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Gary Kelly and Marilyn Butler almost simultaneously produced reassessments of Caleb Williams as the most successful English Jacobin novel, a term coined by Kelly to describe the fiction of social protest written by middle-class radicals inspired by the French Revolution and by reform movements at home. Butler building on the work of James T.
Boulton and David McCracken followed up with an influential essay reading the novel as designed to refute the arguments of Edmund Burke in Reflections on the Revolution in France. This method was pioneered by Mark Philp in his doctoral thesis of , as Butler acknowledged. He retained his central commitment to the Dissenting ideal of private judgment, which was not simply a matter of principle but also a way of life.
This leap from social context to intellectual orientation was unacceptable to some readers, who rightly noted that Godwin wrote in other idioms besides Dissent.
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His preoccupation with the formative influence of Rational Dissent appealed to new historicist critics who were engaged in recovering forgotten writers, and became part of a larger exploration of the literature of eighteenth-century nonconformity. His book convincingly refuted the view of Godwin as an airy idealist, divorced from political reality E. Thompson got short shrift. His understanding of radical social circles was in keeping with the growing popularity of the s as a distinct area of study and contributed to a developing interest in Romantic sociability.
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The overall effect was to put Godwin criticism on a multidisciplinary footing and to pave the way for the large-scale editorial projects of the s, and beyond. Caleb Williams remained the most popular text for analysis and was scrutinized from every conceivable critical angle, sometimes in conjunction with other works by Godwin and his associates.
Pamela Clemit, in her monograph, The Godwinian Novel , , reassessed his whole career as a philosophical novelist. She proposed that Godwin invented a subgenre of intellectual fiction that owed more to an older tradition of politically engaged literature inspired by the Puritan ethic of free choice than to the Jacobin novel of the s. In Caleb Williams , Godwin employed a Rousseauvean confessional form to explore the tensions between self and society.
In subsequent novels, Godwin employed the same confessional form to write an alternative form of history—a history of mentalities.
Around the same time, Tilottama Rajan brought together hermeneutics, deconstruction, and cultural criticism to make essentially similar points. Gary Handwerk, too, revisited the two endings of Caleb Williams , arguing that inconsistencies arise because Godwin was unable to rewrite the whole of the novel in the way that he rewrote the ending. They turned a forensic lens on the multiple disputes about ownership of property and ownership of other persons at the heart of Caleb Williams.
Such a vision has a particular resonance for readers in a post-deconstructionist world.
It may seem contentious to single out particular growth areas in Godwin studies. Nonetheless, five areas stand out. Some well-thumbed critical issues will not go away. He protests against the Two Acts while also warning Thelwall against inciting the populace in public meetings. The point at issue was the appropriate method of political education. Jon Mee broadly agreed with Philp but characterized the divergence between Godwin and Thelwall differently, highlighting their apparently competing attitudes to political debate.
They were designed to achieve what he saw as the chief purpose of education: awakening the mind. Education was not an abstract concern. By Godwin was the father of two children and the de facto parent of three more. Ironically these books were praised by conservative reviews which had excoriated his writings for adults. In Essay on Sepulchres , Lives of Edward and John Philips, Nephews and Pupils of Milton , Mandeville , and the four-volume History of the Commonwealth of England — , he explores individual and general history from a multiplicity of viewpoints.
Reference Books - Religion - Patristics - LibGuides at Lunds Universitet
He situated Godwin in the London theatrical world of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and argued that his plays were essential for understanding the development of his political thought. In some contributions, Godwin scholars have found new dimensions of his life and writings; in others, the diary has enabled scholars in different fields to connect their work with Godwin and his circle for the first time.
The diary tells us not just whom Godwin knew. The letters, in Kenneth R. Godwin appears a more complex figure than his published writings suggest. He was not an inflexible rationalist who was unable to form a just estimate of the affections, but was always reassessing his ideas of what it meant to be human. He was a man of strong feelings who reflected intensively on his own experiences notably, his love and loss of Mary Wollstonecraft.
His diligence in preserving copies of his letters after indicates his awareness of their importance for posterity.
They may ultimately prove more significant for interpreting Godwin than his published works. The values expressed by Godwin are humanity, moderation, disinterestedness, benevolence, justice, and candor. They are out of tune with the amoral acquisitiveness of neoliberalism, which has come to dominate Western societies today. As long as people continue to yearn for justice, equality, and fairness, Godwin will be read. Butler, Marilyn. Find this resource:.
Clemit, Pamela. Oxford: Clarendon, Clemit, Pamela, and Avner Offer. Graham, Kenneth W. Hamilton, Paul. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, Handwerk, Gary. Kelly, Gary.
The English Jacobin Novel, — Maniquis, Robert M. Mee, Jon. Myers, Mitzi. William Godwin and the Theatre. London: Pickering and Chatto, Bodleian Library Record April Philp, Mark. London: Duckworth, Pollin, Burton R. Godwin Criticism: A Synoptic Bibliography. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, Rajan, Tilottama. Ithaca, N. Tysdahl, B. William Godwin as Novelist. London: Athlone, Weston, Rowland, ed.
Nineteenth-Century Prose 41 1—2 Spring—Fall Special issue on William Godwin.
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Howe, 21 vols. London: Dent, — , xi. I thank the editor for permission to reprint. Jones, 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon, , i. Moran, 3 vols. Maniquis and Victoria Myers, eds. MS Abinger c. London: John Murray, , i. Oxford: Clarendon, — , ii.