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

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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.

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

Tilottama Rajan
University of Western Ontario


1.        The year 1817 in England was a period of new dissident activity that witnessed a renewed series of Gagging Acts. [1]  In December of that year, Godwin published Mandeville: A Tale of the Seventeenth Century in England, a novel of stalled revolution and psychic war, the writing of which had been particularly slow by his standards. The novel follows a hiatus of twelve years after the appearance of his third major novel Fleetwood (1805), a space of withdrawal and negation—or a retreat in the sense theorized elsewhere in this collection by Marc Mazur—that is by no means insignificant.

2.         After Caleb Williams (1795), Godwin had begun to write a world history in bits and pieces, which, like the figure of the burrow that Deleuze and Guattari use to describe “minor literature” (3), has many entrances and rules of usage that Godwin probes through Greece, Renaissance Europe, seventeenth-century and Restoration England, and through genres as different as biography, children’s books, actual histories, novels, and interventions in current affairs such as his extension of the population debate to the global implications of the Irish situation. [2]  Godwin was always interested in minor history, which, to adapt Deleuze and Guattari on “minor literature,” occupies a minor position within a major culture, and therefore has a “high coefficient of deterritorialization” (16). Just before Mandeville he had published the Lives of Edward and John Philips, Nephews and Pupils of Milton (1815), which sidesteps the major figure of Milton and takes up his relatively obscure nephews. Through this skew, Godwin avoids being bound into any number of simplifying narratives that might present Milton as a canonical or hagiographical figure, might positivize the indeterminacies and disavowals in his Republicanism, or might reify his disillusioned retreat from history. The seventeenth century held Godwin’s attention for thirteen years, as he published the Lives, then Mandeville, and finally his History of the Commonwealth of England (1824–28). The period of the Civil Wars and the dissipation of their energies after the Restoration thus has a unique place in Godwin’s historiography, and Mandeville, in dialogue with his History of the Commonwealth, casts the latter’s enlightenment into the black hole of a negative dialectic. Indeed in oblique ways Mandeville is also knotted into a similar dialectic with the unprocessed and silenced revolutionary energies of the 1790s. For it forms a pair with the more soberly utopian History of the Commonwealth that takes us back to the systole and diastole between Caleb Williams and the Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793/1798), which Godwin still described as his “favourite work” nearly four decades later (“Preface” 7). [3] 

3.         The novel is a historical novel about a minor Royalist, Charles Mandeville, who never enters history because he never leaves the closet of his psychic history: his “eternal war” on his intolerably “good” classmate Clifford (Mandeville 210), who marries Mandeville’s sister Henrietta. Yet Godwin resisted the suggestion of his publisher, Archibald Constable, that he call Mandeville a “domestic story,” and instead insisted on subtitling it a “Tale of the Seventeenth Century in England” (italics mine). [4]  This is to say that both the reviewers who saw the historical framework as irrelevant and the imitators who reduced the novel to a domestic story missed its larger point. [5]  For Godwin sees Mandeville as both an individual and a symptom, as what Foucault calls “the inscribed surface of events . . . totally imprinted by history and the process of history’s destruction of the body” (148). It is with this symptomology in mind that Godwin says he “would rather follow [a man] into his closet” than “observe” him “upon the public stage” of “Universal History” (“History and Romance” 294).

4.         Mandeville is set in the only period when Britain was kingless, the time that saw the beheading of Charles I, the “English Revolution,” and the Protectorate—but it is book-ended by two uprisings ex-centric to its setting “in England.” The first is the Ulster Rebellion of 1641, where Mandeville’s parents are killed in the massacre of Protestant settlers. The child is saved by his Catholic nurse, but taken from her by the severe Hilkiah Bradford, chaplain of the garrison set up to protect the English “plantations” in Ireland. Hilkiah tutors him in the forlorn castle of Mandeville’s uncle Audley, until the Puritanical preceptor dies and the boy is sent to school at Winchester. The second uprising is the rag-tag assault that Mandeville himself leads on the marriage coach bearing Henrietta and Clifford. Clifford is unharmed, but Mandeville is severely disfigured. The novel ends as Mandeville triumphantly contemplates his face in a mirror, on the eve of a Restoration he has refused in dis-figuring the union figured in the marriage. For this marriage of Henrietta, a Presbyterian brought up as an Anglican, to Clifford, an Episcopalian who turns Catholic so that he can inherit from a relative, is the very symbol of the settlements and expediencies of the Restoration.

5.         The novel has many resonances with Godwin’s own time. They include the return of the Ulster Rebellion in the Irish Uprising of 1798, and the parallel between the 1790s pamphlet wars and the schoolboy incident of the cartoons. In this incident, Mandeville is falsely condemned by the staunchly Royalist prefects at Winchester when a book of anti-monarchist cartoons is found in his room, and his Presbyterian origins play a significant role in this judgment (158). The book had been abandoned there by his friend, the cowardly Waller (also a Presbyterian), who lets Mandeville take the rap for him. The judgment is its own form of gagging act, and dogs Mandeville throughout his life, impeding his entrance into history. Most importantly, the similarities between the time of the novel and Godwin’s own period also include the parallel politics of the Restoration and Regency as simulations of settlement, and a stunning final paragraph where Mandeville anachronistically compares his disfigurement by Clifford to the “brand[ing]” of negro slaves (448), in a conflation of Irish and black plantations, the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries.

