Whereas the modern detective novel is based mainly on nineteenth century views of realism and individualist psychology, William Godwin’s masterpiece and only work of detective fiction, Things as They Are: Or, The Adventures of Caleb Williams (1794; best known as Caleb Williams), looks back to eighteenth century forms of literature where problems of communication and of class structure are major themes. Mystery and detection per se are always secondary in Godwin’s work to subjects such as the inequities of the English legal system, the relation between guilt and innocence, and the links between power and knowledge in the personal, legal, and political spheres.
Caleb Williams had a profound and direct political impact, and it continues to hold its place as one of the finest English novels. It provoked a storm of reaction when published and exerted a profound influence on the mystery writing of nineteenth century authors such as Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Charles Dickens, and Edgar Allan Poe. It has been translated into French, German, Russian, and Polish.