My thesis will examine the work of William Godwin from the year 1793to1800. The connection between Godwin’s political and fictional work will be the basis of my argument. My research will trace the development of Godwin’s philosophy within his literary works to show the struggles and limitations which arise from Godwin’s political ideals when evoked in his novels and/or plays. To this end, I will look at the first edition of Godwin’s political treatise An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice and its Influence on General Virtue and Happiness (Oxford UP, 2013), the second edition of Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (Gale, 2010) and the third edition of Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (Penguin, 1985). The core literary texts that will be included in this study are Caleb Williams (Oxford UP, 2009), St. Leon (Oxford UP, 1994), and Antonio (Pickering & Chatto, 2010). Although Godwin’s Enquirer (Andesite Press, 2015) is published in this period it will not be used as a core text. However, it will be used for further context and background research in relation to Godwin’s ideas.
The beginning of this timeframe (1793-1800) approximately aligns with Godwin’s first acquaintance with Mary Wollstonecraft. This period of seven years includes their close relationship up until the time of her death and the ensuing aftermath but prior to Godwin’s relationship with Jane Clairmont. The work of Godwin which falls before or after this stated period will not be dealt in my study. This period is important as it is subject to significant change in terms of Godwin’s life and work.
While Wollstonecraft is not the subject of my study, I will need to consider her and her ideas which certainly influenced Godwin and his work. The works of Wollstonecraft relevant to my question include A Short Residence in Sweden, Norway and Denmark (Penguin, 1987) and Posthumous Works (BiblioLife, 2008). In Addition, Godwin’s Memoirs of the Author of the Vindication of the Rights of Woman (Constable, 1928) will be drawn upon to further understand his relationship with Wollstonecraft.
Articles which may be of relevance for secondary source material include “Godwin from “Metaphysician” to Novelist: “Political Justice”, “Caleb Williams”, and the Tension between Philosophical Argument and Narrative” (Chicago UP, 2000), “A Man of Feelings: William Godwin’s Romantic Embrace” (Taylor & Francis Ltd, 2005), “Of Caleb’s Guilt and Godwin’s Truth: Ideology and Ethics in Caleb Williams” (John Hopkins UP, 1993) and “William Godwin’s Foreign Language: Stories and Families in “Caleb Williams” and “Political Justice”” (Boston UP, 2000).
The first component of my research will involve placing Godwin’s works within his personal and historic context. I will draw upon Godwin’s personal letters from the beginning of 1793 to the end of 1800. This will entail a close reading of the relevant material in The Letters of William Godwin Vol. 1 178-1797 (Oxford UP, 2011) and The Letters of William Godwin Vol. 2 1798-1805 (Oxford UP, 2011). These letters will provide indispensable information on Godwin’s political and philosophic outlook and the operations of his social circle. To further understand Godwin’s social context, I will the use the book Lives of the Great Romantics III vol. 1 (Pickering & Chatto, 1999), paying particular attention to chapter 6. “[Hazlitt, William], ‘William Godwin’, in the Spirit of the Age”, chapter 11. “[Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft], ‘Memoirs of William Godwin’”, Chapter 12. “Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, ‘Life of William Godwin’”, chapter 29. “Keegan Paul, Charles, William Godwin: His Friends and Contemporaries”.
After examining Godwin’s socio-historic context, I will examine to what extent Godwin’s political philosophy comes under scrutiny or is opposed by his fiction. This will involve a close reading of his political treatise and literary works aforementioned. The complex connection has been broached previously by scholars. Gary Kelly’s The English Jacobin Novel, 1780- 1805 (Oxford UP, 1976), Pamela Clemit’s The Godwinian Novel: the Rational Fictions of Godwin, Brockden Brow, Mary Shelley (Oxford UP, 1993), and Jon Klancher’s “Godwin and the Genre Reformers: On Necessity and Contingency in Romantic Narrative Theory”, in Romanticism, History and the Possibilities of Genre: Reforming Literature 1789-1837 (Cambridge UP, 1998) have all investigated this relationship with convincing arguments. By studying Godwin’s texts and supporting my findings with evidence from his personal and historical context, I hope to add to this research.
An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice was first published in 1793. Godwin continuously revised this text resulting in two further editions being published in the years 1796 and 1798. These editions lay the basis for the philosophic ideas evident in his literary works. In the aftermath of the French Revolution, anti-governmental sentiments were not uncommon. Godwin’s text views the government and the constitution as oppressive systems which stultified the progress of mankind through its limitations of private judgement. It is clear Godwin deems the political intrinsic to the ethical. The idea of political rights as moral duty is emphasised throughout this text. Governmental institutes would be rendered obsolete through the application of Godwin’s reason. Rational motivation would stem from Universal Benevolence and Impartiality producing self-governing individuals free from restrictive and corrupt systems of authority. This text is vital to understanding Godwin’s political and social outlook. The variations found in the revised editions are important for understanding Godwin’s developing philosophy.
