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Sometimes we all need a little inspiration for our studies… And what better way to get inspired than by learning about an awesome lady who lived quite a while ago?

Margaret Cavendish, an English philosopher of the 17th century, was a force to be reckoned with. Just look at this line from one of her poems: “If I am condemned, I shall be annihilated to nothing: but my ambition is such, as I would either be a world, or nothing.”

Cavendish courted public attention and fame, dressed extravagantly and wrote popular witty poems and plays. A prolific writer, she published more than a dozen original works during her lifetime. More remarkably, she did it all under her own name, with a proud frontispiece displaying her portrait for all the world to see, at a time in history when most female authors were ostracized.

She was known as “Mad Madge” because she was one of the few early modern women who risked public ridicule to stake out her own philosophical position publicly.

Due to her high social status, and the support of her husband, she knew some of the best minds of her time: René Descartes, Thomas Hobbes, Henry More, Walter Charleton, and Joseph Glanvill. 

While most philosophers of the time engaged one another in public debate, Cavendish instead sent her works as presents to well-known scholars at universities such as Oxford and Cambridge.

She was known as a society phenomenon in London, and I think her boldness can be an inspiration for us all, especially considering that she never received a formal education, and was actually very shy in her youth. 

But, once she found her intellectual peers in the circles of exiled French and English scholars who lived in Paris, she came into her own in a remarkable way.

So go out there and find your own intellectual peers, carve out a place for yourself in this world, and maybe, along the way, you’ll get called “mad”! Honestly, I wouldn’t mind that.

You can go to projectvox.org to discover more of her eccentricities, and read her groundbreaking work in natural philosophy.

Damla is a sophomore at Duke University studying Linguistics. She enjoys working for the university newspaper and learning German! In the future, you might see her in investigative journalism, or perhaps building apps focused on educational equity.
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