Reviews of The Letters of William Godwin, Volume II: 1798-1805

Letters of William Godwin Volume 2
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‘If the first volume of Pamela Clemit’s magisterial edition of the letters of William Godwin reads like a Jacobin novel, this second volume, produced to the same high standard, reads inevitably like an anti-Jacobin one…. Considered as an epistolary anti-Jacobin novel, this second volume of Godwin’s letters seems to me better than some actual representatives of the genre. The prose is more pointed and varied, from romance to finance, and Pamela Clemit’s astute, perfectly balanced notes give necessary background information much more efficiently than the round-about coincidences that many epistolary novelists use…. Considered as an editorial production, this volume of Godwin’s Letters deserves the highest praise, both for the number of letters recovered (242), and for their presentation.’ (From Kenneth R. Johnston, Review 19, 22 Aug. 2015.)

‘In many ways the Godwin that emerges over the eight years chronicled [in Volume II] is a more complex and interesting figure than the intellectual luminary of the 1790s…. Clemit’s edition is a model of the kind, including detailed and authoritative notes after each letter, meticulous descriptions of the manuscripts, generous quotations from the other side of the correspondence and useful cross-references to Godwin’s diary. The volume offers an especially valuable account of Godwin’s dealings with booksellers, providing a unique perspective on the London publishing trade at the turn of the nineteenth century…. The letters in this fascinating volume, around three-quarters of which are published for the first time, should finally overturn Kenneth Neill Cameron’s verdict that Godwin “from around 1798 on […] gives one the impression of a man in retreat, socially and psychologically.”’  (From James Grande, Charles Lamb Bulletin, NS 161 (Spring 2015), 66-70.)

‘The high praise lavished on [Volume I] can also be paid to this second volume, also edited by Professor Clemit. This volume prints 242 dated letters written by Godwin, plus two undated letters in an appendix. Professor Clemit has again produced a highly informative introduction, a very useful index, some attractive illustrations, interesting details on Godwin’s receipts for book sales and his promissory notes, and a huge number of very helpful notes added after each letter. Godwin took great care in composing these letters and it is important that this edition allows us to see the major revisions, which he often made in order to express himself to the greatest effect. The labour invested by Professor Clemit in this volume has been prodigious. Her editorial work, moreover, is of the very highest standard and she has set the bar very high for … the succeeding volumes in this extremely important series.’ (From H. T. Dickinson, Enlightenment and Dissent, 30 (2015), 110-12.)

‘Clemit’s edition … not only offers the reader a sense of continuing dialogue or discussion, so vital to the impulse of these epistolary texts … but also brims with rich historical, biographical and literary annotation, so as to recreate the cross-currents of Godwin’s shifting milieu and of the wider networks of Romantic-period writers and thinkers, more generally. In this, it provides a wonderfully suggestive resource not only for Godwin specialists but for scholars of British Romanticism and intellectual history.’ (From Jeremy Elprin, Cercles: Revue pluridisciplinaire du monde anglophone (2015).)

‘This is a beautifully presented book with an editorial apparatus of the most exacting standards…. I cannot overstate the extent of Clemit’s achievement. Her scrupulous care in assembling, organizing, and presenting her primary materials; her editorial notes; and her editorial principles deserve every encomium one could muster. Her thoroughness opens the truly exciting prospect that the forthcoming volumes will illuminate Godwin’s less-explored years, after the heady heights and fall of the 1790s and early 1800s, and will inform the recently begun inquiry into the Godwins’ Juvenile Library. There is still much more research to be done on his activities in the 1820s and 1830s, which will be much the better informed for Clemit’s editorial prowess. Moreover, given Godwin’s extensive acquaintance through the 1830s, the forthcoming letters will be a fruitful source for many scholars with broader interests in London’s pre-Victorian cultural whirl.’ (David O’Shaughnessy, Keats-Shelley Journal, 64 (2015), 160-1.)

‘This is an exemplary piece of scrupulous, imaginative and sympathetic editorial work. Pamela Clemit knows her subject intimately…. As in the first volume of the Letters, the contextualizing is superb. Clemit includes copious evidence of Godwin’s editing process and, in the notes, significant extracts from his original correspondents…. There has been no biography of Godwin since William St Clair’s The Godwins and the Shelleys (1989). If we are to judge by the first two volumes of Godwin’s Letters, the completed project promises ultimately to provide an exhaustive and intimate narrative of the philosopher’s life. Future biographers will be fortunate to have such a resource at their disposal. At the same time it is occasionally difficult to see how the Letters as biography could be improved upon by the standard life narrative.’ (Rowland Weston, Review of English Studies (24 June 2016).)

‘This second volume of a projected six once again displays Pamela Clemit’s comprehensive and meticulous editorial work…. She has successfully identified dates, collated published and unpublished texts, and footnoted relevant extracts from letters that precede and/or succeed Godwin’s response, thereby ensuring maximum completeness of reading…. Clemit’s work has greatly enhanced the accessibility of a major portion of the Abinger Collection of the Bodleian Library…. The Letters [are] a vital reference tool for scholars of varying disciplines, and will be essential reading for scholars of the Romantic period.’ (Emma Povall, Coleridge Bulletin, NS 48 (Winter 2016), 113-17.)