Abstract

“Something Not Yet Made Good”: The Tropology of the Negative in Godwin’s Mandeville

This paper takes up Godwin’s fourth major novel, Mandeville (1817), and explores its extreme negativity as a recursive space for the stalled revolutionary energies of what Godwin saw as the only period in British history worthy of “genuine and independent man”: the period of the Civil Wars and the “English Revolution,” which had many resonances with his own time. The novel, which begins with the Irish Rebellion of 1641 and ends on the eve of the Restoration, is a catachresis: a historical novel whose protagonist never enters history as he progressively retreats into the closet of his psychic history. At its centre is the misanthropic protagonist’s “eternal war” on his rival and future brother-in-law Clifford, who prvides an alibi for an almost pathological deconstruction of normativity. The story ends shockingly with Mandeville’s accidental defacement by Clifford, an effraction that dis-figures all schemes of restoration. But the novel is by no means the “domestic story” that Godwin’s publisher wanted to make it, as Mandeville’s damaged life is a symptom, “imprinted by history and the process of history’s destruction of the body” (Foucault). Approaching the text within the political unconscious of seventeenth-century religious politics, I see the fanaticism that provides the text’s historical backdrop and its later secularization as misanthropy as tropes that must be turned back and in on themselves to discern whether history is absolute negation or the site of a dissensus whose potential comes forth warped and convoluted by a culture that represses its underlying contradictions.