publisher colophon
Eric Lindstrom
University of Vermont
Eric Lindstrom

Eric Lindstrom teaches in the English Department at The University of Vermont in Burlington. His book, Romantic Fiat: Demystification and Enchantment in Lyric Poetry, is due to be published by Paigrave Macmillan in early 2011. He is currently working on an essay collection on Stanley Cavell and British Romanticsm.


For their timely help on earlier versions of this essay, I thank Marshall Brown and Eric Idsvoog.

1. Caleb Williams, ed. Maurice Hindle (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1988) 364. Citations from this edition are given by page throughout.

2. Wallace Stevens, from “The Man With the Blue Guitar,” The Collected Poems (New York: Vintage, 1990) 166. The heading of Section 3 below is another line from this poem (165).

3. See, for example, Tilottama Rajan’s chapter “Wollstonecraft and Godwin: Reading the Secrets of the Political Novel,” The Supplement of Reading: Figures of Understanding in Romantic Theory and Practice (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1990) 167–96; Frances Ferguson, “The Gothicism of the Gothic Novel,” in Solitude and the Sublime (New York: Routledge, 1992) 97–113; Pamela Clemit, The Godwinian Novel (Oxford: Clarendon, 1993); Gary Handwerk, “Of Caleb’s Guilt and Godwin’s Truth: Ideology and Ethics in Caleb Williams, ELH 60.4 (1993): 939–60; Chris Jones, Radical Sensibility: Literature and Ideas in the 1790s (London: Routledge, 1993); Jon Klancher, “Godwin and the Republican Romance: Genre, Politics, and Contingency in Cultural History,” Modern Language Quarterly 56.2 (June 1995): 145–65, hereafter cited as Klancher; Robert Kaufman, “The Sublime as Super-Genre of the Modern, or Hamlet in Revolution: Caleb Williams and His Problems,” SiR 36.4 (Winter 1997): 541–74; Paul Hamilton, “Politics in Reserve; Coleridge and Godwin,” in Metaromanticism: Aesthetics, Literature, Theory (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2003) 69–87; Jon Mee, Romanticism, Enthusiasm, and Regulation: Poetics and the Policing of Culture in the Romantic Period (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2003) 109–20; Marshall Brown, The Gothic Text (Stanford: Stanford UP, 2005) 149–58.

4. Michel Foucault, “What is Enlightenment,” Essential Works of Foucault, vol. 1; Ethics, Subjectivity and Truth, ed. Paul Rabinow (New York: The New P, 1997) 309.

5. The full original title and subtitle are Things as They Are; or, The Adventures of Caleb Williams. See “William Godwin’s ‘Caleb Williams’: Truth and ‘Things As They Are’ collected in 1789: Reading Writing Revolution: Proceedings of the Essex Conference on the Sociology of Literature, July 1981 (Essex: University of Essex, 1982) 129–46.

6. Fredric Jameson, The Prison-House of Language:A Critical Account of Structuralism and Russian Formalism (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1972) xi. It is of interest to wonder how far an early Jamesonian reading of Caleb Williams might already submit to revision, in light of his recent study of utopian science fiction m Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions (London: Verso, 2005). Robert Kaufman’s intensive critique of Jameson’s use of Kant to denote “hypostatic, closed, totalized system” has powerfully informed the contemporary scholarship on where post-Kantian aesthetics and post-Marxian social thought reconnect; see Kaufman’s “Red Kant, or the Persistence of the Third “Critique” in Adorno and Jameson,” Critical Inquiry 26.4 (Summer 2000): 682–724 (689).

7. For Ferguson’s distinction between empirical and formal accounts, see Solitude and the Sublime 112n. David Simpson, Romanticism, Nationalism, and the Revolt Against Theory (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1993); James Chandler, England in 1819: The Politics of Literary Culture and the Case of Romantic Historicism (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1998).

8. I quote from Althusser’s essay, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses” (1968).

9. On the more proximate rise of a despotic conservative system in the romantic era, see John Barrell’s The Spirit of Despotism: Invasions of Privacy in the 1790s (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2006) 1–15; but particularly see Clifford Siskin, “The Year of the System,” in 1798: The Year of the Lyrical Ballads, ed. Richard Cronin (Houndmills: Macmillan, 1998) 9–3 1, and his overlapping essay “Novels and Systems,” in Novel: A Forum on Fiction 34.2 (Spring 2001): 202–15. Simpson’s section on “System and Sensibility” (Romanticism, Nationalism, and the Revolt Theory 76–83) and Ferguson’s remarks on increasing systemization m the long eighteenth century (Solitude and the Subline 97–98) are also helpful. Theorization of the “systemsubject” with regard to German Romanticism can be found in Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe and Jean-Luc Nancy, The Literary Absolute: The Theory of Literature in German Romanticism, tr. Philip Barnard and Cheryl Lester (Albany: SUNY P, 1988) 27–37.

