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'I am as Ambitious as ever any of my Sex was, is, or can be; though I cant 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 urdinary, that I do t like her at all'. And indeed, here vividly brought to life by Danielle Dutton, the shy, gifted, and wildly unconventional duchess is wholly 'urdinary', 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 vel - an 'urdinary' portrait of a woman whose ambitions, and marriage, were often centuries ahead of her time.
Danielle Dutton is the author of a collection of prose pieces, Attempts at a Life, and a novel, S P R A W L, which was a finalist for the Believer Book Award. She also wrote the text for Here Comes Kitty: a comic opera, an artist book of collages by Richard Kraft. Her fiction has appeared in Harper's, BOMB, Fence, Noon, and other periodicals. Dutton, who grew up in Central California, holds a PhD from the University of Denver and a MFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She is the founder of the publishing house Dorothy, and teaches at Washington University in St Louis, where she lives with her husband and son.