Analysis of Sample Article

by Stephen Spencer

Iyengar, Sujata. “Royalist, Romancist, Racialist: Rank, Gender, and Race in the Science and Fiction of Margaret Cavendish.” English Literary History 69.3 (Fall 2002): 649-672.

1) Consider the title of the article. Does it work well? Did it motivate you to read the article in the first place?

The title has obvious parallelism (Royalist <-> Rank, Romancist <-> Gender; Racialist <-> Race). It allowed me to immediately see how Iyengar was collecting her many ideas into categories (for example, Cavendish’s engagement with the romance genre is considered alongside her scientific theories of gender). It definitely motivated me to read because it made me feel as if I was going to learn a lot through things I already knew a little bit about (race and romance, for example).

2) How does the article begin and end? How does it introduce its fundamental argument? How much of the article is given over to the introduction? Conclusion?

The introduction is short-ish: two-and-a-half pages. It begins with an historical anecdote of the publication and revision of her Observations on Experimental Philosophy. I see Iyengar introducing her fundamental argument gradually, over the course of two paragraphs, through two or three strong claims. I’m not sure this article has a “conclusion” per se; it has a last section (the fourth), called simply “Blazing World” (Iyengar’s analysis of New Blazing World). But I would say the article begins to “conclude” at the third-to-last paragraph; so, about a page and a half are given over to the conclusion.

3) How does the article marshal evidentiary support and proof? Do you see any flaws in the argument? What aspects of the article render it convincing to you?

Iyegnar has organized the body of her essay into four sections: “Polygenesis and Scientific Racism,” “Observations of Color,” “Assaulted and Pursued Chastity,” and “Blazing World.” So, the evidence of the first two sections is largely cultural and intellectual-historical in nature. In section one, Iyengar investigates 17th century opinions concerning the origins of humanity and how this relates to skin color, as well as how this begins to lead to a paradigm that can explain the development of scientific racism. In the second section, Iyengar moves specifically to the observational scientific culture of the time, how they began to make inquiries into skin color, and how Cavendish responded to these practices. In the last two sections, her evidence becomes literary; she looks at the “romances” of Cavendish, including a play and her utopian narrative. One flaw in Iyengar’s article that I see is her insufficient tackling of the notion of species difference. She says that “species difference and heredity are out of place in a romance that accepts only the rules of Cartesian logic and timeless, endless, boundless ‘nature.'” What I would say, especially as it concerns New Blazing World, is that there is species difference, and it seems really important to Cavendish’s thinking. I get that Iyengar (at least in this section) is more concerned with Cavendish’s satirization of Descartes and his followers, but to bring it up and brush it off seems like a missed opportunity to me. An aspect of the article that convinces me greatly is her conceptualization of the three classes in New Blazing World. Iyengar says that its based on occupation and service, which opens up a lot of possibilities to put the text into dialogue with the development of capitalism, the emerging intellectualized bourgeoisie, etc.

4) Evaluate the style of the article. What makes it well written? What would you change if you could?

I would have like more sign-posting with regards to the various sections of  her article. Sometimes, I wasn’t sure how her four sections fit together, or, how they built off of each other (or if they necessarily did). My best guess is that sections 1-2 are socio-cultural-historical “context,” whereas 3-4 are “literary analyses.” I wanted her to explicitly state why she was discussing what she was discussing, and why she was changing topics of discussion. I think Iyengar does this better when she switches to literary analysis. Before discussing Assaulted and Pursued Chastity and Blazing World, she introduces how the context she speaks of informs her readings. This is particularly useful to me because I do want to fashion myself as a scholar/writer who is ultimately interested in literary representation (i.e. the literature, as literature, is the object of her study).

5) How would you describe the methodology of the article?

I would say Iyengar’s methodology is historical and literary. I would hone in on “historical” by saying she is mostly interested in history of ideas/intellectual history, as it manifests itself through philosophical writings and scientific texts. As it concerns the literary, Iyengar’s reading is critical within the historical context she provides. She reads the two works by Cavendish to show precisely how her literary writings exist to counterbalance her philosophical/scientific writings, as well as other writings of this kind in her era.

6) Is the article interdisciplinary in nature and/ or rooted within the specific discipline of English?

I would say it’s interdisciplinary to the extent that all English scholarship these days is, more or less, expected to be interdisciplinary. The “other” disciplines she looks at are history and philosophy, all within the purview of the humanities. Though one could argue that it’s interdisciplinary in its grappling with science, I would say it’s more about the history of science. So I guess I would classify this as a pretty standard species (ha) of English scholarship.

7) How does the article use/ draw on literary theory or philosophy? History?

I think I pretty much covered history and philosophy. As far as literary theory is concerned, I’m not sure I see any. Iyengar is building off of a large tradition of scholarship looking at race in the early modern period, which I would generally categorize as Foucauldian in its genealogical approach to race (what isn’t Foucauldian these days, though?).

8) How does the article use secondary sources/ work of other critics generally? How does it stake out new territory?  Are you convinced of its originality?

Iyengar tends to group her critics in her notes. She does bounce off of specific critics here and there (Rosemary Kegl and CARRIE HINTZ come to mind), but mostly, critical sources are presented as a tradition that, sometimes, get extensively noted (the note on early modern race studies is particularly staggering, as well as her recapitulation of Cavendish studies). I’m convinced of its originality to the extent that “original” connotes “new” (isn’t it more about “newness” than “originality,” as per the Belcher?). I think Iyengar is onto something new in situating Cavendish’s work alongside messier, scarier “modern” subjects like race and gender, but I’m not sure she pushes far enough. She still seems to really want to, I don’t know, excuse Cavendish’s literary work? So I would say it’s new to the extent of her synthesis of Cavendish with EM race studies, but maybe not so new in what she has to say about this synthesis of materials.

9) Anything else you’d like to say about the article?

I liked this article because I found it to be pretty well written (but not mind-blowingly so) and informative. It reminded me a bit of how I write: somewhat plainly, but with some flashes here and there, especially at the ends of paragraphs when I know the reader is looking for/expecting some kind of payoff. I also appreciate when articles have demarcated sections, even if I’m not sure how/why they fit together. It makes it easier to use (and skim).