6.         Most readers pathologize Mandeville, nor would one want to have him as a friend in real life. As he says, in a typically military metaphor, “I dug a broad and a deep foss, and threw up an intrenchment, to cut me off from creatures wearing the human form” (171). Mandeville’s hatred of Clifford is unreasonable, almost a fetish, and makes sense only insofar as Clifford is an alibi for the deconstruction of a society normatively structured around virtue and cheerfulness. Henrietta, for her part, does everything possible to support her brother, but from an enlightened perspective that misses the trauma of this period before the Enlightenment. Indeed the “Arcadian” Henrietta (240), who has been separated from her brother and sent to stay with friends of her parents to shield her from the war in Ireland, is carefully set up by Godwin as an Enlightenment character. Godwin has her give a long speech, part of which is drawn from Shaftesbury (243), not the seventeenth-century politician who figures in the narrative, but his grandson, the author of Characteristics; moreover, Godwin draws attention to this anachronism (310). Henrietta is watched over by the Montagus, an aristocratic family who facilitate her marriage to Clifford, and who did not live at their aptly named country seat of Beaulieu until the eighteenth century (147n.2). And true to her Enlightenment character, when Mandeville is confined in a “receptacle for lunatics” at Cowley (233), Henrietta watches over him, oblivious to the “violence” and “blows” used to restrain him (234), which he describes in language that recalls the traumatic scenes of his childhood in Ireland (110). These scenes, which Mandeville recalls as “visionary,” in contrast to his “eventless” life in his uncle’s house (109–10), testify to a certain energizing power of the negative, even as abjection. For as Godwin’s contemporary Friedrich Schelling writes in his unpublished Ages of the World (1815), if we strip the veil from what has been “covered up and from the outside has adopted peaceful qualities,” “forces” are unconcealed that were previously “held down by the magic of life.” These “forces appear” when “an organic being becomes sick,” and are not simply diseased but mark the ferment of an “inner life that incessantly gives birth to itself and again consumes itself” (20, 48).

7.         It is all too easy to identify with Henrietta and Clifford because we ought to. But like all Godwin’s novels, the first-person narration induces what I have called a “perverse identification” with the main character (Romantic Narrative, 89, 136–38), in which we must turn against our own habitus in ways that disclose its tropological structuring. Freud describes the transgression of our own normality required for this transference, which does not work if the character is too removed from normality. To shake up an initial repression in the reader, Freud says, we must “follow the development of the illness along with the sufferer” (308–10). Hence Godwin builds a powerful case for Mandeville’s growing paranoia, which includes the Irish massacre, the cartoon episode, and the Royalist Penruddock insurgency against Cromwell where Mandeville wants to show his loyalty to the King but Clifford is preferred for the secretaryship because of the cartoon incident and Mandeville’s Presbyterian family. The case for Mandeville also includes the abuse consequently heaped on him at Oxford by his friend Lisle who sees him as a turncoat. As a result Mandeville has a psychotic break that leads to his confinement at Cowley. Henrietta’s tender care may beguile us into seeing this madhouse in terms of the later “humane psychiatry” associated with Philippe Pinel and the York Retreat. However, this is less a reality in the time of the Great Confinement than a way of unsettling our own enlightenment, by disclosing the “world of terrors” that a “benevolent hand seems to cover up from us,” as Schelling writes (49). And finally, because Mandeville is deemed insane, his former schoolmate Mallison and Mallison’s uncle, the lawyer Holloway, worm their way into the dying Audley’s affections and almost cheat Mandeville of his inheritance.

8.         At the same time, underlaid in Mandeville’s narration is a later voice that comments on religio-political history, women’s exclusion from education, and, untypically for a Royalist, Cromwell’s achievements (153–54, 192). The interweaving of these voices means that the narrative is not so much told as received in the first person, such that we may not literally identify with Mandeville, but have a responsibility to hear him. For as Schelling puts it, “humans show a natural predilection for the affirmative,” for what is outgoing and “self-giving” like Clifford, “just as much as they turn away from the negative,” from what is “inhibiting” and “conflicting, . . . that which, so to speak, should not be and yet is, nay, must be. . . . [this] No that resists the Yes, this darkening that resists the light, this obliquity that resists the straight, this left that resists the right, and however else one has attempted to express this eternal antithesis in images” (6).

9.         From this perspective, Mandeville’s “causeless aversion” (Lockhart 271) for Clifford is the site of the novel’s political unconscious, [6]  an alibi for the deconstruction of a damaged society that Godwin conducts through Mandeville. For as Theodor Adorno argues, if a “psycho-analysis” of our culture were possible, it would “show the sickness” of our time “to consist in normality.” The “achievements demanded” of someone “healthy in body and mind,” someone cheerful and able to adapt to the inevitable, are “performed only at the cost of the profoundest mutilation” (Adorno 58–59). Through Mandeville’s damaged life, we are forced to know what the “goodness” of Clifford and Henrietta excludes, the supreme condescension even of its attempts to be understanding, and its violence as a form of normalization. Or as Schelling puts it, “Conceptually, that which has being is always that in which the affirming principle is active and outwardly manifest.” But “it does not always follow that what has being in accord with” the normativity of “the concept . . . really has being.” For “level-headedness, and organization” can “just as well” be seen as that which “does not have being,” since “the affirming principle . . . has being . . . only by repressing the negating force in itself” (Schelling 15, 18).

