Comparing Margaret Cavendish’s The Description of a New World, Called the Blazing World and Sir Thomas More’s Utopia
The so-called Utopia – the quasi-perfect society – flourishes in Margaret Cavendish’s “The Description of a New World, Called a Blazing World” and Sir Thomas More’s Utopia. While the former is a dreamlike account of fantasy rule and the latter a pseudo-realistic travelogue, both works paint a picture of worlds that are not so perfect after all. These imperfections glitter like false gemstones in the paths of these Utopians’ religious beliefs, political systems, and philosophical viewpoints.
Religion and spirituality reach into the depths of the human psyche and strongly influence a nation’s way of life. In Margaret Cavendish’s “Blazing World”, the Emperor and the inhabitants of the Blazing World worship Margaret, who renamed herself Margaret the First. Highly revered as a deity by the people, Margaret is surprised to discover that females do not have a high place in the religious fabric of the Blazing World. Women are barred from religious assemblies, because it is “promiscuous” for men and women to be together during religious worship, so women must remain at home to worship in the privacy of their rooms (Cavendish 1767). Priests and governors are made eunuchs to safeguard them from women and children who, according to Margaret’s advisors, make too much disturbances in the church and in the state. In Sir Thomas More’s Utopia, women priests are highly regarded. However, churches here are also segregated – the men sit on one side and while the women sit on the other.
Aside from thinking that the peoples of the Blazing World are segregated as Jews, Turks, or Christians because women are not allowed in public worship, Margaret also mistakes the citizens as having different religions, because the different species of beings in this world all attend different churches (Cavendish 1767). In More’s Utopia, everyone does indeed worship different gods, yet they must all believe in one single eternal power. This allows Hythloday the narrator and his comrades to convert some of the Utopians into Christians, for the citizens readily accept the one-god notion and the practice of sharing communal goods (More 517). No one is condemned due to his or her religious beliefs in Utopia. A fanatic who begins condemning other religions is tried on a charge, “not of despising their religion, but of creating a public disorder” and is sent into exile (More 518). Does this reflect a society with utopian religious ideals? In Utopia, there are two sects of religious people – the ascetic sect whose members do not marry or eat meat, and the sect that allows its members to marry and eat meat. The Utopians regard the second as more sensible, but the first holier. They believe that “anyone [who] chose celibacy over marriage and a hard life over a comfortable one on grounds of reason alone” is insane; but “as these men say they...