The Complete Works of Margaret Cavendish
Liza Blake, Shawn Moore, and Jacob Tootalian, General Editors

The Complete Works of Margaret Cavendish (CWMC) will be the first complete collection of all of Margaret Cavendish’s extensive corpus of literary, philosophical, historical and personal writing, and will consist entirely of critical editions of her works. This 20-volume collection, under contract with Punctum Books (https://punctumbooks.com/) will consist of open-access scholarly editions designed for an interdisciplinary and broad readership, ranging from historians, philosophers, and literary scholars to undergraduates and members of the public. It will also include a Textual Companion, a collection of essays to which our editors can contribute collecting the textual research conducted across all the volumes. Because of our commitment to critical editing, this editorial project will reveal key dimensions of Cavendish’s philosophical, scientific, and literary contributions that have otherwise remained invisible to the growing readership interested in her work. Our editions will be based on extensive research into surviving copies of her texts.

Below we answer some basic questions you might have about the project; if you have further questions, feel free to reach out to the supervisory editors (Blake, Moore, and Tootalian) at our shared Complete Works email: cwmarcav [at] gmail [dot] com.

Below is a list of all the questions; click one of them to jump to the question itself.

Why the Complete Works?
What makes critical editing different from other kinds of editing?
Why do we need critical editions of Cavendish’s works?
Why Punctum as a publisher?
What are “supervisory editors”?
Can I get involved in editing for the Complete Works?
What is involved in signing on as an editor?
Can I help in another way?
Where can I read more about some of the things described on this information page?

Why the Complete Works?

We are committed to publishing critical editions of the Complete Works of Margaret Cavendish, not just the most famous or canonical works, for three reasons. 

First, by giving as much attention to her less famous works as we do to her “popular” works—treating the “allegories” of her World’s Olio with the same care we treat the allegories in her Poems and Fancies—we will encourage Cavendish scholars to explore her entire corpus, beyond the Blazing World.

Second, a complete Complete Works will preserve and make visible what is perhaps the most unique aspect of Cavendish, as a seventeenth-century woman writer: her ability to not only write in but to flourish in a variety of genres, writing styles, and modes. Cavendish viewed her corpus as an interconnected whole, as evidenced by her “joined” texts (Poems and Fancies, in five discrete sections linked together with “clasp” sections, or her OEP, a scientific treatise “joined” with a science fiction narrative), her self-designed Sammelbände, and her batched donations to Oxford and Cambridge (see Blake, “Cavendish’s University Years” in the Further Reading section below) show. We intend to publish her works as such, and to allow them to speak to one another today in a form reminiscent of the intertextuality they once had in the seventeenth century.

Third and finally, a complete Complete Works will allow us to bridge the disciplinary splinter that sometimes divides not only Cavendish scholarship, but also Cavendish editing. Some of Cavendish’s philosophical texts have been edited by philosophers for philosophers, who necessarily bring to their texts different questions, and different editorial approaches, than do literary scholars, or historians of science, or historians. By working as a transdisciplinary team of editors, we can develop relatively uniform but flexible editorial principles that will ensure a complete Cavendish corpus that can speak to all disciplines.

What makes critical editing different from other kinds of editing?

Critical editing, a subset of scholarly editing more generally, is editing based on textual bibliographical research and textual criticism, or criticism “born of the awareness that texts descend to us through a more or less complex, more or less fractured, transmission history” (McGann, “What is Critical Editing?” 15). A critical edition is based on research into that transmission history, and presents information about that history to its readers. This might include textual notes showing variants across editions, notes about stop-press changes, and information about the circulation of texts after its printing. While there are several scholarly editions of Cavendish currently available (editions that choose one copy of a text, transcribe, and make emendations or add footnotes), there are few critical editions.

The selections from D.C. Greetham listed in the “Further Reading” section at the bottom of the page provide a thorough and useful overview of (as the chapter is headed) different “Types of Scholarly Edition.” On critical editing, see McGann in the same section.

Why do we need critical editions of Cavendish’s work?

Critical editing is especially crucial for Margaret Cavendish’s works, because we have ample evidence that she remained involved with her books during and after the printing process. She repeatedly sent materials to be added while the printing process had already been initiated—as can be seen from the extremely complicated collation formulas of some of her early printed texts, and from the materials often bound out of order in surviving copies, apparently from the printers’ and binders’ confusion about where they were meant to insert late-arriving additions. She also remained involved with her books after they came from the printer, collecting her books from the printer directly, having hand corrections made in some, marking up others herself, having them batch bound or binding them together into Sammelbände, and distributing them to public and private libraries. Though the general expectation is that the printing press offers identical copies of a book, so that looking at one copy of a printed text is like looking at all copies of it, Cavendish’s interventions during and after the printing process signal that there is an incredible amount of copy-specific variance even across copies of the “same” book. 