10.         In what follows I approach the right of the negative through Mandeville’s Presbyterian affiliation as the cipher of a position, and then through the fanaticism that traverses the period as the vehicle for a dissensus that resurfaces in his misanthropy, the tropological structure of which is crystallized in the last chapter as a deliberate staging of trope and dis-figuration. In the sectarian geography of a period in which political government was being renegotiated through church government, there were three broad divisions. The Episcopalians placed bishops under the Archbishop, analogically guaranteeing monarchy. The Congregationalists gave each congregation the right to run its affairs, providing a basis for the “right of private judgment” that Godwin theorized as a form of rational dissent in his Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1: 170), but also a basis for various fanaticisms. The Presbyterians were in between, devolving authority to elders or presbyters, but not to individual congregations. The religious and political did not always synchronize, and their shifting, approximate, or expedient alignments are too complex to describe here. But they combined and decombined in ways which, though confusing, created a margin of error that both stalled history and drove it forward.

11.         Mandeville’s place in this religio-political web is complex and registers what is shut out from normalizing histories, whether they are Tory, Whig, or radical. Mandeville comes from an unaligned Presbyterian family, but in a perverse contortion of himself he becomes more staunchly Royalist after the cartoon episode. Unlike the religious Presbyterians in Scotland, the parliamentary Presbyterians in England followed what Godwin in the novel calls “a middle and temperate course” (157). At first their structures of church government made them question absolute monarchy. But they grew alarmed at the mix of radical democracy and religious sub-sects they had unleashed, and regrouped behind the King. While one could thus see the Presbyterians as precursors of the constitutional monarchy that simulated democracy after the Glorious Revolution, Godwin also saw them as progressive. That Mandeville is a Royalist but a Presbyterian is thus significant. On the one hand, against the grain of his own sympathies, Godwin writes a story with no Republican characters, a one-sidedness that gives the novel its claustrophobic shape. Is this because a Republican history, such as Godwin’s own History of the Commonwealth, is itself flawed in ways that can only be felt within what he calls an “individual” history, as opposed to a “general” history that glosses over particularities by focusing on recurrent patterns that are inevitably normative? [7]  After all, the interregnum saw the continuation of colonialism in Ireland and Barbados, while Parliament did more to oppress the Irish than did the King. So in the negative dialectic that forms his sense of history, which is always other to itself, Godwin can only (dis)figure his opposition to things as they are in the “damaged life” of someone from the other side. On the other hand, Mandeville is a Presbyterian Royalist, and proudly notes that the Presbyterians were “the original stirrers of the war between the king and the parliament” (156). This odd comment, coming from a Royalist, registers his difference from the Episcopalian Royalism of Clifford, aligning Mandeville with what he opposes, creating a space for what has not yet come to consciousness.

12.         By a similar troping or twisting, Mandeville is also subtextually aligned with Ireland. In a lurid figure he describes the “inter-destructiveness” that binds him and Clifford as conjoined twins:

Mezentius, the famous tyrant of antiquity, tied a living body to a dead one, and caused the one to take in, and gradually become a partner of, the putrescence of the other. I have read of twin children, whose bodies were so united in their birth, that they could never after be separated, while one carried with him, wherever he went, an intolerable load, and of whom, when one died, it involved the necessary destruction of the other. (230)
Much earlier, in 1786, in his letter “To the People of Ireland” urging them not to be seduced by economic arguments into a union with England, Godwin had used the same image:
few objects [are] more calamitous or more unnatural, than the union of two countries circumstanced as I have described. It is like that refined piece of cruelty, scarcely to be named by the tongue . . . of tying a living body [Ireland] to a dead one [England], and causing them to putrify and perish together. (301)
The repetition of this image subtextually aligns Mandeville, as a living body, with Ireland as a victim of oppression, an alignment again hinted at in the novel’s last paragraph, where Clifford’s wounding of Mandeville is compared to the branding of negro slaves by “tyrannical planters” (448), in a reference back to the plantations in Ireland with which the novel begins. Prima facie Mandeville should have no sympathy with the country where his parents were massacred. And yet in a perverse twisting of his psyche, he identifies with the victims of the English planters whom his father’s garrison was supposed to protect. In the circumstances it is not unreasonable to see in the struggle of Mandeville against Clifford a displaced version of what Godwin describes as the “grand contest” that animated the Stuart period (“History and Romance” 297): that of Parliament and King, or of the anonymous against those born to the royal manner and “brought up in reverential ideas of kingship and prerogative,” like Clifford (Mandeville 173). Hence the paradox that Mandeville finds the “visionary scenes” of “flight” and “murder” that followed the Ulster Rebellion more exhilarating than his “monotonous” and “eventless” life in his uncle’s house (109–10), as he finds the hiding-places of power in half-memories of his infancy in Ireland: the place of his psychic birth as a subject of injustice, a body in bits and pieces, like the body politic of Britain itself.

