William Godwin

William Godwin, 1756–1836, English author and political philosopher. A minister in his youth, he was, however, plagued by religious doubts and gave up preaching in 1783 for a literary career. His Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793) recorded the view that men are ultimately guided by reason and therefore, being rational creatures, could live in harmony without laws and institutions. His views are also reflected in his novels—Adventures of Caleb Williams (1794), St. Leon (1799), and Fleetwood (1805). In 1797, Godwin married Mary Wollstonecraft, who died the same year after giving birth to a daughter, Mary. He remarried in 1801 and in 1805 established a small, juvenile publishing business. His last years were an unceasing struggle against poverty and debt. Godwin's works strongly influenced his younger contemporaries, particularly Shelley, whose elopement with Mary (1814) drew from Godwin an exhibition of sternness at variance with his earlier views. However, he was later reconciled to their marriage.

See biographies by F. K. Brown (1926) and E. K. Paul (2 vol., 1896; repr. 1970); studies by H. N. Brailsford (2d ed. 1951), D. H. Munro (1953), J. P. Clark (1977), A. E. Rodway, ed. (1977), D. T. Hughes (1980), and M. Philp (1986).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

The Life of William Godwin
Ford K. Brown.
J. M. Dent & Sons, Ltd., 1926
Caleb Williams
David McCracken; William Godwin.
Oxford University Press, 1982
Italian Letters: Or, the History of the Count de St. Julian
William Godwin; Burton R. Pollin.
University of Nebraska Press, 1965
Women, Revolution, and the Novels of the 1790s
Linda Lang-Peralta.
Michigan State University Press, 1999
Librarian’s tip: "The Crowd and the Public in Godwin's Caleb Williams" begins on p. 47
Godwin's Moral Philosophy: An Interpretation of William Godwin
D. H. Monro.
Oxford University Press, 1953
Godwin and the Age of Transition
A. E. Rodway.
Folcroft Library Editions, 1975
The Socialist Tradition: Moses to Lenin
Alexander Gray.
Longmans, Green, 1946
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 5 "William Godwin"
The Language of Politics in the Age of Wilkes and Burke
James T. Boulton.
Routledge & K. Paul, 1963
Librarian’s tip: Chap. XI "William Godwin, Philosopher and Novelist"
Politics and Opinion in the Nineteenth Century: An Historical Introduction
John Bowle.
Oxford University Press, 1954
Librarian’s tip: Chap. VI "Anarchists and Utopians: Godwin, Fourier, Owen"
The Mental Anatomies of William Godwin and Mary Shelley
William D. Brewer.
Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2001
The Godwins and the Shelleys: The Biography of a Family
William St Clair.
W. W. Norton, 1989
The Growth of Philosophic Radicalism
Elie Halévy; Mary Morris.
Beacon Press, 1955
Librarian’s tip: Discussion of William Godwin in multiple chapters
Framing the Corpus: Godwin's "Editing" of Wollstonecraft in 1798
Rajan, Tilottama.
Studies in Romanticism, Vol. 39, No. 4, Winter 2000
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