Mapping Male Sexuality: Nineteenth-Century England

By Jay Losey; William D. Brewer | Go to book overview

Male Rivalry and Friendship in the
Novels of William Godwin

WILLIAM D. BREWER

IN A PROVOCATIVE ANALYSIS OF WILLIAM GODWIN’S NOVEL THINGS AS they are; or, the adventures of Caleb Williams (1794), Alex Gold has argued that Caleb’s paranoid feelings toward his master, Falkland, have their roots in homophobia:

Caleb tells a story about omnipotent persecution; that story reveals his
deep affection for another man and emphasizes the trauma of brutal re-
jection by that man. Traditional psychoanalytic theory would suggest
that Caleb’s avowedly “distempered” preoccupation with persecution
might indicate a paranoid dissociation issuing from Caleb’s attempts to
repress the homosexual impulses which became threateningly powerful
during his residence at (Falkland’s] manor. … The fact that Caleb al-
ways sees Falkland as his omnipotent persecutor, even though Falk-
land’s brother is actually the initial and fiercest avenging fury, again
corresponds to the theory.1

Gold’s Freudian analysis of Caleb’s behavior is cited approvingly by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, who links Caleb Williams to a number of other “paranoid Gothic novels” which thematize homophobia,2 and Eric Daffron argues that the Caleb-Falkland relationship is sexualized throughout the novel: “Falkland registers the intimate probing of a man who has become all too familiar in an increasingly claustrophobic atmosphere as a threat to the very sanctity of his manhood.… Caleb adopts the language of sodomitical penetration when he explains that Falkland hired Gines to pursue him ‘in [his] rear.’”3 In a new historicist reading of the novel, Robert J. Corber contends that Godwin makes Falkland “a sodomite” and deploys homophobia to “discourage the sort of male bonding that helped sustain aristocratic hegemony.”4 According to Corber, Godwin’s “novel renders middle-class men [like Caleb] who rely on patronage rather than on their own industry and talent vulnerable to stigmatization as sodomites.”5

-49-

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