13.         This hermeneutic skew whereby the positive is inverted into the negative also helps explain the role of fanaticism in the novel. In his early essay “Of History and Romance” (1797), written for a second edition of The Enquirer but not published, Godwin singles out the period of the Stuarts “as the only portion of our history interesting to the heart of man.” He dismisses the “servile courtiers” of the preceding Elizabethan period, and the triviality of history after 1688: “From the moment that the grand contest excited under the Stuarts was quieted by the [Glorious] Revolution, our history assumes its most insipid and insufferable form. It is the history of negotiations and tricks.” But he sees the potential of the Stuart period for generating a “history of genuine, independent man” as “obscured by the vile jargon of fanaticism” (296–97). Yet in the novel, fanaticism is more complex: an environment for the energies unleashed by the English Revolution that Christopher Hill describes as “a third culture” which exceeds the struggle of King and parliament. This “popular, heretical culture” emphasized the Bible as “interpreted by individual conscience,” but its views came “jumbled up with magical and prophetical ideas” (69–79). The novel is peppered with these sects mentioned by Hilkiah or Mandeville himself, not all of which are fundamentalist. For they include fanatical and apocalyptic sects like the Fifth Monarchists, who existed only from 1649–61, who were obsessed with the apocalyptic number 666 as a year close at hand, and who took their name from a prophecy in the Book of Daniel that four monarchies would precede the fifth monarchy or new spiritual kingdom of Christ. But the sects mentioned in Mandeville also include enthusiasts such as the Quakers and the Diggers or “True Levellers,” radical democrats some of whose ideas lie at the origins of Godwin’s own Rational Dissent and his views on property. Such sects are absent from the more rational History of the Commonwealth, as is the broader environment of Catholic-Protestant fanaticism introduced into the novel at the very beginning by the Irish massacre. The suppression of these sects after the Restoration, and particularly the Glorious Revolution, is one reason why subsequent British history is “insipid” (Godwin, “History and Romance” 297), as Lee Morrissey recognizes in opposing a seventeenth-century public sphere of dissensus to the Habermasian consensual public sphere of the next century (1–53).

14.         As a channel for this third culture, and the very embodiment of fanaticism, Hilkiah injects a dark urgency into the novel. Hilkiah is the animus and animating principle that separates Mandeville’s non-conformity from that of Audley, who stands beyond his nephew as a “celestial spirit” (304), but sinks “without power of resistance” under “any hostility” (87). Yet Hilkiah’s bigotry indicates how the legacy of dissensus comes forth warped and convoluted by what that has not yet been set right in a culture that represses its underlying contradictions. Hilkiah’s influence works itself “deeply into the substance” of Mandeville’s character (123), in the misanthropy that structures his psyche as the negative of itself. Yet Mandeville is not positively attached to Hilkiah and indeed feels a “rooted aversion of heart” from his preceptor (129). Though he speaks Hilkiah’s Biblical and stilted language, he has no stake in the religious controversies of the time. Hence fanaticism is secularized and troped into misanthropy, as Mandeville lives on into the Restoration, though obscurely, as the figure for “something not yet made good that pushes its essence forward” in the trauma of the seventeenth century.

15.         The phrase is used by Habermas in an unusual essay in which he links Ernst Bloch to Schelling so as to submit what Schelling calls the “darkening that resists the light” (6)—or the “matter” that stalls “history”—to a “utopian treatment.” (Habermas, “Ernst Bloch” 71).  [8]  What Bloch finds in Schelling’s rotary movement between the affirmative and negative drives is a “primordial hunger” in which the “knot of the world presses toward resolution,” making the negative “the elemental energy of hope” (Habermas, “Ernst Bloch” 63, 69–71). Fanaticism is this dark knot, which Alberto Toscano has recently analyzed as more than simply “the encroachment of religion into a supposedly secularized public sphere.” What separates the fanatic from a madman in his refusal to compromise is the “universality” at which he aims (Toscano xi–xii). Interestingly Toscano reads fanaticism through Bloch’s principle of synchronicity and non-synchronicity, in which Bloch, writing during the Nazi period, tries to “forge a theory of fascism that would . . . confront head-on the affective purchase of distinctly millenarian ideas” that were a “perversion of the anti-clerical and egalitarian heresies which find their source” in the twelfth century (52–53). For Bloch, who does not believe that the “archaic” will be subsumed by “progress,” there is always a non-synchronicity between the present and “the incomplete pasts that teem in its interstices” (Toscano 53–55). Hill’s third culture is precisely a collection of such “modes of organization and belief” which are “out of joint with a politically and economically defined (and enforced) present” (Toscano 52). This anachronism is throughout the novel, and penetrates Mandeville’s Latinate and Biblical diction, not to mention the non-synchronicity of Godwin’s writing a novel about the seventeenth century in the nineteenth century, and our reading of the novel in the twenty-first century.

16.         To be sure, Godwin is not a fanatic: hence his decision to respond moderately to the Gagging Acts in his “Considerations on Lord Grenville’s and Mr. Pitt’s Bills,” a decision that offended his more radical colleague, John Thelwall. But in the years between the 1790s and 1817 something had changed, and in writing a novel that allows us to trace the misanthropy that so fascinated him back to fanaticism, Godwin probes the question raised by Toscano, as to whether there can be a “history” without fanaticism (xxiii). The next text in the historical series that Godwin wrote out of sequence is his Lives of Edward and John Philips, set partly in the Restoration, and the further ones are Caleb Williams and Fleetwood. [9]  The misanthropy probed in these novels is more brooding and inward-directed than the “hatred” which Mandeville, who also describes himself as a misanthrope, calls his “ruling passion” (305, 343). We can approach misanthropy through what Hegel, drawing on the physiology of his time but giving it a more psychological coloring, calls “irritability.” Irritability is a “reaction of self-maintenance” against the other “with which it is in relation” (Hegel 358–59), a dis-ease in which the self is “restricted to itself” as “the negative of itself” (Hegel 438), such that the “negative thing is the structure itself” (Hegel 429). But whereas Hegelian negativity has a certain propulsive force, which also drives fanaticism, the negativity of Fleetwood, as irritability, remains unfocused, more at the level of drive than desire.

