Whitaker, Katie 1967-
WHITAKER, Katie 1967-
ADDRESSES: Home—Yorkshire, England. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Basic Books, 387 Park Ave. S., New York, NY 10016.
CAREER: Scholar and author.
AWARDS, HONORS: Thirlwall Prize and Medal, Cambridge University, 1997, for best original historical research for a scholar under the age of thirty; Elizabeth Longford Prize for Historical Biography, Society of Authors, 2004, for Mad Madge: The Extraordinary Life of Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, the First woman to Live by Her Pen; Century Fellow, University of Chicago.
Mad Madge: The Extraordinary Life of Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, the First Woman to Live by Her Pen, Basic Books (New York, NY), 2002.
SIDELIGHTS: Margaret Lucas, who later became Margaret Cavendish, duchess of Newcastle, when she married William Cavendish, was a well-known seventeenth-century author who wrote everything from poetry and plays to essays, biography, and novels, even science fiction. Her nonconformist ways and unconventional beliefs—she wore her own clothing designs that went against current fashions and had a scientific mind that resisted the dominant Christian theology of her time—combined to make her both highly criticized. She was also a magnetic personality whose writings drew considerable public interest, though Audrey Bilger pointed out in a Women's Review of Books article that "it would have been virtually impossible for Margaret to establish herself as an author . . . had it not been for her felicitous marriage to William Cavendish."
By the late nineteenth century, the popular wisdom throughout England was that Margaret Cavendish, whose independent spirit was no longer appreciated by an increasingly conservative society, was, in fact, crazy. Despite the title, Katie Whitaker's book about Cavendish, Mad Madge: The Extraordinary Life of Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, the First Woman to Live by Her Pen, is a sympathetic portrait of Cavendish that reveals her to be the unique—and definitely sane—writer she was, a person deserving more study and a larger readership.
Bilger took issue with the reference in the book's title to "Mad Marge," as well as for referring to Cavendish as "the first woman to live by her pen." The latter statement is certainly untrue, for Cavendish's lifestyle was supported by her marriage to a duke. "Whitaker offers no evidence to suggest that Margaret received any income at all from her writing; on the contrary, she shows that it entailed a good deal of expense," noted Bilger. "None of this makes the biography itself any less valuable," added the critic, who appreciated Whitaker's efforts in drawing attention to her subject and for including many samples of Cavendish's writings in the book. Other reviewers also praised Mad Madge, a Publishers Weekly contributor concluding that it is "a lucid and fascinating account of Margaret's life, work and times."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Biography, summer, 2003, Audrey Bilger, review of Mad Madge: The Extraordinary Life of Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, the First Woman to Live by Her Pen, p. 520.
Publishers Weekly, August 12, 2002, review of MadMadge, p. 291.
Women's Review of Books, March, 2003, Audrey Bilger, review of Mad Madge, p. 16.*