Thesis Title: Melancholy, Womanhood and the Problem of Genius in the work of Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne (1623–1673)
While contemporary physicians held that melancholy was a degenerative disorder, a parallel tradition – with its roots in the pseudo-Aristotelian Problemata - endowed the melancholic man with a special capacity for brilliance. But what of the melancholic woman? My thesis will explore the nexus of melancholic genius for those seemingly susceptible to its equivocal effect. Was literary talent thought to generate, implicate and/or instigate melancholic madness, and what were the implications of this for Early Modern writers, particularly women writers?
Focusing on the work of Margaret Cavendish, in which melancholy features as a frequent strain, I will determine whether melancholy was thought to facilitate their creative talent. If so, what impact did their gender have on their pursuing recognition as gifted, if troubled, writers? Could a woman experience the age’s ‘gran follia’ and, moreover, could she claim the accolade of genius?