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Almighty Godwin

Paul Foot, 28 September 1989

The Godwins and the Shelleys: The Biography of a Family 
by William St Clair.
Faber, 572 pp., £20, June 1989, 0 571 15422 0
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... of a family and it is not about the Godwins and the Shelleys. Perhaps the publishers persuaded William St Clair against his better judgment to downgrade his hero in the title and to include the Shelleys, who are more famous. This rich, glorious book is, however, a biography of William Godwin – no more, no less. St ...

Benevolent Mr Godwin

E.P. Thompson, 8 July 1993

Political Justice 
by William Godwin, introduced by Jonathan Wordsworth.
Woodstock, £150, November 1992, 1 85196 019 8
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The Political and Philosophical Writings of William Godwin 
edited by Mark Philp.
Pickering & Chatto, £395, March 1993, 1 85196 026 0
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Political Writings 
by Mary Wollstonecraft, edited by Janet Todd.
Pickering & Chatto, 411 pp., £39.95, March 1993, 1 85196 019 8
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Memoirs of Wollstonecraft 
by William Godwin, introduced by Jonathan Wordsworth.
Woodstock, 199 pp., £8.95, April 1993, 1 85477 125 6
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... task. He has edited the new seven-volume edition of the Political and Philosophical Writings of William Godwin, having edited previously, with some help from Marilyn Butler, all of Godwin’s novels. Philp is undoubtedly the country’s leading Godwinian, having established his authority with his study of Political ...

Menagerie of Live Authors

Francesca Wade: Marys Shelley and Wollstonecraft, 7 October 2015

Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley 
by Charlotte Gordon.
Hutchinson, 649 pp., £25, April 2015, 978 0 09 195894 7
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... There were​ high hopes for the son of Percy Bysshe and Mary Shelley, the grandson of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, but the boy told his mother that all he wanted was a quiet life and a sailing boat. She wasn’t wholly disappointed at his failure to distinguish himself. When it was suggested at school that he needed to learn to think for himself, Mary Shelley said: ‘Oh God, teach him to think like other people!’ Percy Florence was unusual in a uniformly cerebral family ...

Excepting the Aristocratical

Ian Gilmour, 23 March 1995

Marriage, Debt and the Estates System: English Landownership 1650-1950 
by John Habakkuk.
Oxford, 786 pp., £65, September 1994, 0 19 820398 5
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... Lawyers have seldom had a good press. According to Shelley’s father-in-law, William Godwin, a lawyer could ‘scarcely fail to be a dishonest man’, though that, he added, was ‘less a subject for censure than regret’. Shelley’s friend and biographer, Thomas Jefferson Hogg, being himself a barrister, could not go quite so far, but his verdict was almost as sweeping: the most profound ignorance is ...

Why Mr Fax got it wrong

Roy Porter: Population history, 5 March 1998

English Population History from Family Reconstitution 1580-1837 
by E.A. Wrigley and R.S. Davies.
Cambridge, 657 pp., £60, July 1997, 0 521 59015 9
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The Savage Wars of Peace: England, Japan and the Malthusian Trap 
by Alan Macfarlane.
Blackwell, 427 pp., £45, May 1997, 0 631 18117 2
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... of the mad perfectibilist schemes of the French Revolutionaries and their English confrères like William Godwin, and damned by others as hardheartedness incarnate. Marie Antoinette had just told the poor to go and eat cake: Malthus trumped her, apparently sentencing them to death by starvation – and all on the strength of the ‘facts’. No wonder ...

The Professor

Marilyn Butler, 3 April 1980

A Fantasy of Reason: The Life and Thought of William Godwin 
by Don Locke.
Routledge, 398 pp., £13.50, January 1980, 0 7100 0387 0
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... William Godwin is a man who cries out to be the subject of a life. He has everything: a repressed personality, ripe for psychoanalysis; a role in the high dramas of his wife Mary Wollstonecraft, his daughter Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, his son-in-law Shelley and the infant grandchildren; a circle of interesting friends, many of them articulate enough to leave written records, and famous enough to have their letters preserved ...

May I come to your house to philosophise?

John Barrell: Godwin’s Letters, 8 September 2011

The Letters of William Godwin Vol. I: 1778-97 
by Pamela Clemit.
Oxford, 306 pp., £100, February 2011, 978 0 19 956261 9
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... two publications have made it possible, as never before, to attempt to understand the enigmatic William Godwin, the author of one of the great novels of the 18th century and of the founding text in the philosophy of anarchism, the husband of Mary Wollstonecraft, the father of Mary Shelley, and the friend or acquaintance of almost everyone on the ...