17.         Fleetwood is subtitled “the new man of feeling” in an allusion to the novel of sensibility. In the etiology of a damaged society traced through Godwin’s novels, misanthropy as irritability is thus more (re)active than sensibility, but is nevertheless a domestication of fanaticism. This is to say that in retrospect we can read Fleetwood’s status as a “domestic story” symptomatically. After the Restoration and the Enlightenment, as we see in the de-generation of Milton through his nephews, the “civic apathy and depoliticization” characteristic of an age of commerce (Toscano 23) are the order of the day. Audley’s “apathy and neutrality” (Mandeville 236), which are not indifference but the radical passivity of pure retreat, make him transcendentally “unequal to contention” (87). But Fleetwood’s misanthropy is a purely private trope for the dissensus that showed itself more openly during the interregnum, and that dissipates itself in ennui after the Enlightenment. “Born from a prior failure” (Toscano xxiv), fanaticism, of course, is also deeply tropological, doubly negative: a negation of what it hates and a negation of itself. And yet it is invested in history, which misanthropy is not.

18.         Mandeville ends shockingly with the hero looking at his disfigured face in a glass darkly. Though he may be fifty-two when he writes his story, [10]  he breaks it off when he is just short of twenty-one. Some readers find this ending difficult to absorb, speculating that Godwin meant to continue the novel. Yet despite casual remarks about doing so and about ending with the Titus Oates conspiracy when Mandeville would have been thirty-nine, in his correspondence with Constable Godwin speaks only of three volumes (71), following the three-act structure of a play. One can also see the end as premature because of two references to writing from a wiser perspective (191, 220). But these are in Volume 2, and in a period before the use of the speed-press, authors handed over their work in parts rather than as a completed manuscript to which we can attribute “final authorial intention”—a practice with which Godwin expressed repeated discomfort, as he emphasized that he was constantly revising, did not want to surrender the manuscript in parts, and was anxious at having a printer at the distance of Edinburgh. [11]  The passages in question, like the concession to having Constable advertise the novel as a domestic story (see note 3), may be holdovers from an earlier stage of conception or genuflections to taste. By the eighteenth century, “taste” and “aesthetics” had become powerful tools for closing down an earlier public sphere that was characterized by dissensus. Indeed, Godwin is interested in the seventeenth century “in England” precisely because it was a more open, violent and contentious time, and the schoolboy episode of the cartoons refers in miniature to the pamphlet wars of the seventeenth century, which once again threatened to crack open the immunitary mechanisms of the public sphere in the 1790s. Correspondingly, there is scant evidence in Mandeville of any mandatory maturity, and the novel actively resists the institution of taste.

19.         I therefore suggest a different hypothesis: that Godwin meant to conclude with Volume 3, but hit on the mirror stage as the most effective finale only at the end. From his correspondence and diary, it seems that he started revising the last volume, briefly interrupted his revisions on the death of his friend, the Irish patriot John Philpot Curran, to whom he dedicates the novel, but then also stopped for three days to write six more pages, before he returned to revising the whole. [12]  Much like what happened with Caleb Williams, we can thus see Godwin as having written two endings, first finishing with Chapter XVI, and then adding what is now the last chapter. These “endings” could not be more different.

20.         Chapter XVI ends bitterly, “Aye; my story is arrived at a festival” (441). Had the text concluded with this hysterical rant on Henrietta’s betrayal, it would be worthy of the anonymous parody which is bound with Mandeville in the British Library copy, and which was written as a fourth volume and subtitled “last words of a maniac!” But the further chapter adds two things: the assault on the marriage coach which replaces the Oates conspiracy, and the shift from Henrietta to Mandeville himself, whose tone is now tightly controlled. Unlike Chapter XVI, which brings Mandeville’s psychic disintegration to a head, in this ending he gathers himself together as a subject. But this is a subject who survives as bare life, one who has exchanged his position as the son of parents allied with the planters in Ireland for that of a negro slave in a later plantation, and whose very facelessness is the face of anonymous history:

