Cabalas and Cabals in Restoration Popular Literature

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2004-05-28

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Abstract

Cabala, a mystical Jewish intellectual system, and cabal, a derogatory term for small groups, reflect the political, philosophical, and social crises of the Restoration and illustrate the conflicted environment of these unstable years. Margaret Cavendish and Aphra Behn seize upon the power and flexibility these words and their associations afford to turn them into generative devices to create and seize authority for themselves and for their opinions. In this process, Cavendish and Behn expand the ways the words are used in popular literature.

Few authors use "cabala" and "cabal" in their popular works during this period but Margaret Cavendish and Aphra Behn stand out for their repeated and extended use of these terms in their popular writings. Margaret Cavendish, denied a place in the intellectual circles of her time, uses a derivation of the traditional, philosophical cabala in her work Blazing World as an avenue to the authority necessary to create worlds in which she, through a cabal, can control the exploration of scientific theories and establish a monarchy that brings about peace. Cabala also shapes Blazing World's structure and plot as a generative, positive means of creation for the fiction and its practitioners.

While Cavendish's use of "cabala" is theoretical and "fantastical," Aphra Behn uses both "cabala" and "cabal" to illustrate the dangers of actual events and the impact of the threats present in the world around her. Behn uses these words in her later works, pieces that portray devolving political and social systems and personal honor. In Behn's works, "cabala" and "cabal" become powerful means of expressing the dire consequences of private and public actions, revealing the hopelessness of the late Restoration.

By understanding Cavendish's and Behn's use of "cabala" and "cabal," their modern readers can better comprehend the Restoration's similarly conflicted, disintegrating environment as well as the power these words possessed at the time. Once the hope of the early Restoration dissipates, "cabala" and "cabal" signify existing societal and political failings in early eighteenth century literature, with a revival of traditional cabalistic form in later literature.

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