This essay considers Mary Shelley's The Last Man (1826) as intervening in the ongoing debate between Thomas Malthus and William Godwin. Malthus published An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798) in large part as a response to Godwin's Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793) and “Of Avarice and Profusion” (1797); Godwin later wrote an extended refutation of Malthus in Of Population (1820). Mary Shelley uses The Last Man, a story of the end of the human species, in part as a meditation on the merits of Malthus's philosophical positions in the Essay on the Principle of Population, but she seems to disagree with a number of the mechanisms he identifies: in contrast to Malthus, Shelley identifies a blind and random nature rather than any divine plan as controlling population change, and disease rather than food scarcity as the primary cause of population reduction, but insists upon the importance of individuating and empathizing with the suffering.
- © 2012 by The Regents of the University of California. All rights reserved. Please direct all requests for permission to photocopy or reproduce article content through the University of California Press's Rights and Permissions website, at http://www.ucpress.edu/journals/rights.htm.