorgeously written and bursting with the poetry and splendour of a world just discovering itself, this is a remarkable book about a remarkable woman.'

-- Marion Rankine * Foyles Bookshop *

Entropy's 'Best of 2016: Best Fiction Books'

'Remarkable ... a unique portrait of a gifted woman.'


'From writer and publisher Danielle Dutton comes a novel about eccentric 17th-century duchess Margaret Cavendish, who penned poems, feminist plays and utopian science-fiction in a time when, at least for women, that decidedly wasn't a thing. Early reviews refer to Margaret the First not so much as 'historical fiction' but as a modern story set in the past.'

-- Laura Pearson * The Chicago Tribune *

'Margaret the First has such incredible sentences, and a sense of history that feels like intimacy.'

-- Sarah Jaffe * author of Dryland *

'More than anything else, Margaret the First is about what it means to be a woman and to write; to live in a female body and to defy social constraints on what that body may accomplish. Dutton's wonderful book anoints her as a founding mother to the whole sphere of women's invention.'

* Sarah Ditum, New Statesman *

'Margaret the First is a work of extraordinary emotional and psychological complexity, about a woman who locates salvation in her own creativity and is audacious enough to seek recognition in a world governed by men, from which it is not readily forthcoming. It is also a novel which plays with the line between confidence and egoism in a setting in which the slightest display of confidence on a woman's part is too easily glossed as egoism ... Its energy is inimitable; its curious aura - its curious beauty - burns a long while.'

-- Natalie Helberg * Numero Cinq *

'With this novel about the 17th-century intellectual Margaret Cavendish, Dutton joins Alexander Chee in the camp of writers who are looking to history for vibrant settings and new ways to explore their themes of choice.'

-- Tobias Carroll * Vol. 1. Brooklyn *

'In Margaret the First, the Duchess of Newcastle's internal life is depicted, like Cavendish's own writing, in fits of lushness and "fancies." Dutton has an impeccable way of tempering these by writing her as a unique, flawed person, rather than simplistically upholding her as a feminist hero or perpetuating the narrative that she was 'mad.''

* Flavorwire *

'Dutton refreshes Cavendish's words for a contemporary audience, rendering them relevant and powerful once more.'

* The Portland Mercury *

'Each sentence in Margaret the First is like sea glass, exquisite and unyielding. The sentences stand out for their crafting, not overly ornate or precious, but determined, assured ... While reading Margaret the First, I get the sense of looking at paintings, of stillness animated while turning pages. The immersion becomes almost meditative, like sitting before a Mark Rothko painting and melting into its colours.'

* The Millions *

'One imagines that Madge would be thrilled to find herself at the center of a new novel by the American author Danielle Dutton ... Dutton has followed her critically acclaimed debut, Sprawl, with a vibrant rendition of a unique historical figure ... Humour is typical of Margaret's voice, which Dutton relates in first person until a shift midway switches to third, cleverly underlining the duchess's desire to move from a private space to a public stage. The snippet-like diary form and rate of whip-smart quips bring to mind such contemporary American authors as Jenny Offill and Nell Zink ... Margaret's extraordinary character and curious mind shine throughout her story ... In her short novel Dutton finds the words to give Margaret the voice she felt she lacked. "I had rather appear worse in singularity than better in the mode," announces the duchess. That individuality emerges in an intimate, impressive portrait of a woman centuries ahead of her time.'

-- Sarah Gilmartin * The Irish Times *

'Danielle Dutton's novel, Margaret the First, published by Catapult, is a literary page-turner, which explores Cavendish's adventurous life, weaving historical details into a spool of crafted, poetic prose.'

-- Gretchen McCullough * The Literary Review *

'One might view this novel not just as a portrait of the trials and tribulations of a woman, or an artist, or an insight into the past, or how the past is contained in the present, but also, perhaps, as an inspiration for how one might approach one's life and one's art-'rejecting any clocklike vision of the world.''

-- Sarah Veglahn * Full Stop *

'Danielle Dutton's novel, Margaret the First, published by Catapult, is a literary page-turner, which explores Cavendish's adventurous life, weaving historical details into a spool of crafted, poetic prose.'

-- Gretchen McCullough * The Literary Review *

'Dutton's fictionalized biography is unconventional in its approach, but entirely sensuous and captivating in its style - much like her subject.'

* Historical Novels Review *

'Margaret Cavendish, the 17th-century poet, philosopher, godmother of science fiction, and one of the first tabloid celebrities, is the subject of Danielle Dutton's delicate, lovely new historical novel Margaret the First.'

-- Constance Grady * Vox *

'I loved Margaret the First ... The prose is luminous and odd, the heroine eccentric and unforgettable.'

-- Nuala O'Connor * The Irish Times *

'An intoxicating, blazing world that celebrates a woman years ahead of her time.'

* Lucy Scholes, The Observer *

'Margaret Cavendish is the fascinating subject of Danielle Dutton's hypnotic new novel, Margaret the First ... With just a few precise brushstrokes, Dutton paints a gorgeous, richly detailed world that lingers long after the novel ends; this sublime writing and imagery are the book's great strengths.'

* Caitlin Callaghan, The Rumpus *

'A masterful achievement in historical fiction.'

-- Imogen Hermes Gowar * The Guardian *

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“An extraordinary woman ahead of her time....”

This is the fictionalised story of Margaret Cavendish, a pioneering 17th century writer and wife of the aristocrat William Cavendish. This is not an ordinary historical novel ; it is clever, ambitious and intelligent... More

Hardback edition
Helpful? Upvote 107

“Margaret the First: an unusual book about an incredible woman!”

Who was Margaret the First? You may well ask, and unless you do some extra research this book will not really give you the biographical facts usually recited about this real person who endured exile and relative... More

Hardback edition
Helpful? Upvote 34

“This book may be short but it packs a punch!”

A fascinating portrait of Margaret Cavendish - whose ambitions and actions were ahead of her time. She was the first women to speak at the new Royal Society and the first Englishwoman to write for publication.

The... More

Paperback edition
Helpful? Upvote 0

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