Mad Madge Cavendish

Margaret "Mad Madge" Cavendish died on this day in 1673, leaving one of the oddest literary legacies. Over several decades, in the leisure that came with being Duchess of Newcastle, Cavendish published twenty-two works in a mix of genres and subjects -- from gender injustice to good manners, natural philosophy to animal protection, poetry, plays, romance, and the first extant science fiction written by a woman. The "Mad Madge" appellation was earned less for the odd books than for her peculiarities of dress (she designed her clothes herself), her disregard for spelling, and the haughty tone in this "Epistle to the Reader":

I have my delight in Writing and having it printed; and if any take a Delight to read it, I will not thank them for it; for if anything please therein, they are to thank me for so much pleasure; and if it be naught, I had rather they had left it unread: But those that do not like my Book, which is my House, I pray them to pass by for I have not any entertainment fit for their Palats.

Cavendish has received attention from literary historians for being, as the subtitle of Katie Whitaker's recent biography Mad Madge puts it, "The First Woman to Live by Her Pen." In an essay in The Common Reader, Virginia Woolf both drops her jaw and tips her hat to Cavendish's "vein of authentic fire":

There they stand, in the British Museum, volume after volume, swarming with a diffused, uneasy, contorted vitality.… On and on, from subject to subject she flies, never stopping to correct…talking aloud to herself of all those matters that filled her brain to her perpetual diversion -- of wars, and boarding-schools, and cutting down trees, of grammar and morals, of monsters and the British, whether opium in small quantities is good for lunatics, why it is that musicians are mad. Looking upwards, she speculates still more ambitiously upon the nature of the moon, and if the stars are blazing jellies; looking downwards she wonders if the fishes know that the sea is salt; opines that our heads are full of fairies, "dear to God as we are"; muses whether there are not other worlds than ours, and reflects that the next ship may bring us word of a new one.

Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John's, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at

Crime fiction legends Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly discuss the new book that unites their beloved sleuths Patrick Kenzie and Harry Bosch.

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
The Hundred-Year House

When a poetry scholar goes digging through the decrepit estate of his wife's family to uncover a bygone arts colony's strange mysteries, he awakens a tenacious monster: his mother-in-law. A wickedly funny take on aging aristocracies from author Rebecca Makkai (The Borrower).

Watching Them Be

What makes a film actor into a larger-than-life movie star? James Harvey's passionate, freewheeling essays explain why there are some faces (from Greta Garbo's to Samuel L. Jackson's) from which we cannot look away.


What if you called up the spouse on the verge of leaving you -- and instead found yourself magically talking to his younger self, the one you first fell for?  Rainbow Rowell, author of the YA smash Eleanor & Park, delivers a sly, enchanting take on 21st-century love.