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© 2015, The Columbia University Press.

William Godwin: Selected full-text books and articles

The Life of William Godwin By Ford K. Brown J. M. Dent & Sons, Ltd., 1926
Caleb Williams By David McCracken; William Godwin Oxford University Press, 1982
Italian Letters: Or, the History of the Count de St. Julian By William Godwin; Burton R. Pollin University of Nebraska Press, 1965
Women, Revolution, and the Novels of the 1790s By 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 and the Age of Transition By A. E. Rodway Folcroft Library Editions, 1975
The Socialist Tradition: Moses to Lenin By Alexander Gray Longmans, Green, 1946
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 5 "William Godwin"
The Language of Politics in the Age of Wilkes and Burke By 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 By 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 By William D. Brewer Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2001
The Growth of Philosophic Radicalism By 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 By Rajan, Tilottama Studies in Romanticism, Vol. 39, No. 4, Winter 2000
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