William Godwin Analysis

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(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

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.


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Clemit, Pamela, ed. Godwin. Vol. 1 in Lives of the Great Romantics III: Godwin, Wollstonecraft, and Mary Shelley by Their Contemporaries, edited by John Mullen. Brookfield, Vt.: Pickering & Chatto, 1999. Compendium of critical responses to and personal narratives about William Godwin, written by those who knew him and those who moved in his literary and cultural circles.

Daffron, Eric. “Magnetical Sympathy: Strategies of Power and Resistance in Godwin’s Caleb Williams.” Criticism 37 (Spring, 1995). A study of Godwin’s novel.

Graham, Kenneth W. William Godwin Reviewed: A Reception History, 1783-1834. New York: AMS Press, 2001. A study of the critical reception of Godwin’s novels in the late eighteen and early nineteenth centuries. Bibliographic references and index.

Grossman, Jonathan H. “Caleb Williams and the Novel’s Forensic Form.” In The Art of Alibi: English Law Courts and the Novel . Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002. Study of Godwin’s novel explaining its relationship to English...

(The entire section is 472 words.)