St. Leon
A Tale of the Sixteenth Century
  • Publication Date: February 22, 2006
  • ISBN: 9781551115382 / 1551115387
  • 508 pages; 5½" x 8½"

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St. Leon

A Tale of the Sixteenth Century

  • Publication Date: February 22, 2006
  • ISBN: 9781551115382 / 1551115387
  • 508 pages; 5½" x 8½"

Set in Europe during the Protestant Reformation and first published in 1799, St. Leon tells the story of an impoverished aristocrat who obtains the philosopher’s stone and the elixir of immortality. In this philosophical fable, endless riches and immortal life prove to be curses rather than gifts and transform St. Leon into an outcast. William Godwin’s second full-length novel explores the predicament of a would-be philanthropist whose attempts to benefit humanity are frustrated by superstition and ignorance.

This Broadview edition includes a critical introduction and full annotation. The appendices include contemporary reviews of the novel; Godwin’s writings on immortality, the domestic affections, and alchemy; and selections from works influenced by St. Leon, most notably Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.


St. Leon, Godwin’s second major novel, is a radical experiment in fictional genres. Into a historical novel of vast range and violence Godwin melded elements of the domestic novel, the philosophical novel, and the scientific fantasy. More relentlessly than the earlier Caleb Williams, this novel tests Godwin’s philosophical premises to destruction, showing the importance—and failure—of family affections and the disintegration of effective social responsibility. William Brewer’s judicious annotations and informative introduction equip the reader to understand Godwin’s re-evaluation of his earlier views; the appendices contain ample material illustrating the novel’s influence on other writers, its relation to Godwin’s other works, and the lively reactions of contemporary reviewers.” — Victoria Myers, Pepperdine University

“William Brewer’s edition of St. Leon is more than simply a new, well-edited version of the text. The introduction alone—which includes a precis of other important current critical work on St. Leon—makes this a must-have edition, rehearsing as it does the place of this unclassifiable novel in Godwin’s development and in the period, the influences visible in the novel, including its political implications and sources, and the novel’s reception and literary heirs. Many of these issues can be further pursued through the judiciously chosen excerpts in the appendices.” — Lisa M. Steinman, Reed College



William Godwin: A Brief Chronology

A Note on the Text

St. Leon: A Tale of the Sixteenth Century

Appendix A: From Hermippus Redivivus (1744): The Inspiration for St. Leon

Appendix B: William Godwin on Immortality, the Domestic Affections, and Alchemy

  1. From William Godwin, Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, and its Influence on General Virtue and
  2. From William Godwin, Memoirs of the Author of a Vindication of the Rights of Woman, 2nd Edition (1798)
  3. From William Godwin, Lives of the Necromancers (1834)
    1. Alchemy
    2. Cornelius Agrippa
    3. Paracelsus

Appendix C: Reviews of St. Leon

  1. The Monthly Review (1800)
  2. Critical Review (January 1800)
  3. Monthly Magazine, and British Register (20 January 1800)
  4. Monthly Mirror: Reflecting Men and Manners (January 1800)

Appendix D: From Edward Du Bois, St. Godwin (1800)

Appendix E: The Influence of St. Leon

  1. From John Burk, Bethlem Gabor, Lord of Transylvania, or, The Man Hating Palatine (1807)
  2. From Percy Bysshe Shelley, St. Irvyne; or,The Rosicrucian: A Romance (1811)
  3. From Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818)
  4. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, “The Mortal Immortal: A Tale” (1833)

Select Bibliography

William Brewer is a Professor of English at Appalachian State University. His publications include The Shelley-Byron Conversation (1994) and The Mental Anatomies of William Godwin and Mary Shelley (2001).