When an Ideal Society Works, it Looks Like a Disney Movie

Photo by Kitera Dent on Unsplash

If we were to change the title of Margaret Cavendish’s The Blazing World, it would probably look something like Cinderella Becomes an Empress and Quizzes Gus and Bruno on Science. That is pretty much the exact plot of The Blazing World. A woman who is low on the social ladder become an Empress in a different world after she’d kidnapped. 

After marrying Emperor-charming, of course. Oh, and all the people who inhabit this world are talking animals. Sound close enough to a Disney movie for you? Well, it gets better. 

Margaret Lucas Cavendish, author of The Blazing World

Margaret’s Cavendish’s ideal society is one where man and wife treat one another as equals. It’s the fairy-tale happily ever after in action. In The Blazing World, however, we know it’s a happily ever after because Cavendish lived it. 

More’s Utopia with its early communistic society has been proven not to work. Humans being what they are, an ideal society where personal freedom is inhibited, and slavery is condoned cannot exist for long or with any long-term happiness. 

Margaret Cavendish’s The Blazing World, while most definitely a fantasy, does at least have one aspect which has been shown and proven to work—men and women treating one another with love and respect. 

The Empress has agency to learn, think, and act of her own will and power.

Margaret Cavendish herself was almost entirely self-taught. She had basic education—reading and writing—but higher learning such as science and philosophy was not available to women in the 1600s. She had the interest but not the same opportunity. 

So, she gave that opportunity to her main character.  The Empress’ first order of business after becoming Empress is to learn everything she can about her new world, it’s science, it’s society, and it’s cosmology.  

She gets to learn directly from the people in her new world who have all the learning—something which Cavendish herself couldn’t do. Thanks to the prominence of her husband, the Marquess of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, she did at least get to meet some of the famous thinkers of the day. But she didn’t have the same social standing with them because she was a woman. 

But the Empress has a freedom which Cavendish herself would only have known because of her husband respected her and encouraged her. Not because she actually had social or legal standing of her own.

The Emperor treats the Empress as an equal and supports her work.

When the Empress marries the Emperor, he gives her complete control over the world. He doesn’t even appear very often in the novel once he does give her power. Not once do we see him criticize her decisions or try to take back the reins of power when he thinks she’s having problems. 

Instead, we see him only when the Empress needs a shoulder to lean on and then he asks how he can help her. He offers her solutions as an equal—not as someone who thinks she needs fixing. 

This mirrors the relationship between the Marquess and Cavendish in many respects. We don’t really remember William Cavendish in history, even though he hosted some of the most famous thinkers of the day while he was in exile in Europe. 

We do, however, remember Margaret Cavendish. And we have her work largely because the Marquess, her husband, supported her work. Most men of his day would have tried to keep her from writing and publishing. She was one of the few women who published under her own name and whose husband was very vocal about her being published. 

Apparently, the Marquess had to come to her defense a few times and proclaim she was the true author of her own works. There was some suggestion that he wrote everything and only used her as a front. This, of course, he flatly denied. 

Of course, he was also a writer himself and one of his sonnets, inspired by his wife’s novel, was published as an introduction to The Blazing World.

So, the relationship between the Emperor and the Empress in The Blazing World was realistic because it was Cavendish’s own reality. In a way, the world of the Empress only could exist because Cavendish knew what it was to be valued and encouraged. 

Now how’s that for a utopian ideal? 

Ideal societies still require basic love and respect between people.

The Blazing World shows a society which is already well-ordered and intellectual when the Empress arrives. Each stratum of society from the bear-men to the fish-men has its own area of study and they do their best to learn everything they can. 

But none of that is possible without the Emperor and Empress first respecting one another. The Emperor couldn’t deify her as he wanted, so he did the next best thing: elevated her to be his equal. With that, the rest of his realm followed suit. 

Notice too, that Cavendish never disparages men in favor of women. The Empress doesn’t put the Emperor down, she doesn’t carry out an Amber Heard-style campaign against the Emperor, she doesn’t even try to manipulate him into getting what she wants. Instead, she returns the same considerations for him that he showed her. 

Perhaps too, Cavendish is really getting at the true nature of equality. We like to talk about “equal opportunities” or “equal protections” under the law, but does that constitute equality? Not if people don’t consider one another as equal first. 

Without all the trappings of economics, social position, or even heritage. 

Photo by Brian McGowan on Unsplash

The Cinderella story reimagined as one of mutual respect.

What is the nexus of the Cinderella story when you really look at it? It’s about an orphaned girl who was perceived as being lesser because she was orphaned and because her step-mother was greedy for her own daughters to advance.

The artificial trappings: the gown, the shoes, the title, her position in the world were all meaningless. What was the Prince drawn to? Well, critics would of course say he was drawn to her because she was pretty–he wasn’t attracted to her for her own sake.

The same could easily have been said about the Emperor in The Blazing World. He’d never met the women who would be Empress before she arrived at his court. Yet, he married her and made her ruler almost immediately.

Almost the same as Prince Charming in Cinderella. He bypasses all the other women at the ball despite their power, position, and property. He picks Cinderella even though she’s unknown, even after the evening is over.

He even searches for her with the only thing he has. Had he really only valued appearances, he would have by-passed Cinderella and gone for someone he knew had all the trapping society could offer. But he picked the unknown.

This is the enduring part of Cinderella–not that she gets the prince and the fame, the wardrobe, and the power that goes with it. She gets someone who values her for more than her labor or her social standing.

Just like Margaret Cavendish and just as the woman who became Empress.

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3 thoughts on “When an Ideal Society Works, it Looks Like a Disney Movie

  1. Kathleen, this is the true meaning of marvellous. It’s not always on show. It’s not always ” Ooooh shiny”! It’s within and I think you spotted it well. The last line sums it up perfectly!

    We need more feminists in the world. Men and women who support it.

    I agree with your observation about how the society observes, how a spouse treats his/her partner. A friend of mine had mentioned that if the husband supports the wife then no other family member or relative can bring her down. In fact, they begin to see her in a different light.

    Also working women who bring in money to the family are tagged with respect. Why this isn’t the case with home makers is something which irks me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading and for your wonderful comment! It’s always encouraging to hear when I’ve hit the nail on the head, so to speak.

      Perhaps too we’d get more feminists if we redefined what that looked like. Feminism has been used far too often for far too many things that don’t really serve women. Like you noted, home makers are denigrated still and yet that’s called feminism. I’ve also noticed men are emasculated and that’s called feminism. Traditional chivalric (and romantic) gestures are called “toxic masculinity” and that’s called “feminism.”

      None of those is truly feminist. If you make all the men too weak to even make a basic decision, then how does that better women? It doesn’t better them any more than denying them the vote, or access to jobs, or education.. If you have strong women, you must have equally strong men who can have their backs and fight alongside them. And sometimes, men show their strength by opening doors, sending flowers, and fighting dragons.

      None of which, by the way, really fails to lift you out of a bad mood. Seriously, when you’re having a horrible day and the guy in front of you holds the door open? Instant mood-lifter for some reason.

      Cinderella wouldn’t be the fairy tale it is if the Prince just gave up because it was too hard or because it required more effort. Or, worse still, he decided to wait for Cinderella to come find him instead when she’s locked away by her stepmother.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, you’re right and make immense sense.
        Balance is the key and balance is what we need. Mentally strong men and women, who work as a team.

        Liked by 1 person

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