Lucy Hutchinson (1620–1681) and Margaret Cavendish (1623–1673), prolific writers from the seventeenth century, came of age in one of the most difficult times in British history. Blair Worden, an eminent historian, writes, “The political upheaval of the mid-seventeenth century has no parallel in English history,” and none of the previous conflicts “has been so far-reaching, or has disrupted so many lives for so long, or has so imprinted itself on the nation’s memory” (2009, p. 1). Hutchinson and her husband, John, were on the side of the parliamentarians in the Civil War while Cavendish and her husband, William, were stout royalists. Instead of showing aggressive stances against their enemies, Hutchinson and Cavendish engaged expansively in a language of empathizing with the enemy in order to lessen the extreme partisanship of that period. Focusing specifically on Hutchinson’s Memoirs of the Life of Colonel John Hutchinson
, and Cavendish’s Sociable Letters
, among other writings, I argue that during the political impasse which characterized the English Civil War writings, the perspectives advanced by Hutchinson and Cavendish highlight the valuation of human life regardless of political allegiance, augmenting the odds for peaceful co-existence, in which empathy is foregrounded over, and at times alongside, loss and agony as a result of the Civil War aftermath. Suzanne Keen’s groundbreaking research in Empathy and The Novel
draws upon examples from the Victorian period to illustrate her understanding of empathy, but she also states that “I feel sure they also pertain to the hopes of authors in earlier periods as well” (2007, p. 142), which is a position taken wholeheartedly in this article. Using a cognitive literary approach where authorial empathic constructions are analyzed, Hutchinson’s and Cavendish’s closely read texts portray an undeniable level of commiseration with the enemy with the goal of abating violence and increasing cooperation and understanding.
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