William Godwin’s Mandeville: A Tale of the Seventeenth Century was published 198 years ago today. The first paperback edition is now available from Broadview Press, edited by Tilottama Rajan, Canada Research Chair and Distinguished University Professor at the University of Western Ontario. The edition (500 pages) includes a wealth of historical and contextual materials, together with a stimulating and provocative introduction.
Thanks to Tilottama for providing this account of her new publication:
Mandeville (1817) is the fourth in the sequence of William Godwin’s major novels to be published by Broadview Press. In 1817 Godwin wrote to Shelley, ‘I think it will be better than St Leon, and will take next place after Caleb Williams’. Shelley thought it his best novel: ‘Caleb Williams never shakes the deepest soul like Mandeville’. Begun one year after the Battle of Waterloo, Mandeville is set in the revolutionary period between the execution of Charles I and the Restoration (the only period when Britain was not a monarchy). It is a novel of literal and psychological warfare that differs from Sir Walter Scott’s version of the historical novel in not being able to put the past in the past.
At the start of the novel, the narrator Charles Mandeville is orphaned during the Irish Rebellion of 1641. His story proceeds from his early education by a fanatical Presbyterian minister in the castle of his reclusive uncle Audley, through his wrongful persecution for disloyalty to the king at Winchester College and his bitter rivalry with the unimpeachably virtuous Clifford, to his confinement for insanity. His sister and soulmate Henrietta, who is miraculously untroubled by the events of the time, becomes engaged to Clifford, and this exacerbates Mandeville’s paranoid tendencies.
The novel is book-ended by two rebellions, the Irish Rebellion and the personal rebellion of Mandeville. Its shocking climax, on the threshold of the Restoration, defaces endings based on settlement and reconciliation.
Mandeville is, on one level, a claustrophobic history of what Adorno calls a ‘damaged life’. But its title character is also a cultural symptom, through whom we experience the contradictions that have not been resolved in Britain’s lost republican moment. Though subtitled ‘A Tale of the Seventeenth Century in England’, the novel has many resonances in Godwin’s own time.
In my Introduction, I explore the novel’s setting in a period when political government was being renegotiated through church government. I present a new reading of the textual status and rhetorical effect of an ending that some see as leaving the novel unfinished. I consider the novel alongside Godwin’s History of the Commonwealth of England (1824-8), which can be seen as a revisiting of his celebrated An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793). The fanaticism of the seventeenth century is connected to its mutation into the misanthropy that so fascinated Godwin the novelist as a vehicle of unfocused dissent.
The historical appendices include Godwin’s 1809 ‘Fragment of a Romance’ (which he described as the germ of the novel); contemporary reviews; extensive materials relating to the novel’s religious and political backgrounds in England and Ireland, both in the seventeenth century and in Godwin’s own time; together with nineteenth-century writings on war, madness, and trauma.
For full publication details of Tilottama Rajan’s new edition, click here.