If you’re a literature lover, the name of William Godwin might be less than familiar that that of his relations. He was the father of Mary Shelley, the husband of Mary Wollstonecraft and an inspiration for Percy Shelley among others. He was a political philosopher, whose work continues to be read and studied today but he was also an author.
His most famous work (today) is Caleb Williams, or Things as They Are (1794). It’s a tale of dark secrets discovered and relentless pursuit. It is also, as with all Godwin’s works, deeply engaged with his particular political philosophies and serves as a commentary on the British justice system (among many other things). We’re reading Caleb Williams for our book group on 26th April (10 am and 7 pm British Time) so do use the contact page to say hello and get a link if you’d like to join us!
Caleb Williams was far from the only book written by Godwin. My own personal favourite is Mandeville (1817) which plunges us into 17th century politics, religious Dissent and both British and Irish history. It also has a villain-hero narrator who can’t help but grab and keep your attention. Another one to look out for if you’re a Gothic fan is St Leon (1799) which is the tale of a man who is gifted the elixir vitae and the philosopher’s stone. He should probably have known it was going to go badly when the previous owner gave a long speech about wanting to be free of their curse and die but St Leon was not deterred…
This week, we were joined by Simon Clewes to take us through a new reading of Godwin. Challenging the current reading of the paranoid Gothic (which views it as an essentially homophobic form), they investigate the intense male-male relationships of Godwin’s texts and find in them queer possibilities. There are challenges to gendered and sexual mores galore and this resistance to societal expectations and decrees is highly in keeping with Godwin’s wider work and its resistance of the status quo. I found Simon’s argument highly convincing – have a look yourself and join us! If you’re not familiar with Godwin, don’t worry! Simon introduces each book and gives concrete examples from the texts. If you’re anything like a lot of the attendees on Sunday, you’ll find yourself suddenly craving a bit of Godwin yourself!