(1756—1836) philosopher and novelist
was at first a Dissenting minister, but became an atheist and philosopher of anarchical view. He believed that men acted according to reason and that rational creatures could live in harmony without laws or institutions. He married Mary Wollstonecraft in 1797; she died at the birth of their daughter Mary, the future wife of Shelley, and Godwin subsequently married Mrs Clairmont, whose daughter by her first marriage, Claire Clairmont, bore a daughter, Allegra, to Lord Byron.
Godwin produced in 1793 his Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, in which he proclaimed that ‘Truth is omnipotent…Man is perfectible, or in other words susceptible of perpetual improvement’. In 1794 he published The Adventures of Caleb Williams. His life of Mary Wollstonecraft, Memoirs of the Author of a Vindication of the Rights of Woman, appeared in 1798; and there is a portrait of her in his novel St Leon (1799). He wrote several other novels (Fleetwood, 1805; Mandeville, 1817; Cloudesley, 1830; Deloraine, 1833) and a life of Chaucer (1803–4).