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WILLIAM GODWIN'S "HISTORY OF THE COMMONWEALTH" AND THE PSYCHOLOGY OF INDIVIDUAL HISTORY

PORSCHA FERMANIS
The Review of English Studies
New Series, Vol. 61, No. 252 (NOVEMBER 2010), pp. 773-800
Published by: Oxford University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40961117
Page Count: 28
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WILLIAM GODWIN'S "HISTORY OF THE COMMONWEALTH" AND THE PSYCHOLOGY OF INDIVIDUAL HISTORY
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Abstract

William Godwin's History of the Commonwealth of England (1824-28) is usually considered solely in relation to its representation of the English Revolution and Civil War, and its engagement or otherwise with various religious and constitutional controversies. Yet Godwin's History also has much to tell us about the complicated ambiguities of the shift from Enlightenment to Romantic historiography, as well as about the tensions between classical, philosophical and sentimental modes of historical representation that this shift entailed. This article therefore focuses more on the rhetoric and form of Godwin's representation of the English national past than on the History's ideological content, although the two spheres inevitably overlap. As a species of composition not inherently distinct or isolated from his other historical endeavours, the History is considered alongside Godwin's historical biographies and novels; in particular, it is argued that techniques drawn from these para- and quasi-historical genres, combined with classical methodologies such as pen-portraits and orations, imbue the text with a new and distinctly psychological approach to the past, which differs both from the aims of philosophic history and from the so-called 'Romantic' or picturesque narratives of early Victorian histories by Carlyle and Macaulay.

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