It’s time I came clean regarding my midnight soul tea parties with long dead historical figures. Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, (1623-1673) started it. The Duchess, although an actual historical figure, defines for me the archetype of the Crazy Female Intellectual (CFI). The men have their lunatic geniuses; so do we women. As a prolific writer and a natural philosopher, the Duchess read, responded to, and heavily critiqued the scientists of her day. After all, she was more of a stoic than an Aristotelian and leaned toward a materialistic rather than a mechanical philosophy. Mechanical philosophy was all the rage in her day, which meant it was begging to be criticized by none other than this CFI. She was also known for her fanciful dress, and I have a lasting image imprinted in my mind of her wearing an exuberant costume while visiting the Royal Society. Of course, her purpose there was to confound the male scientists and philosophers into speechlessness at her–what would the men call it?–irrational behavior. What better activity could there be for a CFI who sought fame and, hence, achieved it? To be fair, she established her fame through her writing, which confounds scholars to this day.
Now I return to my soul tea parties. In the tradition of the Duchess’s The Description of a New World, Called the Blazing World (1666), I pretend to become a platonic soul that can readily leap inside another soul for the purpose of understanding others and drinking tea. The Blazing World is a proto science-fiction/fantasy story, clearly influenced by the likes of Galilean astronomy (Newton didn’t invent his telescope for another two years), as well as Hooke’s Micrographia (1665), which had been published a year earlier. In it, a kidnapped woman escapes to a Blazing World through the North Pole:
For they were not only driven to the very end of point of the Pole of that world, but even to another Pole of another world, which joined close to it; so that the cold having a double strength at the conjunction of those two Poles, was unsupportable; at least, the boat still passing on, was forced into another world, for it is impossible to round this world’s globe from Pole to Pole, so as we do from East to West; because the Poles of the other world, joining to the Poles of this, do not allow any further passage to surround the world that way; but if any one arrives to either of these Poles, he is either forced to return, or to enter into another world…
After marrying the Emperor, the former victim of kidnapping becomes Empress of this new world and is known by this title throughout the rest of the tale. There isn’t much of a storyline beyond this; mostly, it’s the tale of an Empress who is questioning politics, religion, and science. She gives special critiques to the scientists with their telescopes and microscopes because their varying interpretations cause much dissent in the world. She orders that their telescopes be destroyed, but the men who use them, the Bear Men, claim the telescopes aren’t to blame for their infighting. Instead, the fighting is owing to the limits of their eyes, the sensitivities of their sight or lack thereof, and their differing judgments of objects viewed through the telescopes. Being that this story was written by a CFI, the Empress still demands that the men break their telescopes so that they can return to a “natural” philosophy. The men, as one would expect, protest, and so she concedes that they can keep their telescopes as long as they don’t disturb the government, i.e. her, with their schisms and wars.
At some point, the Duchess enters her own story, which eventually leads to both the Empress and Duchess entering the Duchess’s world for examination (the reader is left to assume that there are three worlds at this point: the Empress’s former world, the Duchess’s, and the Blazing One). This leads to more philosophical digressions, except this time about England rather than the Blazing World, which further leads to the Duchess longing for her husband’s soul. Merry England plus philosophy do tend to equal one Duke Soul when a CFI is adding up numbers with theoretical maths. And what do you think they do when one of them misses her noble Duke of a husband? Well, they both jump inside his soul for a party, naturally, and conduct a menage a trois of philisophical proportions, which gives rise to the Duchess’s jealousy over the Empress’s instant oneness with the Duke, until she remembers they are, essentially, platonic soul creatures at that point. However, I’ve long thought the woman doth protest too much with her stance of Oh, that’s right! Platonic lovers can’t commit adultery! Silly me!
There you have it. I hope that explains why I conduct midnight soul tea parties with long-dead historical figures.