Pure Wit

Pure Wit by Francesca Peacock

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline for Pure Wit:

Pure indifference to people’s opinions, as well.

Quick synopsis:

A biography of Margaret Cavendish, an author in 1600s England.

Fact for Non-History People:

The title of a pamphlet in this time period for context, “The Arraignment of Lewd, Idle, Froward, and Unconstant Woman.”

Fact for History Nerds:

Cavendish was the first woman invited to attend a meeting of the Royal Society….after attacking various members and satirizing the society in print.

My Take on Pure Wit:

Pure Wit by Francesca Peacock is an example of when a writer takes on a subject perfectly suited to their skills.

Pure Wit is about the life of Margaret Cavendish, a noblewoman and writer in England during the years before and after the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Needless to say, this time period is full of interesting events, but the fact that Cavendish was a woman and a writer is the story here. I cannot, unless I make this review excessively long, sum up Cavendish appropriately. She was an early feminist but also not really. Her books are both deeply thoughtful and a bit ridiculous. She defies a short description.

Luckily, Peacock is up to the task and then some. The book is mostly a high-level overview of the time period Cavendish lived, plus a short biography, plus literary criticism. Many authors would end up with an absolute mess of tangents and bungled narrative. Peacock’s ability to balance many different tones is key to why this book is so readable. Peacock knows when to take her subject seriously, but also will lighten the mood and poke fun at things which are patently ridiculous, including Cavendish herself. The key here is that Peacock clearly has affection for Cavendish but is not above criticizing her when necessary. I had no idea what to expect when I opened the book, but I didn’t need to worry. This is a fun read.

(This book was provided as an advance copy by Netgalley and Head of Zeus books.)


An eclectic biography and fun read. Buy it here! (Note: Pure Wit comes out later in the US, but if you are in the UK, you can get it soon!)

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2 responses to “Pure Wit by Francesca Peacock”

  1. Transatlantic Notes Avatar
    Transatlantic Notes

    I must admit, I know very little about Margaret Cavendish but I like the sound of her and would enjoy reading this. It does sound like the author covers the period and the person really well — great review! I shall have to keep an eye out for when it comes to the U.S.

    Molly | transatlanticnotes.com

    1. Brendan Dowd Avatar

      Thanks for commenting! Yes, I think Peacock does this well. You get a little bit of everything and I really think even for folks who don’t necessarily read non-fiction regularly, they will enjoy it because it moves quickly and covers a lot of ground. Would love to hear what you think when you get it!

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