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March 15, 2016

Book Notes - Danielle Dutton "Margaret the First"

Margaret the First

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Danielle Dutton's Margaret the First brilliantly re-imagines the life of the eccentric 17th-century English writer Margaret Cavendish.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"Dutton's remarkable second novel is as vividly imaginative as its subject, the 17th-century English writer and eccentric Margaret Cavendish... Though Dutton doesn't shy away from the "various and extravagant" antics (such as attending the theater in a topless gown) that earned her subject notoriety and the nickname "Mad Madge," her Margaret is a woman of fierce vitality, creativity, and courage. Incorporating lines from Cavendish herself as well as Virginia Woolf, whose essays introduced Dutton to Cavendish, this novel is indeed reminiscent of Woolf’s Orlando in its sensuous appreciation of the world and unconventional approach to fictionalized biography. Dutton’s boldness, striking prose, and skill at developing an idiosyncratic narrative should introduce her to the wider audience she deserves."


In her own words, here is Danielle Dutton's Book Notes music playlist for her novel Margaret the First:


Margaret the First is a novel about an ambitious, talented, complicated woman, a writer, Margaret Cavendish. She was born Margaret Lucas in England in 1642. How she became Margaret Cavendish, the Margaret Cavendish, how she became a writer when women were not writers, and a kind of tabloid celebrity, and how she created a proto-feminist, proto-science fiction utopia called The Blazing World, with talking bears and rivers of liquid crystal, all this is the story that my novel attempts to tell.

I almost never listen to music when I write (because a sentence is a kind of music I'm trying hard to hear), but I love the idea of impossibly translating Margaret the First into a group of songs. Here's what I came up with:

Bjork "Human Behavior" & The Pixies "Where Is My Mind"
Together these two capture a set of propulsive feelings I have whenever I'm going to start writing something new. I can't totally articulate this, but I guess it has to do with how maddening and fascinating and super alive (and dead) the whole world is.

Joanna Newsom "The Book of Right On"
I actually find her voice annoying, but for some reason it's an annoyingness I keep coming back to. And there's that harpsichord, which strikes me as sort of twinkly and period appropriate (for the seventeenth century). I think this song manages to sound a bit like a fairy tale (creepy and magical, delicately ugly), and I hope my book has something of that too.

Nobukazu Takemura "Meteor"
Shy and awkward, Margaret once wrote: "I had rather be a meteor, singly, alone."

Colleen "Les Ondes Silencieuses"
Colleen described the album this song comes from as "a modern album with baroque instruments." How to make a historical novel feel contemporary was something I thought a lot about.

Henry Lawes "Go, Lovely Rose"
An example of the sort of music Margaret would have heard during her early years as a maid in the English royal court (this song is actually based on a poem by Edmund Waller, a Royalist whom she would have known).

Bikini Kill "Rebel Girl"
That crazy punk rock ballerina video! And girls to the front, obviously.

David Bowie "Rebel Rebel"
Another rebel song, since Margaret was one. But also: the costumes, the sparkly makeup, the spectacle, the glam androgyny. If she could comprehend the twentieth century, I think Margaret would be so into David Bowie.

Danielle Dutton and Margaret the First links:

Kirkus review
Los Angeles Review of Books review
Macleans.ca review
Publishers Weekly review

Los Angeles Times profile of the author
The Rumpus interview with the author
Salon interview with the author
St. Louis Post-Dispatch profile of the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists
Word Bookstores Books of the Week (weekly new book highlights)


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