All ETDs from UAB

Advisory Committee Chair

Kyle Grimes

Advisory Committee Members

Randa Graves

Daniel Siegel

Samantha Webb

Document Type


Date of Award


Degree Name by School

Master of Arts (MA) College of Arts and Sciences


The members of the Shelley Circle attempted to live their lives by and produce works consistent with an arguably unrealistic and utopian political value system. Thematically, the writers show remarkable similarity in attempting to render the ideal real. During the period between 1816 and 1819, Percy Shelley, Mary Shelley, and William Godwin were struggling with living their ideals in a harsh reality. I examine two major works from each author: Godwin’s Political Justice and Caleb Williams, Percy Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound and The Cenci, and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Mathilda. In each case (with the exception of Godwin), when moving from the former to the latter works, a thematic shift occurs which focuses on the father figure as an allegorical expression of tyranny. There is also a chronological component whereby ideals—and the attendant problems of implementing those ideals—give way to a more pragmatic explication of a “middle way,” between absolute tyranny and the New Philosophy’s brand of political anarchy. Godwin escapes the pattern because he establishes his utopian vision in Political Justice and dramatizes its precepts in Caleb Williams. And, perhaps more importantly, he is the central father figure in the Shelley Circle. The central idea in Political Justice of humanity’s “perfectibility” is extrapolated and realized over the course of these works in the cases of each author and the Circle as a group. iii With close reading of the primary texts, I show that there is a necessarily more discursive and recursive process unique to this writing community in effect. Although they were all radical thinkers and writers at different times, they realized that those who survive get to tell the tale and that pure reason sometimes does not triumph over tyranny.



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