Featured Publication: European Romantic Review: New Directions in Godwin Studies

William D. Brewer has guest-edited a William Godwin cluster issue of European Romantic Review, 30: 4 (Aug. 2019). It contains four essays pursuing new directions in Godwin studies, with an introduction by the editor.

Thanks to William for providing this summary of the contents:

This cluster issue of European Romantic Review is inspired by recent editorial and critical scholarship which has transformed understanding of Godwin and his achievements. Pamela Clemit’s magisterial first two volumes of a projected six-volume edition, The Letters of William Godwin (Oxford University Press, 2011, 2014), have provided illuminating insights into Godwin’s literary career, development as a political philosopher, social and professional relationships, and entrepreneurial projects from 1778 to 1805.

MW02604-med (5)Students of Godwin’s life and works have also benefited from the award-winning digital edition, William Godwin’s Diary (2010), David O’Shaughnessy’s exemplary edition, The Plays of William Godwin (2010), and the publication by Broadview Press of classroom editions of four of his novels—Caleb Williams (2000); St Leon (2006); Fleetwood (2001), and Mandeville (2016)—as well as his Memoirs of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (2001). The 1794 text of Caleb Williams and the 1793 text of Political Justice were first made available in paperback by Oxford World’s Classics in 2009 and 2013 respectively.

The essays in this cluster focus on Godwin’s letters, Life of Chaucer, Fleetwood, and Mandeville, rather than his best-known works.

Pamela Clemit, in ‘The Signal of Regard: William Godwin’s Correspondence Networks’, examines Godwin’s letter-writing practices alongside those of his contemporaries, including Claire Clairmont, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Mary Hays, John Keats, the Shelleys, and Mary Wollstonecraft. She explores these practices in relation to the ‘economy of regard’, a concept developed by Avner Offer, and argues that a personal letter is a gift or ‘grant of attention’ whose value transcends the gains and losses of commercial exchange. Letter writers communicate a signal crafted ‘uniquely for the recipient’, which is designed to convey an obligation to reciprocate and elicit a further exchange. The signals once created by Godwin and his correspondents may now be received by us.

Jared McGeough, in ‘“Imperfect, Confused, Interrupted”: Biography, Nationalism, and Generic Hybridity in William Godwin’s Life of Chaucer’, argues that Godwin’s monumental 1803 study of Chaucer is an experimental text which challenges traditional conceptions of the discrete biographical subject and of national identity. Godwin situates Chaucer within a multiplicity of disciplines and genres, including Gothic architecture, musical counterpoint, miracle plays, metallurgy, dreams, and religious iconography. Rather than dismissing Godwin’s ‘heterogeneous mixture’ of history, biography, and criticism as a failing, as Robert Southey did, McGeough presents the Life of Chaucer as an experimental text which unsettles disciplinary, cultural, and national boundaries.

Tilottama Rajan, in ‘Godwin’s Irritability: The Stalled Work of the Negative in Fleetwood’, reads Godwin’s third full-length novel in light of Hegel’s psycho-philosophical conception of irritability, tracing the development of the narrator Casimir Fleetwood from youthful misanthropy to pathological jealousy and temporary madness. She gives special attention to what she terms ‘proxy scenes’ in Fleetwood; or, The New Man of Feeling (1805): the sham trial of an Oxford University student by a ventriloquized puppet judge; Fleetwood’s destruction of wax models of his wife Mary, her presumed lover, and their purported child; and the public execution of the scheming Gifford. Rajan argues that Fleetwood both constructs and opposes ‘the domestication of a [Hegelian] negativity whose political urgency Godwin recovers in Mandeville’.

Jeffrey D. Cass, in ‘“The Theatre of Real Life”: Godwin’s Mandeville and Milton’s A Masque Presented at Ludlow Castle’, examines the plentiful allusions to Comus and Samson Agonistes in Mandeville: A Novel of the Seventeenth Century in England (1817). Such references, filtered through the traumatised psyche of the narrator, Charles Mandeville, are warped and inconsistent. They comprise what Cass calls an ‘anamorphic distortion’ of Milton’s influence. Mandeville’s psychologically conflicted (mis)appropriation of Comus reflects the unresolved traumas caused by the English Civil War, Cromwell’s Protectorate, and the Restoration. Cass’s searching analysis of the Miltonic allusions in Mandeville is a trenchant reminder of the complexity of Godwin’s literary, intellectual, and philosophical relationships with his seventeenth-century republican antecedent.

Each of these contributions provides an innovative—and often provocative—approach to Godwin’s radical originality and polymathic intellectual range.

The Godwin cluster issue of European Romantic Review has now been published on open access for fourteen days, and by purchase/subscription thereafter. To view the contents, click here.