Margaret Cavendish, the 17th-century Duchess of Newcastle, has been described as a heroine whose every doing ‘is romantic’ (Samuel Pepys); as being ‘so distracted… that there are many soberer people in Bedlam’ (Lady Dorothy Temple); as looking like ‘a devil in a phantom masquerade’ (King Charles II); as ‘the great atheistical philosophraster’ (anonymous 17th-century gossip writer); as ‘a picture of foolish nobility’ (Horace Walpole); as ‘a giant cucumber’ (Virginia Woolf); as a ‘crack-brained, bird-witted… fantastical… crazy duchess’ (Woolf again) and as ‘the empress and authoress of a whole world’ (herself).
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