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Margaret Cavendish's Vital Matter in a Medical Context

Thu, March 22, 11:00am to 12:30pm, Hilton Riverside, 1st Level - Grand Salon Breakout 7

Abstract

It has long been recognised that Cavendish developed a vital substance theory after her 1653 Poems, and Fancies. This has traditionally been explained with reference to Cavendish’s “feminist sympathy for nature” (Sophia Blaydes and Carolyn Merchant) or even the draw of “radical politics” (John Rogers and Lisa Walters). While there has been a growing recognition that Cavendish was reacting to the substance theories of contemporaries such as Thomas Hobbes and Henry More (Lisa Sarasohn and Stephen Clucas), a robust account of the positive sources for Cavendish’s substance theory has not yet been offered. Emphasising her 1655 Philosophical and Physical Opinions, I will argue that Cavendish’s engagement with chymical and learned medicine was the chief impetus behind her material vitalism. Among other evidence, I will use the unstudied advice and recipes of Kenelm Digby and Theodore de Mayerne in the Cavendishes’ medical book (University of Nottingham, PwV 90).

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