Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS)


Feminisms Reading Group: Fame, Friendship, and Fear in Margaret Cavendish’s Sociable Letters (1664)

04 October 2022, 4:00 pm–5:30 pm

Feminisms reading group

The Feminisms Reading Group at UCL aims to give students and researchers at all levels access to rich feminist discussions as well as insight into exciting current research being undertaken.

Event Information

Open to



Ilona Mannan

‘A Vision of Loneliness and Riot’: Fame, Friendship, and Fear in Margaret Cavendish’s Sociable Letters (1664)
Kate Kinley

As the bold ‘Authoress’ behind numerous volumes of poetry, prose, plays, essays, letters, and scientific treatises, Margaret Cavendish (1623-1673) defied both the gendered and generic norms of the seventeenth century. Her boldness earned her the epithet ‘Mad Madge’ and the biting rebuke of critics throughout history – in A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf dismissed Cavendish as ‘a giant cucumber’ whose writing was ‘noble and Quixotic and high-spirited, as well as crack-brained and bird-witted’. And yet, while Cavendish certainly had her eccentricities, her work also shone with unique creativity, wit, and sensitivity. Nowhere is Cavendish’s dazzling imagination more evident than in her 1664 Sociable Letters – a collection of fictional correspondences which touch upon topics as varied as atomic theory, medicine, astrology, beauty regimes, food, gossip, marriage, death, childbirth, and history. While Woolf might have described Cavendish as a ‘vision of loneliness and riot’, Cavendish’s Sociable Letters speak instead to her passionate desire for friendship and fame, as well as her vulnerability as a writer and her wariness of the scathing eye of the public.

This event runs on Zoom. Email sarah.edwards.19@ucl.ac.uk or ilona.mannan.10@ucl.ac.uk for the Zoom joining link.

The Feminisms Reading Group is a collaborative initiative led by two PhD students from UCL's English department, Ilona Mannan and Sarah Edwards.  You can email us at sarah.edwards.19@ucl.ac.uk or ilona.mannan.10@ucl.ac.uk. The group is open to anyone, staff or student, from UCL and beyond, and is brand new as of the 2022 Autumn term.

The sessions predominantly cover different aspects of feminism, work by women writers, feminist theory and criticism, and depictions of women in literature. One PhD researcher or academic delivers each reading group session which is then chaired by the convenors, Ilona and Sarah. The format of the reading group is not set and can be changed depending on the preferences of each researcher. Formats so far include: a guest giving a short paper and then providing attendees with some short extracts to discuss, and a guest providing attendees with extracts and running a commentary and analysis session based on those extracts. No matter the format the session takes they are absolutely an occasion for networking, discussion and connecting with researchers and students. 

Preparatory reading is not mandatory so please do come along regardless. However, speakers do often provide some preparatory reading materials for attendees and you will most likely find you get more out of the reading group sessions if you have been able to spend a little time with the materials prior to the session. You may wish to prepare questions to ask the speaker about the topic as Q&A sessions are immensely rewarding, especially when you can discuss issues of interest to you with an expert.