Godwin's Historical Novels: Theory and Practice

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

Godwin's Historical Novels: Theory and Practice

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In a more specific account of changes between the first and second editions, William Godwin attributed his recognition of the emotional springs of action to a reading of David Hume's Treatise of Human Nature in 1795. However, in fact his debt to Hume remains ambiguous and difficult to separate from his general assimilation of the ideas of the other British moralists that led him to declare in 1797: ‘Not only the passions of men, but their very judgements, are to a great degree the creatures of sympathy’. Godwin continues to reject Hume's notion of the operation of sympathy through an endless flow of passions and sentiments in which reason is virtually powerless. Instead, crucially for his theory of fiction, he retains his primary commitment to private judgement. The scepticism of Godwin's later studies of character in history both extends and undercuts his early conviction of the intrusion of government into private life.

Keywords: William Godwin; David Hume; fiction; private judgement; sympathy; character; history

Chapter.  13777 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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