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 ?
Mary Wollstonecraft, William Godwin, Mary Shelley (Baltimore: Johns
Most critics from the Romantic period to our own rime attack William Godwin for the effect that his biography of Mary Wollstonecraff had on her reputation.
At one time, a walk down Tite Street in London in early evening with a view into the lighted interiors of half a dozen artists' studio houses would have told the story of the life and times of the architect Edward William Godwin (1833-1886).
Obliged to make this sort of deposit of our minds': William Godwin and the sociable contract of writing.
Helen's interest in Mary led her to the writings of her father, the radical political philosopher William Godwin, an early exponent of utilitarianism.
The cast for Mary Shelley includes Kristin Atherton in the title role, Flora Nicholson as Fanny Wollstonecraft, Ben Lamb as Percy Bysshe Shelley and William Chubb as William Godwin, among others.
Fanny was born into the radical intellectual circle that eventually composed not just her 'feminist' mother, her father, William Godwin (a former Dissenting minister and semi-anarchist) and then her half-sister and brother-in-law, Shelley.
The rare flap top walnut table, found in a mid Wales skip, was made by famous English architect-designer Edward William Godwin (1833-'86).
William Godwin published his Memoirs of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman in an attempt to "give to the public some account of the life of a person of eminent merit deceased," an attempt meant to counter and defuse the "thoughtless calumny" and "malignant misrepresentation" that had dogged his wife in the final years of her life (43).
The Mental Anatomies of William Godwin and Mary Shelley.
100 Years Ago The headmaster of Netherton Church School presented a certificate of bravery to William Godwin, aged 13, of Netherton, from the Royal Humane Society after he saved the life of a navvy called James Harris.