In the novel Caleb Williams, William Godwin focuses on how “the spirit and character of government intrudes itself into every rank of society” with petitions, resolutions, and parliamentary bills that sought to address the perceived increase in lawlessness in England in the years after the American Revolution. I argue in this article that Godwin’s attention to the inhumane rigours of incarceration, his concerns about the development of a shadowy new police force that existed outside the traditional bounds of magisterial oversight, and his anxieties about the increasingly important role of literature in shaping popular attitudes towards suspected criminals grew out of broader discussions about the penal and police reforms that William Pitt’s government introduced in the years after the 1780 Gordon Riots. The public debates about the extent of these new powers may have shaped the focus and tone of Godwin’s novel as much as the government’s suppression of radical dissent in the 1790s.


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pp. 525-548
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