I What Makes Cavendish hard? A text without any defined genre:
“the Emperess’s Soul asked the Duchess, she desired to know the reason why she did take such delight when she was joined to her body, in being singular both in Accoustrements, Behaviour, and Discourse? The Duchess’s Soul answered, she confessed that it was extravagant and beyond what was usual and ordinary; but yet her ambition being such, that she would not be like others in any thing if it were possible; I endeavor, said she, to be as singular as I can; for it argues but a mean Nature to imitate others” (Cavendish 1.245)
1. Plato’s ideas are one thing that clearly gives her story SOME shape.
Warrant? Cavendish uses the words Plato, Platonick and “the Divine Plato” multiple times in the text (1.222)
Platonic principle: one is better than many
“For the person who can achieve a unified vision is dialectical, and the one who cannot isn’t” (Plato 7.223)
In Cavendish, the soul of the Duchess advises the Emperess to return her country to “one Sovereign, one Religion, one Law, and one Language” (1.229)
Cavendish’s historical application. The Emperess asks the inhabitants of the Blazing World “why they preferred the Monarchial form of Government before any other? They answered, That as it was natural for one body to have but one head, so it was also natural for a Politick body to have but one Governor, and that a Common-wealth, which had many Governors, was like a Monster of many heads” (1.164).
For Cavendish, the commonwealth and monster would clearly recall for her Royalist readers the Commonwealth experiment of 1641-1660, resulting in civil war and her husband the Duke’s loss of land and money to the Puritan revolution.
In Plato, learning clearly must be controlled, because education is powerful, and faction is always the enemy
In Cavendish, too many diverse opinions lead to trouble. The Emperess remarks that “wheresoever is Learning, there is commonly most also Controversie” (1.230)
In the Allegory of the Cave, Plato Draws and analogy between light and learning, shadow and ignorance (Republic Bk 7)
One can read the Blazing World as Platonic fantasy. Note what the Duchess’s soul tells the Emperess about the real world of Europe before they travel there:
“the world you are going into is dark at nights… and not so full of Blazing-Stars as this World is, which make a great light in the absence of the Sun, as the Sun doth when it is present” (2.234)
And we hear that the Emperess “spent most of her time in the study of Natural Causes and Effects, which was her chief delight and pastime, and that she love to discourse sometimes with the most Learned persons of that World; and to please the Emperor” and that “she went often abroad to take the air, but seldom in the day time, always at Night, if it might be called Night; for, said she, the Nights there [in the Blazing World] are as light as Days, by reason of the numerous Blazing-starts” (2.249)
Platonick idea: transmigration of souls (metympsychosis),
Myth of Er
“But the Duchess’s soul being troubled, that her dear Lord and Husband used such a violent exercise before meat, for fer overheating himself, without any consideration of the Emperess’s soul, left her aereal Vehicle and entred into her Lord. The Emperess’s soul perceiving this, did the like: And then the Duike had three Souls in one Body; and had been but some such Souls more, the Duke would have been like the Grand Signior in his Seraglio, only it would have been a Platonick Seraglio” (1.222)
2. The story is internally unified by repetition and intensification of repeated ideas
Central to both Book 1 and Book 2 is the story of someone who is harmed, Heaven is displeased, and the rest of the book plays out the punishment of the criminal and the triumph of the victim.
IN Book 1 the one harmed is the Lady who is raped, her assailant is killed, and she becomes Emperess.
In Book 2 the one harmed is King Charles I and his loyal nobles, especially the Duke of Newcastle. The story enacts a revenge fantasy of imaginative punishment by turning this real king into the leader of “the absolute Monarchy of all the World” (2.241)
Cleverly this puts one anonymous Lady on the same level as the real King of England in 1666, also enacting a dramatic feminism, which book 1 also does very well.