Art and Vulgarity

Tim Hilton, 18 September 1980

William Mulready 
by Kathryn Heleniak.
Yale, 287 pp., £25, April 1980, 0 300 02311 1
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... schools by the age of 13. This would be in 1799 or 1800. While still at the schools he came across William Godwin, then running his ill-starred children’s books business. For Godwin he made a number of illustrations: the cuts for the first edition of the Lambs’ Tales from Shakespeare are his ...

Fiery Participles

D.A.N. Jones, 6 September 1984

Hazlitt: The Mind of a Critic 
by David Bromwich.
Oxford, 450 pp., £19.50, March 1984, 0 19 503343 4
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William GodwinPhilosopher, Novelist, Revolutionary 
by Peter Marshall.
Yale, 496 pp., £14.95, June 1984, 0 521 24386 6
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Burke, Paine, Godwin and the Revolution Controversy 
edited by Marilyn Butler.
Cambridge, 280 pp., £25, June 1984, 0 521 24386 6
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... advertise and illuminate other writers and artists. Peter Marshall does so in his new biography, William Godwin. Hazlitt’s vivid account of Godwin’s political importance appears on the first page of Marshall’s introduction, and his worthy book is studded with variations on ‘as Hazlitt rightly observed’. He ...

Teeth of Mouldy Blue

Laura Quinney: Percy Bysshe Shelley, 21 September 2000

The Complete Poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley: Volume I 
edited by Donald Reiman and Neil Fraisat.
Johns Hopkins, 494 pp., £58, March 2000, 0 8018 6119 5
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... grounds that they were intellectually unsympathetic; he sought a mentor and father substitute in William Godwin, and then alienated him by eloping with his daughter, Mary; he discarded Harriet and their two small children, and in 1816 she drowned herself. His actions were reckless, destructive and poignantly venturesome; they had consequences which ...

At Free Love Corner

Jenny Diski, 30 March 2000

Literary Seductions: Compulsive Writers and Diverted Readers 
by Frances Wilson.
Faber, 258 pp., £12.99, October 1999, 0 571 19288 2
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... chapter Caroline Lamb falls for Byron, and Elizabeth Smart for George Barker, while Mary Godwin and Shelley shadow the literary love of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft. Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller, Robert Graves and Laura Riding, Nadezhda and Osip Mandelstam, W.B. and Georgie Yeats all get chapters to ...

Versatile Monster

Marilyn Butler, 5 May 1988

In Frankenstein’s Shadow: Myth, Monstrosity and 19th-century Writing 
by Chris Baldick.
Oxford, 207 pp., £22.50, December 1987, 0 19 811726 4
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... Burke’s early opponents, English radicals such as Tom Paine and Mary Shelley’s parents William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, tried to neutralise the damage his imagery did to the popular side, by giving the monstrous child an even more monstrous parent. If the Revolution was going bad, it was because of the sins of the fathers. Aristocracy ...

Lunacies

Ian Campbell Ross: ‘provincial genius’, 23 October 2003

Hermsprong; or Man as He Is Not 
by Robert Bage, edited by Pamela Perkins.
Broadview, 387 pp., £8.99, March 2002, 1 55111 279 5
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... In the summer of 1797, William Godwin set out on a tour of the Midlands. He had hoped to visit, among others, Erasmus Darwin, but finding the naturalist away from home, Godwin asked Darwin’s wife for a letter of introduction to Robert Bage instead. To his surprise, Mary Darwin said she could not properly provide one since, though Bage was her husband’s ‘very particular friend’, she wasn’t sure she had ever set eyes on him ...

To Stir up the People

John Barrell: Pitt’s Reign of Alarm, 23 January 2014

Unusual Suspects: Pitt’s Reign of Alarm and the Lost Generation of the 1790s 
by Kenneth Johnston.
Oxford, 376 pp., £30, July 2013, 978 0 19 965780 3
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... In April 1792, William Pitt, the ‘heaven-born minister’ as his Tory supporters liked to call him, made what we can now recognise as one of the first of many attempts to cast off the perception that the Tories are the nasty party. The slave trade, he told the Commons, was ‘the greatest practical evil that ever has afflicted the human race’, and a ‘stigma on our national character ...

Tantrums

C.K. Stead, 22 February 1996

Letters of Claire Clairmont, Charles Clairmont and Fanny Imlay Godwin 
edited by Marion Kingston Stocking.
Johns Hopkins, 704 pp., £45, May 1995, 0 8018 4633 1
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... Clairmont became Clare, then Claire, sometimes Clara, and added Constantia. Her mother married William Godwin twice in an afternoon, once as ‘Jane Clairmont, widow’, a second time as ‘Mary Vial, spinster’. She brought two children to the marriage, almost certainly by different fathers. Godwin brought ...

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