<i>Caleb Williams</i>: The Paradigm of the Godwinian Novel

Pamela Clemit

in The Godwinian Novel

Published in print March 1993 | ISBN: 9780198112204
Published online October 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191670701 | DOI:

Series: Oxford English Monographs

Caleb Williams: The Paradigm of the Godwinian Novel

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The two aspects of William Godwin's thought, his regretful condemnation of the aristocracy and his emphasis on moral reform in advance of practical measures, make the first edition of Caleb Williams far more than a straightforward commentary on social abuses. No doubt it was this complexity of meaning that led to the distribution of sympathies among early readers noted by Mary Shelley. Before looking at these competing views in the novel, however, one has to consider how Godwin's imaginative strategies relate to his pivotal belief in the unfettered exercise of private judgement. Godwin's development and diversification as an imaginative writer shows him in pursuit of his own ‘better remedy’. In his later experiments in ‘fictitious history’, he presents an increasingly internalized treatment of his political and philosophical concerns. But at the same time he extends the paradigm established in Caleb Williams to include a more comprehensive historical analysis.

Keywords: William Godwin; aristocracy; moral reform; Mary Shelley; social abuses; private judgement; fictitious history; historical analysis; Caleb Williams

Chapter.  14535 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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