Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
English & Film Studies
Faculty of Arts
Kenneth W. Graham
In the tumultuous period of the 1790s, the English anarchist philosopher William Godwin was a seminal figure whose 1793 Enquiry Concerning Political Justice and Its Influence on Morals and Happiness stood as a touchstone for the reform movement in Britain. Godwin is primarily known today as the author of Political Justice and Things As They Are; Or, The Adventures of Caleb Williams, a 1794 novel which many readers, past and present, have regarded as a fictionalized allegory of the philosophical claims outlined in Political Justice.
Although his fame as a novelist largely rests on this one popular novel, Godwin wrote and published five more novels after Caleb Williams: St. Leon (1799); Fleetwood (1805); Mandeville (1817); Cloudesley (1830); and, finally, Deloraine (1833). Other than Caleb Williams, however, Godwin’s novels are little read today, even by specialists in the literature of the period. Moreover, relative to Caleb Williams, these other novels have received only marginal critical attention. The bulk of the scholarly work on Godwin still tends to focus on either his Political Justice or Caleb Williams. Furthermore, most earlier studies of Godwin’s novels have placed his texts in an almost exclusive dialogue with the radical “jacobin” political climate of 1790s England, or with the philosophical rationalism of Political Justice.
My own examination of Godwin’s fiction differs in emphasis from most of these earlier studies in its sustained focus on the development of masculine identity within the context of personal agency, language, and modes of self-expression. I take as my starting point Godwin’s Enquirer. Reflections on Education, Manners, and Literature, a 1797 collection of essays in which he puts forth an educational theory for the proper development of virtue, benevolence, and rational potential in the young mind. In the Enquirer, Godwin details the pedagogical and social conditions necessary for the creation of an “active” and “well regulated” mind committed to benevolence and reason. He also acknowledges, however, the blighting effects of “unfavourable circumstances” in childhood-the range of unpropitious pedagogical and social conditions that conspire to produce a mind that is not “well regulated.” As I argue in this study, Godwin’s educational theory carries within it a model of ww-education that serves as a productive framework for examining his fiction.
In this study, I provide readings of four of Godwin’s novels—Caleb Williams, St. Leon, Fleetwood, and Mandeville—examming how this model of “mis-education” operates in all four texts in distinctly different ways, shaping the psychological development of the protagonists in such a way that their later years are marked by crises in their experience of identity and, more specifically, in their sense of masculine authority. Although a handful of critics have briefly examined the forms of “miseducation” experienced by each of these Godwinian heroes, none has explored the effects of such mis-education within the context of identity formation-that is, on the hero’s ability to self-actualize without the experience of profound personal and social alienation.
This study thus offers a detailed examination of a cluster of interdependent themes that has received little or no critical attention in the scholarly examinations of these four novels: the central role that education, as the totalizing effect of one’s childhood lessons and experiences, has on the moral and psychological development of the subject, and-more specifically-how unfavourable circumstances conspire, in these texts, to create forms of “mis-education” that lead to later crises in identity and subjectivity; the importance of personal agency in the development of the subject-specifically, the ability to have “authorship” over the narratives of one’s life; the roles that language, self-expression, the imagination, and social convention play in the development of such agency and in the formation of an especially masculine identity; and, finally, the mediating function of women in the development of this masculine identity. The readings offered in this study should enrich the critical discussion of Godwin’s fiction, especially as such discussion relates to themes of gender and identity formation.
Butler, Lisa-Marie Lynn, "Mis-Education and the Crisis in Male Subjectivity: William Godwin’s Middle Novels, 1799–1817" (2008). Theses and Dissertations (Comprehensive). 1054.