William Godwin (1756-1836) was a political thinker and writer of the late 18th and early 19th century. He is perhaps most famous for the Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (first published in 1793), recognised as one of the founding texts of modern anarchist thought. In addition to this influential work, he is well-known for his ground-breaking novel, Caleb Williams, first published in 1794. His claim to fame is also a product of his many connections to the literary and political world of ‘Romantic era’ Britain: Godwin was a friend of towering figures such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Charles Lamb, and Percy Shelley and many others. Most famously, Godwin was tragically briefly married to fellow radical and proto-feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, who died in 1797 from complications due to the birth of their daughter, also named Mary, who would go on to write Frankenstein.
However, some other aspects of Godwin’s life and work are less well-known. Over his long life, he published (among other things) two collections of essays, plays, more novels, historical enquiries, and a variety of children’s books. Indeed, he was the owner, with his second wife Mary Jane, of the Juvenile Library, a bookshop where the couple sold their own works for children, as well as a number of carefully commissioned others. It is Godwin’s productions for the Juvenile Library that I address in my PhD project, tentatively entitled “Teaching Every Principle of the Infidels and Republicans? Politics and Pedagogy in William Godwin’s Children’s Books.”
More specifically, I aim to examine the different ways in which we can understand what Godwin was up to when he was writing the dozen children’s books he published. Was he simply trying to make a living? Was he continuing a reformist political project by other means? Was he perhaps trying to modify the way in which certain subjects were taught in early 19th century schools? Or indeed, was he attempting to contribute to a change in the aesthetics of children’s literature? In answering these questions, I hope to develop our understanding of Godwin’s thoughts on education and pedagogy (and their relation to political reform), as well as explore some of the connections between the ‘world of children’ and the ‘world of adults’ in the Romantic period. Since Godwin’s wide variety of publications for adults is paralleled in his publications for children, he is an ideal candidate for such an enquiry.
My other research interests include the British ‘Revolution Controversy’ of the 1790s, British Literary, Cultural and Intellectual history, in the 19th and 20th century (with particular interests in Romanticism and Modernism), the history of radical and anarchist thought, (radical) educational thought in the 19th and 20th century and methodological questions in intellectual history.