I had received a deep and perilous gash, the broad brand of which I shall not fail to carry with me to my grave. The sight of my left eye is gone; the cheek beneath is severed, with a deep trench between. My wound is of that sort, which in the French civil wars got the name of une balafre. I have pleased myself, in the fury and bitterness of my soul, with tracing the whole force of that word. It is cicatrix luculenta, a glazed or shining scar, like the effect of a streak of varnish upon a picture. Balafre I find explained by Girolamo Vittori, by the Italian word smorfiato; and this again—I mean the noun smorfia—is decided by “the resolute” John Florio to signify . . . a mocking or push with one’s mouth. The explanation of these lexicographers is happily suited to my case, and the mark I for ever carry about with me. The reader may recollect the descriptions I have occasionally been obliged to give, of the beauty of my person and countenance. . . . When I first looked in my glass, and saw my face, once more stripped of its tedious dressings, I thought I never saw anything so monstrous. . . . The sword of my enemy had given a perpetual grimace, a sort of preternatural and unvarying distorted smile, or deadly grin, to my countenance. . . . Every time my eye accidentally caught my mirror, I saw Clifford, and the cruel heart of Clifford, branded into me. My situation was not like what it had hitherto been. Before, to think of Clifford was an act of the mind . . . now I bore Clifford and his injuries perpetually about with me. Even as certain tyrannical planters in the West Indies have set a brand with a red hot iron upon the negroes they have purchased, to denote that they are irremediably a property, so Clifford had set his mark upon me, as a token that I was his for ever. (447–48)
The identity Mandeville claims here is defiantly traumatic, stubbornly attached to the imprints of his subjection, as the imprints of multiple texts on a body which he bequeaths to his reader as, precisely, a text. Yet the tone is also triumphant, because master and slave, Clifford and Mandeville, are finally equals. Now Clifford is indeed tied to Mandeville, as the dead body of England to a living body. Or perhaps we should not describe it as a living body but as one that lives on, in Derrida’s particular sense of sur-vivre as “non-closure,” and “the endurance of that which cannot exist” (Guyer 251–52). Because Clifford has hurt Mandeville, he is at last guilty; the figure of the “good” has been ruined, disfigured.

21.         One commentator, responding in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine to the more sympathetic review by John Gibson Lockhart, and noting the novel’s excessively metaphoric style, criticized this passage for its “surgically technical” language (405–08). But its pedantry is the very cicatrix of which it speaks, a tightening and drying of the skin over a wound. If metaphor, as Ortega y Gasset says, “substitutes one thing for another—from an urge not so much to get at the first as to get rid of the second” (31), the cicatrix as the scar of this euphemism, this turning away, is the laying bare of the substitutions that inform even the barest facts and the wounds they cover over. It is a laying bare that is in turn its own form of covering and shelter.

22.         The tone of this passage is at once masochistic and exhilarating. We cannot just dismiss Mandeville as disturbed because we find the scene disturbing. Like trope itself as a turning, like the twisting of perverse identification, the passage must be turned back on itself. It must be read and re-read not just for Mandeville’s resistances but for our own resistances to what does not agree with traditional criteria of “beauty” that lead us to turn away from a face that is too hard to face. For in its reference to criteria of beauty, the scene holds the mirror up to aesthetics as the art of thinking beautifully (Baumgarten 533), and also to the making of figures and the evasions of reading that make literature conform to taste instead of being the place of the “absolute secret” (Derrida 28–29). In fact, Mandeville only speaks once of the comely figure he once cut, and this is in connection with the uncommon beauty of his horse (344). It is, rather, the vocabulary of disease and wounds that has been throughout the text, but “secret” psychic wounds (209, 231, 251, 317, 331, 336, 365). Now, however, the wound is finally external, allowing him to speak as a survivor of war, so that Godwin can remove the “tedious bandages” from myths of Restoration and settlement. Yet if we now see the unvarnished truth behind the symbolic veneer, even that truth can be grasped only tropologically through lexicographers, as the passage foregrounds the substitutions of language, turning from French to Latin to Italian, as if to emphasize something esoteric, something that remains withheld, a dark energy that has yet to be deciphered.

23.         The metapsychology of the novel’s doubly retreating negativity is well described by Schelling, who never published the Ages, and may never have emerged from grappling with its negativity. Schelling tries to redeem the negative in terms of the “inverted position” of “life forces” (18). Referring to the two potencies which he had initially described as the affirming or “outpouring” force and the “force of selfhood, of retreat into self” (6), Schelling writes of their interimplication: “What in the preceding potency was the exterior, contracting, and negating, is itself, in the successive potency, the inner, contracted, and self-negated. And conversely, what was there inhibited, is what is here free” (18).

24.         The thrust of this passage is a theory of “involution” (Schelling 83), wherein the two forces, similar to eros and thanatos, are both “far from each other and infinitely near. Far, because what is affirmed and manifest in one of them, is posited in the other as negated and in the dark. Near, because it only requires an inversion, a turning out of what was concealed . . . to transpose, and so to speak, transform, the one into the other” (18). The “turning out” of each into the other and the syntactic balance of this phrasing imply a coming together of opposites, and this inversion/conversion are what permit us to find in Schelling a certain utopianism, as Bloch also did. In the longer view allowed by Godwin’s history in bits and pieces, it is not wrong to see in Mandeville as well this utopianism of something “not yet made good that pushes its essence forward.” But unlike Shelley’s hope in Prometheus Unbound, which “creates / From its own wreck the thing it contemplates” (4: 573–74), it is far from clear in Mandeville what we hope for. Similarly in the passage from Schelling, there is really no positive; there is the mere trace of a promise in the phrase “it only requires.” The first “potency” exists only as “contracting and negating,” as, for example, in the “intrenchment” by which Mandeville cuts himself off from the human race (Godwin, Mandeville 171), while in the sequel it is “contracted and self-negated” rather than “negating” (emphases mine). What can be the difference between these negations except that by virtue of turning in on itself to negate itself, as in Mandeville’s exhilaration over his defacement, what has been restrained is now “free” and is no longer “exterior” to itself, so that what was “negated and in the dark” has become “manifest” (Schelling 18).

