Contents Index

William Godwin

William Godwin, 1756-1836, political philosopher and novelist, husband of Mary Wollstonecraft, and father of Mary Shelley.

Godwin's works, including works of political philosophy (most importantly An Enquiry concerning Political Justice) and several novels (including Caleb Williams and St. Leon), advocate intellectual self-development through the rule of reason, personal freedom bordering on political anarchy, the dismantling of inherited institutions, religious liberalism, and disinterested justice.

Political Justice emphasizes the deleterious impact of all systems of government on the ethical and intellectual development of individual human beings. In this systematically argued critique Godwin posits the ultimate perfectibility of mankind if freed from repressive social structures. In his novels Godwin obliquely underscores these same philosophical and social issues, adding to them a continuing gallery of portraits of male figures whose obsessions and self-regard are supported by the patriarchal institutions of modern civilization. Both his philosophical and fictional concerns are, in turn, strongly reflected in the characterization and the events of Frankenstein.