"Margaret the First" is very much a contemporary novel set in the past. Written with lucid precision and sharp cuts through narrative time, it is a gorgeous and wholly new approach to imagining the life of a historical woman.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-01-18
- Reviewer: Staff
Dutton’s remarkable second novel is as vividly imaginative as its subject, the 17th-century English writer and eccentric Margaret Cavendish. Even as a shy young girl, Margaret Lucas covets fame and writes prolifically. Years later, she is an attendant to the queen, and when the English Civil War begins, Margaret flees with the court to Paris, where she meets and marries the aristocratic William Cavendish. Blossoming in an intellectual milieu that includes Descartes and Dryden, she begins to write even more seriously. Back in England after the war ends, she publishes wildly unconventional books to a mixture of admiration and scorn, refusing to write anonymously like other women of her time, or to let her lack of formal education silence her. Though Dutton doesn’t shy away from the “various and extravagant” antics (such as attending the theater in a topless gown) that earned her subject notoriety and the nickname “Mad Madge,” her Margaret is a woman of fierce vitality, creativity, and courage. Incorporating lines from Cavendish herself as well as Virginia Woolf, whose essays introduced Dutton to Cavendish, this novel is indeed 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. (Mar.)