The Vegetarian Resource Group Blog

MARGARET CAVENDISH

Posted on November 19, 2014 by The VRG Blog Editor

By Laura McGuiness

Recently in my Renaissance Literature class, I had a guest lecturer speaking about Margaret Cavendish. We read several poems by her, one of which caught my interest by the footnote preceding it, stating: “This poem is one of the most remarkable expressions of empathy for the non-human to be found in the period.” The poem, “The Hunting of the Hare” (found here: http://eresearchportfoliobyemily.blogspot.com/p/margaret-cavendish-hunting-of-hare.html) is about the hunt of a poor little rabbit, Wat, who eventually dies at the hands of hunters. It culminates with a unique and (at the time) extremely controversial idea, one which basically castigates humans for believing all animals were made specifically for man’s benefit.

Anyway, in class I learned that this poem was actually in response to Descartes’s idea of animals being akin to automatons. Cavendish brings animals on the same moral plain as humans and produces empathy to trick the reader into identifying and feeling for Wat. Once they acknowledge this related state, saying otherwise makes them a hypocrite. It was a fascinating argument that was extremely revolutionary for its time. I also learned that Margaret Cavendish visited a Royal Society, which was (at the time) performing cruel and unusual experiments with small animals. She made a spectacle, stormed out, and proceeded to write a book, Blazing World, which is a thinly veiled parody of what she saw at the Royal Society. Her novel is essentially about animals performing experiments and her (as an empress) chastising them for doing so and calling their results rubbish.

You may or may not find the above interesting; however, I thought anybody who had a love for both animal rights and literature would find this fascinating! I also got excited about learning such animal rights-related ideas at a public university in a class completely separate from animal rights.

1 to “MARGARET CAVENDISH”

  1. Ian McDonald says:

    Hi Laura,

    Just read this looking for a link to Hunting of the Hare for my radio history of vegetarianism. (*Plug* Download all episodes for free at the link in my name.) So thanks for posting that! I’ve read different quotes from it in different books, but never the whole poem.

    I just read that she was pretty low-key once she got into the Royal Society. (I mean, she definitely made a spectacle, one ballad said she looked like a Cavalier but for a beard, but that’s more about her cosplay.) Not that she made a scene.

    Source:
    For the Love of Animals: The Rise of the Animal Protection Movement
    By Kathryn Shevelow
    https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=CU3G6CbnZEsC&pg=PT26



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