William Godwin

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Godwin, William,

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 ShelleyShelley, Percy Bysshe
, 1792–1822, English poet, b. Horsham, Sussex. He is ranked as one of the great English poets of the romantic period. A Tempestuous Life
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, 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).

Godwin, William


Born Mar. 3, 1756, in Wisbech; died Apr. 7, 1836, in London. English publicist, writer, and historian.

Godwin was born into the family of a minister. After graduating from a seminary he was a pastor for several years. Under the influence of French thinkers of the Enlightenment (J. J. Rousseau, P. Holbach, C. Helvétius) he broke with the church in the early 1780’s. Although he looked favorably on the Great French Revolution, Godwin remained an opponent of revolutionary violence. Godwin’s political views were expressed in his Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (vols. 1–2, 1793), where, after criticizing the existing social order linked with private property and state power—state power that gives rise to violence and deceit—he describes a petty bourgeois utopia of a free community of independent workers, the products of whose labor would be distributed among all according to each person’s needs. F. Engels noted that in certain aspects of the Enquiry Godwin “borders on communism,” although he is “decidedly antisocial” because of anarchistic traits in his political program (see K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 27, p. 26). Godwin’s petty bourgeois utopia had considerable influence on the formation of various trends of Utopian socialism, in particular, that of Owen, and also of anarchism.

Godwin’s best novel is The Adventures of Caleb Williams, or Things as They Are (vols. 1–3, 1794; Russian translation, 1838, 1949). In depicting the fate of a poor man, Godwin demonstrates that the law justifies force when exercised by the rich, while it perpetuates the powerlessness of the poor. This critical motif is expressed more mildly in the novel St. Leon (vols, 1–t, 1799) and still more mildly in the novels Fleetwood (vols. 1–3, 1805) and Mandeville (vols. 1–3, 1817). In the composition of his works Godwin followed the traditions of the Gothic novel. His passionate criticism of the social order prepared the way to a great degree for the social theme in the works of romantic writers of the mid-19th century (such as E. Sue and G. Sand).


The Life of Geoffrey Chaucer, the Early English Poet, vols. 1–4. London, 1803.
In Russian translation:
O sobstvennosti. Moscow, 1958.


Belinskii, V. G. “Kaleb Villiams.” Poln. sobr. soch., vol. 3. Moscow, 1953.
Chernyshevskii, N. G. Poln. sobr. soch., vol. 16. Moscow, 1953.(See Index of Names.)
Ramus, P. Vil’iam Godvin kak teoretik kommunisticheskogo anarkhizma. Moscow, 1925.
Alekseev, M. P. “U. Godvin.” In his book Iz istorii angliiskoiliteratury. Moscow-Leningrad, 1960.
Woodcock, G. William Godwin. London, 1946.
Rodway, A. E. Godwin and the Age of Transition. London-NewYork [1952].
Grylls, R. G. W. Godwin and His World. London, 1953.
Monro, D. Godwin’s Moral Philosophy. London, 1953.
Pollin, B. R. Godwin Criticism: A Synoptic Bibliography. [Toronto, 1967.]


References in periodicals archive ?
75-76, 130, 146-47, and passim; William Godwin, Memoirs of Mary Wollstonecraft (London, 1928), pp.
David O'Shaughnessy, William Godwin and the Theatre
It was a confident move on Malthus' part to leave his work with Johnson who was publisher of some of the leading challengers to most prevailing orthodoxies of the time, including Thomas Paine, William Godwin himself, and his daughter Mary Wollstonecraft.
Mary Shelley, child of Mary Wollstonecraft, who died in that childbirth, and William Godwin, radical philosopher and novelist, first met Percy Bysshe Shelley when she was 16.
When she was about three years of age, she became part of the Godwin family as her mother married the radical writer and novelist, William Godwin.
Obliged to make this sort of deposit of our minds': William Godwin and the sociable contract of writing.
England's first family of writers; Mary Wollstonecraft, William Godwin, Mary Shelley.
This was followed by a successful marriage to the philosopher William Godwin, but when Mary was only 38 she died from complications after giving birth to another daughter.
in Cambridgeshire, where William Godwin was brought up.
This seems to lay far too much intellectual responsibility upon so young and inexperienced an author, and moreover to distract attention from the very interesting intellectual context provided by the two most likely influences on her thought, namely the opinions of her father, the political philosopher and novelist William Godwin (1756-1826), and those of her lover (whom she married in December 1816) Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822).
Questions provoked by the book and exhibit include, then, the following: to what extent, and with what potential blindness and what insight, is our critical estimation of Mary Shelley--and, to a lesser but nonetheless still tangible extent, William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft--intertwined with Percy's "image" and "afterlife"?
Maurice Hindle (Collected Novels and Memoirs of William Godwin, 8 vols, ed.