Godwin's Mandeville, published in 1817, was described as his best novel by Shelley, who sent a copy to Byron, and it was recognized by its admirers as a work of unique psychological power. As Shelley wrote in a letter to Godwin, the novel's interest is of “that irresistible and overwhelming kind.” Written one year after the battle of Waterloo and set in an earlier revolutionary period between the execution of Charles I and the Restoration, Mandeville is a novel of psychological warfare. The narrative proceeds through Mandeville's early education by a fanatical Presbyterian minister to his persecution at Winchester school, his constant (and not unjustified) paranoia, and his confinement in an asylum. Mandeville's final, desperate attempt to prevent his sister's marriage to his enemy ends in tragedy.
The historical appendices offer contemporary reviews, material elucidating the novel's complex historical background, and contemporary writings on war, madness, and trauma.