Jonathan Dent
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‘Things as they are’
William Godwin, Mary Wollstonecraft and the perils of the present
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This chapter examines how, in Caleb Williams (1794), Godwin brings the Gothic to bear on the eighteenth century. It considers the novel as a manifestation of his radical views outlined in Political Justice (1793) and explores the novel as a response to English anxieties about the French Revolution at home and abroad. This chapter examines representations of the past in the novel, particularly in relation to Godwin’s ‘Of History and Romance’ (1797), which criticises works of Enlightenment history. The psychological introspection of Caleb Williams is discussed, as well as the presence of history in the human psyche and the (unwanted) ideological legacy of the past. This chapter goes on to explore how, in a similar vein to Godwin, Wollstonecraft refuses to use a fictional past as a subterfuge to comment on the present in Maria (1798) and uses the Gothic to examine women’s plight in eighteenth-century England. Discussing Maria in relation to A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, it is argued that the novel brings the Female Gothic and its political agenda into sharper focus. This chapter discusses Wollstonecraft’s exploration of the female psyche, and how Maria’s thoughts and actions are governed by anachronistic and patriarchal social customs.

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Sinister histories

Gothic novels and representations of the past, from Horace Walpole to Mary Wollstonecraft


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