The Mental Anatomies of William Godwin and Mary Shelley

The Mental Anatomies of William Godwin and Mary Shelley

The Mental Anatomies of William Godwin and Mary Shelley

The Mental Anatomies of William Godwin and Mary Shelley

Synopsis

"The Mental Anatomies of William Godwin and Mary Shelley focuses on the influence of enlightenment and Romantic-era theories of the mind on the writings of Godwin and Shelley and examines the ways in which these writers use their fiction to explore such psychological phenomena as ruling passions, madness, the therapeutic value of confessions (both spoken and written), and the significance of dreams. In many cases, associationist psychology and the theory of the ruling passions enable Godwin and Shelley to provide fascinating and sophisticated insights into their characters' mental processes and behaviors. A number of their mental anatomies reflect the influence of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Confessions and his conceptions of mental transparency, sincerity, and environmental conditioning. Because his primary focus is on Godwinian and Shelleyan perspectives on the mind and its operations, Brewer avoids twentieth-century psychological terminology and ideas in his discussions of their fiction. In The Mental Anatomies of William Godwin and Mary Shelley, Brewer contends that Godwin's and Shelley's literary mental anatomies should be regarded as exploratory and often inclusive thought-experiments. He organizes it by themes rather than by chronology or works. For the most part, he focuses on their lesser-known writings. In an effort to contextualize their fictional treatments of psychological themes, Brewer also considers the works of other Romantic-era writers including Mary Wollstonecraft, Joanna Baillie, Mary Hays, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, and Charles Brockden Brown, as well as the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century philosophical and medical theories that informed Godwin's and Shelley's presentations of mental states and types of behavior." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

In his groundbreaking treatise an inquiry into the human Mind (1764), the philosopher Thomas Reid argues that the mind, like the body, may be analyzed through dissection: “All that we know of the body, is owing to anatomical dissection and observation, and it must be by an anatomy of the mind that we can discover its powers and principles.” During the Romantic period, a number of authors embraced this eighteenth-century project of dissecting the psyche's “powers and principles” and performed mental anatomies in their novels, dramas, and poems. For example, in his account of the composition of Things as They Are; or, the Adventures of Caleb Williams(1794), William Godwin writes that his novel provided him with an exceptional opportunity for psychological exploration:

[First-person narration] was infinitely the best adapted, … to my
vein of delineation, where the thing in which my imagination revelled
the most freely, was the analysis of the private and internal opera
tions of the mind, employing my metaphysical dissecting knife in
tracing and laying bare the involutions of motive, and recording the
gradually accumulating impulses, which led the personages I had to
describe primarily to adopt the particular way of proceeding in which
they afterwards embarked.

Mary Hays, a disciple of Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, asserts in the Preface to her novel Memoirs of Emma Courtney(1796) that “[t]he most interesting, and the most useful, fictions, are … such, as delineating the progress, and tracing the consequences, of one strong, indulged, passion, or prejudice, afford materials, by which the philosopher may calculate the powers of the human mind, and learn the springs which set it in motion.” in the “Introductory Discourse” to her A Series of Plays: in which It Is Attempted to Delineate the Stronger Passions of the Mind(1798), the dramatist Joanna Baillie contends that the most important role . . .

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