This means that Cavendish editors need to not just choose one “copy text” to transcribe, possibly modernize, and add notes to: editors need to start from robust textual research into as many surviving copies as possible.

Two examples of why this matters (see more detail in Blake, “Editing,”  in the Further Reading section at the bottom of this page, from which these examples are drawn, sometimes verbatim):

First example: Cavendish’s sci-fi narrative Blazing World was published “joined” to her treatise Observations upon Experimental Philosophy; though they usually circulate separately today, in both editions (1666 and 1668) she linked them together with a preface to the Blazing World (what I will call the “connective preface”) that offers her clearest articulation of her understanding of the relationship between literature and philosophy. She also offered a very limited number of standalone copies of the Blazing World, not linked to the OEP, to which she affixed an alternate preface (what I will call the “standalone preface”), which specifies that the preface is intended only for “Ladies” who “take no delight in Philosophical Contemplations” (Cavendish, 66BW, sig. π3r). Both prefaces are interesting, but the standalone preface was not scanned on Early English Books Online, and with the exception of the Digital Cavendish scholarly edition, no modern edition of the Blazing World acknowledges, or even mentions, both prefaces, or seems to be aware of the existence of multiple prefaces.

Not including both prefaces in an edition eliminates the opportunity for readers to see how Cavendish was packaging her book differently for different audiences, and how she understood the function of the Blazing World differently as its own piece, and as a piece attached or “joined” to her treatise the OEP. One especially feels the loss in David Cunning’s Cavendish: Essential Writings, a book edited for the “Oxford New Histories of Philosophy” series in 2019. Cunning includes the Blazing World in this edition, but prints the standalone preface; as a result, any philosophers (the presumed target audience of this collection of her works) will see only Cavendish’s demurring acknowledgement that some women do not want to bother with philosophy, rather than her clear and fierce articulation of the relationship between literature and philosophy. Both doing the textual research necessary to ground an edition—comparing multiple surviving copies of a text—and including information about the variations across copies gives readers the ability to more fully understand Cavendish’s ideas, about literature, philosophy, science, and gendered readership.

Second example: Blake’s online edition makes visible the scale of changes across Cavendish’s multiple editions of her Poems and Fancies (https://library2.utm.utoronto.ca/poemsandfancies/textual-and-editorial-introduction/), changes that show not only how Cavendish thought about her poems and poetics, but also about her strategies for revision on a large scale.  But there is also important information to be found just by collating within editions as well. In Cavendish’s first edition of Poems and Fancies (London, 1653), the early poem “A World Made by Atoms,” which discusses her theory for the creation of the universe, ends in a couplet that has two different forms: in some copies it reads, “And thus, by chance, may a New World create: / Or else predestinated to worke my Fate” while in other copies, it reads, “And thus, by change, may a New World create: / Or else predestinated to worke my Fate.” The difference made by the substitution of one letter—the difference between a world made by “chance” and a world made by “change”—is significant: one of the most controversial theses of Epicurean or atomic philosophy in the early modern period was that the world had been created not by God but by the random collision of atoms in a void. 

Given that Cavendish elsewhere declares that it is “not probable” that the world could be created by “the Dancing and Wandering and Dusty motion of Atoms” (see her Philosophical and Physical Opinions [London 1663], sig. c2r), and that throughout the “atom poems” in Poems and Fancies she emphasizes that Motion “doth in change great pleasure take” (https://library2.utm.utoronto.ca/poemsandfancies/2017/06/09/motion-makes-atoms-a-bawd-for-figure/), an editor might assume that “change” is the word Cavendish intended, rather than “chance.” But in the 35 copies of the text that Blake has collated, the text reads “change” in only two copies, and “chance” in the others; this tells us that “change” was almost certainly the error and “chance” the correction, and that Cavendish intended to hold up for debate two possibilities in this couplet: that the atomic world was created by “chance” or by “Fate.” What is at stake in this typo is two radically incompatible visions of the creation of the universe. A reader consulting only one copy (or an edition based only on one copy) would not be aware that another possibility existed, and an editor using their judgment about Cavendish’s philosophy rather than textual research could potentially profoundly misrepresent Cavendish’s vision of the universe.

Why Punctum as the publisher?

We admire Punctum’s commitment to keeping the CWMC fully open-access. This means that the research that goes into these texts will be freely available to anyone interested, and the texts themselves will be more easily and thoroughly studied by scholars and students alike. Those who want a hard copy to own and mark up will be able to buy them in affordable print-by-demand options, and those who want to assign Cavendish’s texts will be able to give students the option of downloading copies as free PDFs. 