25.         The story, as we have said, ends when Mandeville is just short of the age of majority, and this is because Godwin cannot see his way to the narrative of historical maturation told by Burke and Scott in which Britain, unlike France, went through its revolution and regicide before the Enlightenment. It is because the period before the Glorious Revolution remains, even now, in the moment of our reading, an open wound like the “perilous gash” across Mandeville’s face. But after this turning out of what was concealed, the figure or “mark” that Mandeville makes (447) again retreats, as he lives on anonymously, for some thirty years, into the Restoration. And yet even as he remains “in the dark” and “self-negated” the concluding reference to slavery also brings the novel full circle into the present. Returning to the plantations in Ireland with which the novel began, it links them to the racism and imperialism of Godwin’s own time in a circle of political injustice. This circle enfolds Mandeville’s personal wounds in a complex tropology with secret recesses, in which Mandeville must invert himself into the victim of the “tyrannical planters” with whom his family was aligned, exposing the self-confuting logic of a “United Kingdom” of Great Britain and projecting a damaged self that exists only as its negation, like a negative that remains to be developed.

Works Cited

Reviews of Mandeville

The British Review and London Critical Journal, vol. 9, no. 2, 1818, pp. 108–20.

[Lockhart, John Gibson]. “Remarks on Godwin’s New Novel Mandeville.” Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, vol. 2, no. 9, Dec 1817, pp. 268–79.

[Response to review by Lockhart]. Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, vol. 2, no. 10, Jan 1818, pp. 402–8.

Other Works Cited

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Bloch, Ernst. “Nonsynchronism and the Obligation to its Dialectics.” New German Critique, no. 11, 1977, pp. 22–38.

Constable, Thomas. “William Godwin.” Archibald Constable and his Literary Correspondents. Vol. 2, Edinburgh, Edmonston and Douglas, 1873. pp. 47–98, 3 vols.

Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari. Kafka: Towards a Minor Literature. Translated by Dana Polan, U of Minnesota P, 1986.

Derrida, Jacques. On the Name. Translated by Thomas Dutoit, Stanford UP, 1995.

Foucault, Michel. “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History.” Language, counter-memory, practice: selected essays and interviews. Edited by Donald F. Bouchard, translated by Donald F. Bouchard and Sherry Simon. Cornell UP, 1977, pp. 139–64.

Freud, Sigmund. “Psychopathic Characters on the Stage.” Complete Psychological Works. Edited by James Strachey, vol. 7, Hogarth Press, 1953–74, pp. 303–10, 24 vols.

Garside, P.D., J.E. Belanger and S.A. Ragaz. “Publishing Papers” for Mandeville. British Fiction, 1800–1829: A Database of Production, Circulation, and Reception, www.british-fiction.cf.ac.uk/.

Godwin, William. “Considerations on Lord Grenville’s and Mr. Pitt’s Bills, concerning treasonable and seditious practices, and unlawful assemblies.” Political and Philosophical Writings of William Godwin. Edited by Mark Philp, vol. 2, Pickering and Chatto, 1993, pp. 123–62, 5 vols.

---. The Diary of William Godwin. Edited by Victoria Myers et al., Oxford Digital Library, 2010, godwindiary.bodleian.ox.ac.uk.

---. Enquiry Concerning Political Justice and its Influence on Morals and Happiness. 3rd ed, 1798, edited by F. E. L. Priestley. U of Toronto P, 1946, 3 vols.

---. Fleetwood: Or, the New Man of Feeling. 1805. Collected Novels and Memoirs of William Godwin, edited by Mark Philp, vol. 5, Pickering and Chatto, 1992. Edited by Pamela Clemit, 8 vols.

---. History of the Commonwealth of England from its Commencement to the Restoration of Charles the Second. London, Henry Colburn, 1824–28, 4 vols.

---. “Of History and Romance.” 1797, Political and Philosophical Writings of William Godwin, edited by Pamela Clemit, vol. 5, 1993, pp. 291–301.

---. “Ireland.” The Morning Chronicle, December 25. 1821. Uncollected Writings (1785–1822), edited by Jack W. Marken and Burton R. Pollin, Scholars’ Facsimiles and Reprints, 1968, pp. 471–3.

---. The Lives of Edward and John Philips, Nephews and Pupils of Milton. London, Longman, Hurst, Rees, 1815.

---. Mandeville: A Tale of the Seventeenth Century in England. 1817. Edited and annotated by Tilottama Rajan, Broadview Press, 2015.

---. “Preface” to the Standard Authors Edition of Fleetwood. 1832. Collected Novels and Memoirs of William Godwin, vol. 5., pp. 7–12.

---. “To the People of Ireland,” signed Mucius. 1786. Political and Philosophical Writings, Edited by Martin Fitzpatrick, vol. 1, pp. 297–303.

Guyer, Sara. “The Rhetoric of Survival and the Possibility of Romanticism.” Studies in Romanticism, vol. 46, no. 2, 2007, pp. 247–63.

Habermas, Jürgen. “The German Idealism of the Jewish Philosophers.” 1961. Philosophical-Political Profiles, translated by Frederick G. Lawrence, MIT P, 1985, pp. 21–44.

---. “Ernst Bloch: A Marxist Schelling.” 1960. Philosophical-Political Profiles, pp. 63–79.

Hegel, G. W. F. Philosophy of Nature. Translated by A. V. Miller, Clarendon, 1970.

Hill, Christopher. Milton and the English Revolution. Faber and Faber, 1979.

Locke, Don. A Fantasy of Reason: The Life and Thought of William Godwin. Routledge / Kegan Paul, 1980.

