Godwin, Fénelon, and the disappearing teacher

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Allen, Graham
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The connection between Godwin and Fénelon has traditionally been restricted to the famous and controversial moment in the first edition of Political Justice (1793) in which Godwin presents an example of the interdependence of rationality and ethical action. This paper argues, however, that Fénelon, and particularly his political and educational treatise Telemachus (1699), plays a significant role in a number of Godwin's subsequent fictional works. Employing Telemachus to explore the theories of education presented by Godwin in the various editions of Political Justice and The Enquirer (1797), this paper explores the manner in which Godwin's version of the Enlightenment transcendence of pedagogical power comes up against its limits. Reading this issue in relation to Godwin's argument, in ‘Of Choice in Reading’, that literature remains outside of socio-ethical corruption, three of Godwin's major novels are shown to demonstrate that Telemachus provides the chance for meta-textual moments in which the appeal to reason (the reader's rational capacity or ‘private judgement’) is at once reflected upon and produced. Reading educational theories and problems into Godwin's major fiction in this fashion helps to clarify aspects of the Godwinian (or ‘Jacobin’) novel.
Godwin , Fénelon , Education
Allen, G., 2007. Godwin, Fénelon, and the disappearing teacher. History of European Ideas, 33(1), pp.9-24.
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