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Godwin's Daughter Wanted Her Son To Be Conventional

William Godwin by Elton Edward Smith and Esther Greenwell Smith, p 121
When time came for the widow of Percy Bysshe Shelley to choose a school for their surviving son, someone suggested that he should go to a school where he would be free to think for himself. "To think for himself!" exclaimed the woman who was the daughter of the unique Mary Wollstonecraft and the unique William Godwin, the widow of the unique Percy Shelley, and the author of the unique Frankestein. "Oh my God, teach him to think like other people!" Mary Shelley knew the joys and the perils of independence, and she wanted something different for her boy. Everyone she knew intimately had been an independent thinker, heroic, never ceasing "from mental fight." But for her son she desired the settled calm of an ordinary boyhood and a commonplace life.[1]
[1] The citation is J. Middleton Murry, Heaven--and Earth (London, 1938), p. 254.

This is interesting in several ways. One is as an example of someone renouncing freedom of thought.

It also means that Godwin was right in his dispute with Mary and Shelley about their elopement. It turns out that Mary did not like the results of the lifestyle Godwin warned them against. Earlier in this book, it says most commentators think Shelley was right, and the book itself sides with Shelley. How can it do that when it contains this evidence?

That is not the only oddity of the book. Another is that it openly insults, without argument or substantial comment, three of Godwin's books, including one I've read and enjoyed (Damon and Delia). That is a theme I have observed in most books about Godwin: they are disrespectful towards Godwin.

Another common theme is that books about Godwin usually disagree with and misunderstand some of Godwin's major ideas. Why do people who don't like Godwin write about him, and where are the books by people who do like Godwin?

Elliot Temple on February 20, 2009


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