As an independent press, Punctum also offers us the ideal mixture of quality (all volumes will be peer-reviewed) and flexibility to create volumes that fully capture Cavendish’s vision for her texts (e.g., to typeset the “additional scenes” from her play The Presence so readers could experiment with inserting them, or to publish the Observations upon Experimental Philosophy and The Blazing World as the composite volume that she intended).

We are thrilled that Punctum is willing to take this project on.

What are “supervisory editors”?

Each of the three General Editors of the CWMC—Liza Blake, Shawn Moore, and Jacob Tootalian—will each serve as supervisory editors for 1/3 of the corpus. As supervisory editors, we will help coordinate textual research on each of the individual books, assist in textual collation, and help editors strategize around different editorial methods and outputs. This will provide support needed to each of our editors and co-editors, and will also help ensure a certain degree of uniformity across the Complete Works.

Can I get involved in editing for the Complete Works?

Yes! We welcome people interested in editing Cavendish to get involved, whether that be potentially taking on a whole book, or taking on a smaller part of a larger text. If you are potentially interested in editing, you should fill out the application form / questionnaire, at https://forms.gle/yXbazmsy6LgaBD769, ideally by September 1, 2021.

What is involved in signing on as an editor?

You can get more of a sense of specifics from the application form / questionnaire (at https://forms.gle/yXbazmsy6LgaBD769), but we plan to ask our editors to commit to producing critical editions (volumes based on textual research), to attend meetings of the full editorial team 1–3 times per year (editors will share findings from their textual research, bring in samples of their editing to share, and strategize with a view to the Complete Works as a whole), and where possible to conduct primary research in rare book and manuscript libraries. Editors should expect to collate multiple copies of their text, both within editions and, where applicable, across editions. They should also expect to stay in touch with and check in with their supervisory editor as needed.

Potential editors will have an opportunity to indicate on the form linked above whether they’d like to edit a whole or partial text, whether they’d prefer to co-edit, and whether they have specific texts in mind that interest them.

Can I help in another way?

If you are not interested in editing, but want to find another way to help, please get in touch with us at cwmarcav [at] gmail [dot] com. We are applying for funding to make sure we can afford to make all the volumes open-access, but if you were able to donate some funds to us directly, or to Punctum on our behalf, we could count them as matching funds in grant applications. Or if you live near a major research library and were able to check pages of some Cavendish books or take photographs for us, that could be helpful as well. In short, if you don’t feel interested in editing, or able to commit the time, but want to find another way to be involved, please do drop us a line.

Where can I read more about some of the things described on this information page?

On the need for more critical editions of early modern women writers, with a focus on Cavendish:

Blake, Liza. “Editing Early Modern English Women’s Printed Work.” In The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Early Modern Women’s Writing. Chem, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, forthcoming 2021. 

On textual bibliography and critical editing:

Gaskell, Philip. A New Introduction to Bibliography: The classic manual of bibliography. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 1972.

Greetham, D.C. Textual Scholarship: An Introduction. New York: Garland Publishing, 1994. [See especially pp. 347–72 and 383–417 on editing.]

Keleman, Erick. Textual Editing and Criticism: An Introduction. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2009.

McGann, Jerome. “What is Critical Editing?” In TEXT: Transactions of the Society for Textual Scholarship 5, ed. D.C. Greetham and W. Speed Hill, 15–29. New York: AMS Press, 1991.

On Cavendish’s printed books and copy-specific variance:

Blake, Liza. “Close Reading (and) Textual Bibliography: How Many Parts Does Cavendish’s Blazing World Have?,” in Margaret Cavendish: an Interdisciplinary Perspective, ed. Lisa Walters and Brandie R. Siegfried. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming 2022.

Blake, Liza. “Margaret Cavendish’s University Years: Batch Bindings and Trade Bindings in Cambridge and Oxford.” Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America (forthcoming 2022). 

Blake, Liza. “Pounced Corrections in Oxford Copies of Cavendish’s Philosophical and Physical Opinions; or, Margaret Cavendish’s Glitter Pen.” New College Notes 10 (2018), no. 6: 1–11.

Bowers, Fredson. Principles of Bibliographical Description. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994. [See pp. 224–25 for a description of complicated signatures in Cavendish’s 1662 Playes.]

Bullard, Rebecca. “Gatherings in Exile: Interpreting the Bibliographical Structure of Natures Pictures Drawn by Fancies Pencil to the Life (1656).” English Studies 92 (2011): 786–805.

Fitzmaurice, James. “Front Matter and the Physical Make-up of Natures Pictures.” Women’s Writing 4 (1997): 353–67. 

Fitzmaurice, James. “Margaret Cavendish on Her Own Writing: Evidence from Revision and Handmade Correction.” The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 85 (1991): 297–307.

Masten, Jeffrey. “Margaret Cavendish: Paper, Performance, ‘Sociable Virginity.’” Modern Language Quarterly 65 (2004): 49–68. 

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