Caleb Williams was published in 1794, the year after the first edition of Political Justice. The novel transforms aspects of Godwin’s political ideals rendering the fiction a sceptical mediation on the practical possibilities for social amelioration through reason. The character of Caleb is crucial as he serves as a measure for Godwin’s vision of political change during the 18th century. Godwin produced a text that exemplifies the political ideas of his theory but rather than provide a didactic narrative the novel creates issues for the ideals found in Political Justice. Godwin produced two endings for Caleb Williams. These endings have significantly different implications for Godwin’s political philosophy. The original manuscript ending will be compared with the published ending to evaluate these implications.
St. Leon was written in 1799. Godwin explores perfectibility and human progression through the themes of wealth, morality and domestic affections. St. Leon tests Godwin’s philosophical ideals through the tensions of private and public duty present in the novel. The novel deals with the issues of wealth, aristocratic systems and social inequality which are discussed in Political Justice. Rational ideals of Universal Benevolence and Impartiality are strained in St. Leon. The realisations in this novel can be traced back to the revisions made to the second and third editions of Political Justice.
Antonio was written sporadically from the year 1797 to1800. The reception of the play was poor. Modern critics are also divided in opinion. Although this is the case, the play deals with Godwinian themes that resonant with his philosophy. The play is set in Spain during the Italian Wars. The historical context of the play is not dealt with to any great degree rather it is notions of corruption and honour which are foregrounded. These themes are also evident in St. Leon.
I will attempt to prove my argument through methods of close and comparative reading. To access the various materials I will use UCC library, my own library, online databases such as JSTOR, and UCD and Trinity College libraries in Dublin, which I will access with my ALCID card.
Clemit, Pamela. The Godwinian Novel: the Rational Fictions of Godwin, Brockden Brow, Mary Shelley. Oxford: Oxford UP. 1993. Print.
Clemit, Pamela. ed. The Letters of William Godwin Vol. 1, 1778-1787. Oxford: Oxford UP. 2011. Print.
Clemit, Pamela. ed. The Letters of William Godwin Vol. 1, 1798-1805. Oxford: Oxford UP. 2011. Print.
Clemit, Pamela. ed. Lives of the Great Romantics III Vol. 1, Godwin. London: Pickering & Chatto. 1999. Print.
Edward, Gavin. “William Godwin’s Foreign Language: Stories and Families in “Caleb Williams” and “Political Justice” in Studies in Romanticism, Vol. 39, No. 4 (2000): 533-551. Print.
Godwin, William. An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice and Its Influence on General Virtue and Happiness. Oxford: Oxford UP. 2013. Print.
Godwin, William. Caleb Williams. Oxford: Oxford UP. 2009. Print.
Godwin, William. Enquiry Concerning Political Justice and Its Influence on Modern Morals and Happiness. London: Penguin. 1985. Print.
Godwin, William. Enquiry Concerning Political Justice and Its Influence on Modern Morals and Happiness. Michigan: Gale. 2010. Print.
Godwin, William. Memoirs of the Author of the Vindication of the Rights of Woman. London: Constable. 1928. Print.
Godwin, William. St. Leon. Oxford: Oxford UP. 1994. Print.
Godwin, William. The Enquirer. New York: Andesite Press. 2015. Print.
Handwerk, Gary. “Of Caleb’s Guilt and Godwin’s Truth: Ideology and Ethics in Caleb Williams” in ELH Vol. 60, No. 4 (1993): 939-960.
Kelly, Gary. The English Jacobin Novel, 1780- 1805. Oxford: Oxford UP. 1976. Print.
O’ Shaughnessy, David. The Plays of William Godwin. London: Pickering & Chatto. 2010. Print.
Radcliffe, Evan. “Godwin from “Metaphysician” to Novelist: “Political Justice”, “Caleb Williams”, and the Tension between Philosophical Argument and Narrative” in Modern Philology Vol. 97, No.4 (2000): 528-553.
Rajan, Tilottama & Wright, Julia. M. eds. Romanticism, History and the Possibilities of Genre: Reforming Literature 1789-1837. Cambridge: Cambridge UP. 1998. Print.
Ward, Ian. “A Man of Feelings: William Godwin’s Romantic Embrace” in Law and Literature Vol. 17, No. 1 (2005): 21-46. Print.
Wollstonecraft, Mary. A Short Residence in Sweden, Norway and Denmark. London: Penguin. 1987. Print.
Wollstonecraft, Mary. Posthumous Works. South Carolina: BiblioLife. 2008. Print.