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Name:                 Emma Povall

PhD:                   English Literature

Thesis Title:       Godwin and Holcroft: Writing and Friendship


Thesis Description:

Friendship in Principle, Person, and Word: William Godwin’s Theory of Sociability, Key Influences, Writing and the Advancement of Reform 


William Godwin was a religious dissenter, political journalist, novelist, and author of his philosophical treatise Political Justice. The principal aim of my thesis is to provide a distinctive investigation of Godwin’s theory of sociability, and to consider its development and practical and literary dissemination. Investigating key influences, particularly the influence of his intimate friend the actor, novelist, and playwright, Thomas Holcroft, I will show Holcroft as having a crucial role in shaping Godwin’s whole model of sociability and intellectual exchange. Examining a selection of Godwin’s and Holcroft’s political writings, letters, diaries, early narratives, and novels reveals how each writer was acutely aware of differing types of genre and audience, and establishes how, at a time of political repression, they practised a politicised model of friendship at the very moment government sought to undermine it. Godwin used his model to develop an idea of essential equality: he sought to engage all of mankind in politically inflected friendship in order to achieve moral equality.  Working as a virtual and practical partnership, Godwin and Holcroft shared a belief in the written word as a powerful vehicle of influence and modelled friendship in their writings so as to advance social and political reform.


Supervisors and Institution(s):

Professor Tim Fulford (De Montfort)

Professor Joe Phelan (De Montfort)

Doctor Felicity James (Leicester)




Scholarly / Public Engagement Activities:

  • 'William Godwin, Publishers, Dinner Parties and the 'Freedom of Social Communication.' The Romantic Dinner Party: A Celebration of the Bicentenary of the Immortal Dinner in December 1817: The Charles Lamb Society, Bloomsbury, London, 9 December 2018.
  • 'Reverence, Reviews and Rebuke: The Tenuous Friendship of William Godwin and Robert Southey, and the Godwinian Model of Friendship.' Robert Southey and Romantic-era literature, culture and science: 1797, 1817, 2017, Clifton, Bristol, 11-13 April 2017.
  • 'William Godwin's Cursory Strictures: Exercising Sociable Liberty and Debate.' British Society for Eighteenth Century Studies (BSECS) 46th Annual Conference 2017: Friends, Allies and Enemies, St Hugh's College, Oxford University, 4-6 January 2017.
  • 'Coleridge, Godwin, and 'Bethlem Gabor': Friends, Foes, St. Leon, and the Godwinian Model of Friendship.' Summer Coleridge Conference, Bristol University, 1-5 August 2016.
  • 'Voice of the Radical Friend: Thomas Holcroft's Hugh Trevor.' Romantic Voices 1760-1840: British Association for Romantic Studies (BARS) EC & PG Conference, Oxford University, 22-23 June 2016.
  • 'English Jacobin Writers 1780-1805: The Power of Literature and Representation.' Cutting Edge Postgraduate Conference: CULTURE, IDENTITY, REPRESENTATION, Edge Hill University, 22 March 2014.
  • 'Byron, Godwin and Wordsworth: The conquering mind and questions of imprisonment.' Annual Student Byron Conference, Edge Hill University, 22 May 2013. 



  • British Association of Romantic Studies
  • British Society for Eighteenth Century Studies
  • Friends of Coleridge
  • John Thelwall Society
  • North American Society for the Study of Romanticism


Other Research Interests:

  • Romantic works
  • Political writing
  • Enlightenment rationalism
  • Sociable Networks
  • Social and political history (particularly late eighteenth century)
  • Dissenting communities
  • Eighteenth Century Theatre
  • Newgate Novel
  • The place of London in literature


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