Why “spinning with the braine”?

The quote underlined in the image shown here is from Margaret Cavendish’s dedicatory epistle to Poems and Fancies (1653). Out of this image comes my first blog post and the title of my blog because, thus far, this quote has been the wellspring of my academic interests. Prior to discovering Cavendish and stumbling upon this (revelatory, inspirational, foundational?) statement, I was very interested in the figure of Penelope and her use of spinning in The Odyssey. The Penelope myth was interestingly reappropriated during the early modern period for various purposes and I found myself oddly drawn to these reappropriations – sites where something about the performance of the early modern female (as a gender category) was being communicated.

Shortly into my discovery of Cavendish and the delightfully scattered collection of works that is her canon, I came upon this quote. It was definitely one of those euphoric moments in an academic career – where every thread you’ve been following for months or years seems to come together in one beautifully articulated idea. Well, my idea at the time probably wasn’t very beautifully articulated and it still took me several months to figure out what I wanted to say about this quote (well, maybe I’m even still figuring that out), but I did quickly decide that this was one of the most interesting reappropriation of spinning and the Penelope myth that I had seen in early modern literature. Cavendish uses Penelope and spinning often in her writing and, at one point, even compares herself to the mythical spinner.

And so began my foray into the world of women’s work, early modern material culture, and gender performance. Thus, it only feels appropriate to use this as a starting point for my blog, in the hope that occasionally revisiting it might produce many more eureka moments in my future.


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