Mandeville; Or, the Last Words of a Maniac! A Tale of the Seventeenth Century in England. By Himself. London, Effingham Wilson, 1818.

Morrissey, Lee. The Constitution of Literature: Literacy, Democracy, and Early English Literary Criticism. Stanford UP, 2008.

Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenberg). Philosophical Writings. Translated and edited by Margaret Mahony Stoljar. State U of New York P, 1997.

Ortega y Gasset, José. The Dehumanization of Art and Other Writings on Art and Culture. Doubleday, 1956.

Rajan, Tilottama. “Between General and Individual History: Godwin’s Seventeenth-Century Texts.” Special issue on Godwin, edited by Rowland Weston. Nineteenth Century Prose, vol. 41, nos. 2/3, Spring/Fall 2014, pp.111–60.

---. “The Dis-Figuration of Enlightenment: War, Trauma, and the Historical Novel in Godwin’s Mandeville.” Godwinian Moments: From Enlightenment to Romanticism, edited by Robert Maniquis and Victoria Myers, U of Toronto P, 2011, pp.172–93.

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Notes

[1] Godwin began writing Mandeville in 1816 and completed the first volume in January 1817; he received the proofs of the second volume back on May 16th and completed the novel in October 1817. The Seditious Meetings Act and the Treason Act were both passed in March, 1817. These were renewals of the similarly named acts of 1795 which were due to expire because of a sunset clause, and about which Godwin had written, quite temperately, in “Considerations on Lord Grenville’s and Mr. Pitt’s Bills.” A Habeas Corpus Suspension Act was also passed in 1817; there had been similar acts in 1798 and 1799. BACK

[2] In a contribution to The Morning Chronicle on “Ireland” (1821), Godwin attributes the burgeoning population of Ireland to poverty, and sees Britain’s miserable treatment of this minor country as a global problem that could well reopen the tenuous and false “peace” achieved by Britain’s victory at Waterloo (473). BACK

[3] For further discussion of the significance of the hiatus between Fleetwood and Mandeville, see my “Introduction” to Mandeville (11–18). For further discussion of how Godwin was writing a more global history in bits and pieces, see my article “Between Individual and General History” (115–19). The present article draws on both of the above. I am grateful to Broadview Press and Nineteenth-Century Prose for allowing me to do so. BACK

[4] . Godwin’s publisher Constable wanted him to remove the words “in England” and replace them with “domestic story,” which he did for purposes of an Advertisement, but would not do on the title-page itself. See in Garside: the letters of September 27th, 1816 (where Godwin is already using the final subtitle) and October 7th, 1816 (where he accedes to a substitution). On April 16th, 1817, when he had either finished Vol. 2 or was close to doing so (he received proofs back on May 16th), Godwin strongly insisted on the original title, adding, “In civility to your objection I made a verbal alteration in this phrase; but I am grown less modest and pliant now . . . and I request that the first and more significant title may be restored” (Constable 88). BACK

[5] . Criticizing Godwin on numerous points of historical accuracy, The British Review claims that “the historical part and the fictitious have no close connection with each other” and the “historical passages appear as awkward appendages.” The reviewer goes so far as to say that if the entire section on the Irish massacre were “expunged, the story would lose nothing” (11–20). Even more sympathetic reviewers concentrate only on Mandeville himself and not on the dialectic with the historical background. The parodic “fourth” volume bound with Godwin’s novel in a British Library copy and entitled Mandeville: Last Words of a Maniac! also dehistoricizes the text. Finally, “Miserrimus,” printed privately by Frederick Reynolds, an admirer of Godwin and editor of The Keepsake, has many parallels to Godwin’s novel, and also reduces the story to a love triangle. BACK

[6] . Aversion, as turning away, is itself a form of emotional trope. Interestingly the word occurs seventeen times in the novel, most of them significant (e.g. 60, 107, 109, 116, 129, 132, 216, 248, 297, 365, 369, 389, 406). BACK

[7] These are terms Godwin uses in his essay “Of History and Romance,” to distinguish an individual history that follows a man “into his closet” from a general history that looks for universal patterns and is therefore a form of what he would call “institution.” Individual history is a source of transformative, or in the case of Mandeville, traumatic particulars with which the reader interacts as in a magnetic field of (dis)affinities (291–94). BACK

[8] Although Habermas’ work subsequently went in a very different direction, his dissertation was on Schelling. Referring to Schelling’s philosophy of nature and Ages of the World, Habermas’ comments on Bloch and Schelling in this essay and in another essay on “The German Idealism of the Jewish Philosophers” (cf. 39–40) are brief and evocative rather than documentary in bringing Schelling into a tradition of Marxist negative dialectics, in which we might be more used to seeing Hegel. For a “Schellingian” reading of Mandeville see my article, “The Disfiguration of Enlightenment” (175, 182–87). BACK

[9] Edward Philips lived from 1630 to circa 1696, and John lived from 1631–1706. The nephews’ lives span the seventeenth century but John, in particular, is a Restoration character. On the Lives, see my essay “Uncertain Futures.” BACK

[10] Since Mandeville, who is born in 1638, refers to Dryden’s dedication of his play Amphitryon (1690) to Leveson Gower (228), he must be at least fifty two at the time he writes his memoir. BACK

[11] . See Letter of February 3rd, 1817 (Garside), and also Constable (72, 80–82, 85). BACK

[12] See my “Introduction” for discussion of the philological reasons for my conclusions here (41–42). BACK