Although their marriage barely outlasted their daughter’s gestation, Godwin and Wollstonecraft might be considered the first prominent writing couple in British literary history. Shelley and Mary certainly saw them as a model for their own dual writing careers. The seminar will focus, first, on the independent contributions of Godwin and Wollstonecraft to British literature and social culture and then on what might constitute the influence of each on their later writings. From this basis we will turn to the impact they both had on PB and Mary Shelley. PBS’s first major work, Queen Mab, for instance, was written after he had adopted Godwin as a surrogate father and promotes an openly Godwinian agenda. And Frankenstein, which constituted MWS’s literary debut, is dedicated to Godwin and strongly invokes themes from his first three novels. In similar fashion, MWS’s second major novel, Valperga, clearly recreates aspects of Wollstonecraft in its two heroines, as PBS had already done with the heroine of Laon and Cythna. In a truly unusual sense the first generation of these writers is recreated and reshaped by the second in a phenomenon unique in British literary history.
The seminar will allow us to explore a changing but consistently radical response to a late Enlightenment Establishment across two generations and should be broad enough in its scope to accommodate graduate students of many varied interests.