Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Godwin, William

(1756-1836) UK philosopher, political journalist and writer, father of Mary Shelley. His first book was The Life of Chatham (1783). The polemic which made him famous was An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793; rev 1796), in which an almost Hermetic belief in the perfectibility of Man is argued in an entirely rational manner, reaching a devastatingly anarchic conclusion: the enemy of truth turns out to be any political institution. WG's reputation as a novelist rests primarily upon Things as They Are, or The Adventures of Caleb Williams (1794), though he wrote considerable later adult fiction and children's books, some as by Edward Baldwin. These latter include Fables Ancient and Modern, Adapted for the Use of Children from Three to Eight Years of Age (coll 1805) and the anonymous Dramas for Children (coll 1809), both consisting of Twice-Told tales.

Caleb Williams is not a Supernatural Fiction, but the political system it depicts, entirely in keeping with WG's expressed views, is so nightmarish that the world the oppressed Caleb descends into – in his attempts to avoid astonishingly relentless pursuit – is very close to a genuine Underworld. A later novel, St Leon: A Tale of the Sixteenth Century (1799), is a genuine supernatural fiction: the cold-hearted Reginald St Leon meets a wandering Jewish alchemist who gives him the Philosophers' Stone, by virtue of which he can make gold, and the Elixir of Life, by virtue of which he gains Immortality. But St Leon now finds himself perpetually at odds with those he encounters and exploits, and must wander Europe bereft of contentment, meeting at one point a Giant who imprisons him. In the end (the alchemist died once his "gift" had been passed on), St Leon's resemblance to the Wandering Jew increases, and he disappears. [JC]

other works: Lives of the Necromancers (1834).

See also: Fables.

William Godwin


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.