Women, Revolution, and the Novels of the 1790s

By Linda Lang-Peralta | Go to book overview

The Crowd and the Public in Godwin's Caleb Williams

Carl Fisher

Nothing is more notorious than the ease with which the conviviality of a crowded feast may degenerate into the depredations of a riot. While the sympathy of opinion catches from man to man, especially among persons whose passions have been little used to the curb of judgment, actions may be determined on which the solitary reflection of all would have rejected. There is nothing more barbarous, blood-thirsty and unfeeling than the triumph of the mob.

--Enquiry Concerning Political Justice1

Few novels engage their historical moment as cogently as Caleb Williams. The way in which the novel depicts individual psychology, or critiques the state, has often been documented.2

Personal obsession and private oppression are undoubtedly foregrounded, but always against a background of the community. The novel incorporates and involves the general populace, a public which responds to the actions of prominent individuals and reacts to violations of social norms; Godwin presents a social cross-section that strives to match the audience he defines in the preface as "persons whom books of philosophy and science are never likely to reach."3 Identifying how Godwin integrates the public into Caleb Williams

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