Sunday, November 23, 2008


Sophia King's Waldorf; Or, The Dangers of Philosophy (1798) is basically a very conservative little book about how the logical endpoint of all radical philosophy is death. Death, death, and more death. And I hated it.

This book is badly plotted, ridiculously melodramatic, unbelievable, and eye-roll worthy in its 'down with the radicals' ideologies. Basically, Waldorf is a young man who falls in with Lok, a radical philosopher along the lines of William Godwin. And because he has adopted Lok's radical philosophies, Waldorf suffers a litany of misfortunes. These are just a few of them: he causes two women to die because of their trauma over his atheism (somehow?), he ends up killing the two brothers of one of the women, his lover runs away because she has been all fired up by his radicalism (?), his infant son is murdered, he is the cause of an innocent man's execution, and finally his lover dies and he commits suicide over her body. And we are somehow led to believe that if only he didn't listen to Lok, all of this would be avoided! Somehow.

I get that conservative thinkers were extremely worried about the effect that radical philosophies would have on the fabric of society. The turn of the eighteenth-century was a time of radical change, which can often be scary. But this is a weirdly Chicken Little kind of hysterical reactionary melodrama that is just irritating. Apart from being told that Waldorf's atheism is troubling to the two women he "kills", there is no explanation as to why it's so troubling that they can't do anything but die as a consequence. And since the rest of the drama takes off with their deaths, the whole novel is built on the flimsiest of notions.

In other words, I wouldn't recommend it!


dave mazella said...

I've read some anti-jacobin novels, but not this one. Is it in print? It sounds pretty standard, in terms of the villains (godwin and philosophy) and victimes (innocent thoughtless young women). Any allusions to contemporary events or figures, at least?


Scarlettfish said...

There are no real allusions to contemporary events, but it's pretty clear she means to set her sights on Godwin (and Wollstonecraft). I read it in a Garland 1974 edition but I can't find a listing for it on Amazon. It is pretty standard anti-Jacobin stuff, but really quite poor - I think Sophia King was quite young when it was written, and it shows.