I've been assigned The Blazing World by Margaret Cavendish to read in my literature class. The first thing that struck me about the writing is how long the sentences are. It takes a mental settling-in to get in the right headspace for understanding the clauses. Opening to a random page:
The Empress being thus persuaded by the Duchess to make an imaginary world of her own, followed her advice; and after she had quite finished it, and framed all kinds of creature proper and useful for it, strengthened it with good laws, and beautified it with arts and sciences; having nothing else to do, unless she did dissolve her imaginary world, or made some alterations in the Blazing World she lived in, which yet she could hardly do, by reason it was so well ordered that it could not be mended; for it was governed without secret and deceiving policy; neither was there any ambition, factions, malicious detractions, civil dissensions, or home-bred quarrels, divisions in religion, foreign wars, etc. but all the people lived in a peaceful society, united tranquility, and religious conformity; she was desirous to see the world the Duchess came from, and observe therein the several sovereign governments, laws, and customs of several nations.
The Blazing World and Other Writings (Penguin Classics), page 189
That is a single sentence, with a single full-stop (not counting the
. in "etc."). Granted, there are many semicolons, but that's also more semicolons in a row, without full stops, than I'm used to seeing. Flipping (again randomly) finds another example, this one with only a single semicolon but still a considerable number of commas:
But they told her Majesty, that Fortune was so inconstant, that although she would perhaps promise to hear their cause pleaded, yet it was a thousand to one, but she would never have the patience to do it: nevertheless, upon her Majesty's request, they tried their utmost, and at last prevailed with Fortune so far, that she chose Folly, and Rashness, for her friends, but they could not agree in choosing a judge; until at last, with much ado, they concluded, that Truth should hear, and decide the cause.
Checking some online versions shows a similar habit. I'm interested in whether this was simply the accepted writing style for the time, or if it was a quirk of Cavendish in particular. However, I'm not quite sure how to look for this. Obviously it wouldn't make sense to compare with other categories of works - plays, poems, etc. have their own conventions - but I'm not sure what other works would be considered contemporaries. Looking at Wikipedia's list of 17th century works, I clicked on a 1667 text Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, whose Project Gutenberg copy has shorter sentences. But that's only one datapoint and I'm not sure it's a valid one: see previous doubts over what would be good comparisons.
Are these long, many-claused sentences an artifact of the time Cavendish was writing in, or are they more personal to her?