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England's First Family of Writers

Mary Wollstonecraft, William Godwin, Mary Shelley

Julie A. Carlson

Publication Year: 2007

Life and literature were inseparable in the daily lives of Mary Wollstonecraft, William Godwin, and Mary Shelley. In England's First Family of Writers, Julie A. Carlson demonstrates how and why the works of these individuals can best be understood within the context of the family unit in which they were created. The first to consider their writing collectively, Carlson finds in the Wollstonecraft-Godwin-Shelley dynasty a family of writers whose works are in intimate dialogue with each other. For them, literature made love and produced children, as well as mourned, memorialized, and reanimated the dead. Construing the ways in which this family's works minimize the differences between books and persons, writing and living, Carlson offers a nonsentimental account of the extent to which books can live and inform life and death. Carlson also examines the unorthodox clan's status as England's first family of writers. She explores how, over time, their reception has evinced ongoing public resistance to those who critique family values.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


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p. vii

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p. ix

This book was begun under the financial support of an American Council of Learned Society’s Fellowship (2001–2002) and a grant from the UC Santa Barbara Interdisciplinary Humanities Center (2002), for which I am very grateful. A small portion of chapter 5 appeared in Texas Studies in Literature and Language 41.4 (1999) and a larger portion of chapter 4 in European Romantic Review 14.2 (2003). I am especially grateful to those...

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Introduction. Family, Writing, Public

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pp. 1-20

Why is it that the life stories of the Wollstonecraft-Godwin-Shelley family tend to fascinate readers even more than their written works? The history of the critical reception of Mary Wollstonecraft, William Godwin, and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley as writers as well as the pop-cultural images of this family suggest that their biographies are...


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1 Making Public Love

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pp. 23-65

Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin are famous for their problems making love. Different kinds of things troubled each of them, but both of their lives and careers were shaped by fallout over the ways that they made love as a textual and sexual activity. Wollstonecraft’s problems were more conventional, in part because she loved more readily. From start to finish, her writing life...

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2 Forms of Attachment

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pp. 66-91

The portrayals of domestic arrangements in the novels of Wollstonecraft and Godwin are valuable for posing as a relevant question, What is the value of family? Is family or the values conventionally associated with family life the arrangement most conducive to life, independence, and the pursuit of justice? Wollstonecraft’s answer is more affirmative than Godwin’s, in...

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3 Family Relations

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pp. 92-127

The novels of Mary Shelley have long been seen as having an almost obsessive relation to the topic of family relations.1 Some, like Matilda (1819), Lodore (1835), and Falkner (1837), arguably have no other thematic or plot interest. All three feature a young female protagonist (Mathilda, Ethel Lodore, Elizabeth Raby) whose sole activity involves effecting the shift...


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4 Fancy’s History

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pp. 131-161

Whether life works and the degree to which literature improves the chances of life working are insistent questions in the life/writings of the Wollstonecraft-Godwin-Shelley family. Both questions stem from two of their writerly preoccupations: intense engagement with the lifeworks of illustrious authors, including themselves, and skepticism about...

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5 Living Off and On: The Literary Work of Mourning

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pp. 162-211

Of the many ‘‘revered’’ books written by her parents which Mary, Percy, and Claire read as guides to and sanctions of their youthful experiences, Essay on Sepulchres, according to William St. Clair, was ‘‘one of Mary’s favourites.’’ Presented to her 14 May 1814, on the occasion of her half-sister Fanny’s birthday and ‘‘also the day [Godwin] recovered from his latest attack of...

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6 A Juvenile Library; or, Works of a New Species

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pp. 212-256

The book as child is a standard trope and male authorial ruse that the 1831 preface to Frankenstein pushes to extremes when it bids its ‘‘hideous progeny to go forth and prosper.’’ Linking book and creature, it humanizes both and declares what few parents or authors ever admit, that their progeny is hideous and that something went terribly wrong between conception and..

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Epilogue. On Percy’s Case

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pp. 257-277

In the entire history of Western literary biography there is no worse nightmare son-in-law or family relation than Percy Bysshe Shelley.1 Bad enough that this promising prot

Primary Works and Abbreviations

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pp. 279-281


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pp. 283-318


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pp. 319-328

E-ISBN-13: 9780801891830
E-ISBN-10: 0801891833
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801886188
Print-ISBN-10: 080188618X

Page Count: 344
Publication Year: 2007

OCLC Number: 310121190
MUSE Marc Record: Download for England's First Family of Writers

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Authors, English -- 19th century -- Family relationships.
  • England -- Social life and customs -- 18th century.
  • Wollstonecraft, Mary, -- 1759-1797 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • England -- Social life and customs -- 19th century.
  • Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, -- 1797-1851 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Godwin, William, -- 1756-1836 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Influence (Literary, artistic, etc.).
  • Authors, English -- 18th century -- Family relationships.
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