10. England in 1819 itself contains remarks on Godwin and Caleb Williams; see 452–53 particularly, in which Chandler describes Godwin’s theory of the indirect change of the self through institutional change as “the pudding that would show the proof”

11. For a selection of this ongoing work on thing-theory, see Bill Brown’s A Sense of Things: The Object Matter of American Literature (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2003), and Things, ed. Bill Brown (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2004); also Deidre Shauna Lynch, “The Real Thing and the “Work” of Literature in Nineteenth-Century Culture,” in The Economy of Character: Novels, Market Culture, and the Business of Inner Meaning (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1998) 250–65; Lynn Festa, “Tales Told by Things,” in Sentimental Figures of Empire in Eighteenth-Century Britain and France (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2006) 111–52; Cynthia Sundberg Wall, The Prose of Things: Tranformations of Description in the Eighteenth Century (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2006).

12. Hans Aarsleff, From Locke to Saussure: Essays on the Study of Language and Intellectual History (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1982).

13. Kant, Political Writings, ed. H. S. Reiss (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1991) 178.

14. Intersections: Nineteenth-Century Philosophy and Contemporary Theory, ed. Tilottama Rajan and David L. Clark (Albany: SUNY P, 1995) 2.

15. Charles J. Rzepka, “Detection as Method: Reconstructing the Past in Godwin and Freud,” Literature Compass 2 (2005) RO 182: 1–12 (7).

16. The Complete Works of William Hazlitt, ed. P. P. Howe (London: Dent, 1930–1934). I quote at 6: 216; hereafter CWWH, with volume and page number.

17. For my purposes, at least two interesting details appear in Hazlitt’s celebrated portrayal of Godwin in The Spirit of the (1825). The first is that he already calls the novel Caleb Williams, despite the fact that the title did not officially change until 1831; and the second—already symptomatic of “Coriolanus”—is his central focus on Falkland, Caleb being “not the first, but the second character in the piece” (CWWH 2: 24).

18. Clifford Siskin, The Work of Writing: Literature and Social Change in Britain, 1700–1830 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1998) 156; hereafter cited as Work.

A comparable claim is made before Hazlitt by Helen Maria Williams in her Letters Written in France [1790], ed. Neil Fraistat and Susan S. Lanser (Ontario: Broadview, 2001).

20. Anthony S. Jarrells, Britain’s Bloodless Revolutions: 1688 and the Romantic Reform of Literature (New York: Palgrave, 2005) 123; hereafter cited as Jarrells.

21. David Bromwich, Disowned by Memory: Wordsworth’s Poetry of the 1790s (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1998) 179. Also see Bromwich’s chapter on “The Invention of Literature” in A Choice of Inheritance: Self and Community from Edmund Burke to Robert Frost (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1989) 1–19.

22. See Kevis Goodman, Georgic Modernity and British Romanticism (New York: Cambridge UP, 2004) 106–41; Alison Hickey, Impure Conceits: Rhetoric and Ideology in Wordsworth’s Excursion (Stanford: Stanford UP, 1997); Esther Schor, Bearing the Dead: The British Culture of Mourning from the Enlightenment to Victoria (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1994) 151–95.

23. Susan Wolfson finds this muffling of politics in Shelley’s “Mask of Anarchy”; see her Formal Charges: The Shaping of Poetry in British Romanticism (Stanford: Stanford UP, 1997) 193–206; Michael Scrivener replies to Wolfson in “Reading Shelley’s Interventionist Poetry, 1819–1829,” Romantic Circles Praxis Series, May 2001. Marc Redfield takes up Wolfson’s view most recently in The Politics of Aesthetics: Nationalism, Gender, Romanticism (Stanford: Stanford UP, 2003) 151–58.

24. Citing the work of Terry Eagleton, Paul Magnuson remarks on the need, moving well beyond Habermas, to recognize a “counter-public sphere” in British Romanticism; see his Reading Public Romanticism (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1998) 12.

25. “Diffusion of knowledge through the medium of discussion” is David McCracken’s phrase, quoted in Jarrells III.

26. For Hazlitt’s disparagement of Coleridge’s philosophy, and through him, Kant, see CWWH 16: 123–24.

27. This view is still active at least in 2003; see the Godwin chapter in the last work of Roy Porter, Flesh in the Age of Reason (New York: Norton, 2003).

28. Gary Kelly, The English Jacobin Novel, 1790–1805 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1976) 179; also see Kelly’s English Fiction of the Romantic Period, 1789–1830 (New York: Longman, 1989).

29. See the preface to St Leon, Collected Novels and Memoirs of William Godwin, vol. 4, ed., Pamela Clemit (London: Pickering, 1992) 11. Godwin’s memory of Wollstonecraft did not initially stress sentiment. In his excellent introduction to A Short Residence in Sweden and Memoirs of the The Author of ‘The Rights of Woman’ (London: Penguin, 1987), Richard Holmes argues that the Memoirs celebrate Wollstonecraft with the daring she herself displayed in life, and that St Leon and Fleetwood draw “veiled and softened portraits” by comparison; see 48.

30. The title is now even more abridged, just Caleb Williams in both Hindle’s Penguin and Gary Handwerk’s (2000) Broadview edition.

31. See Paul H. Marshall’s biography, William Godwin (New Haven: Yale UP, 1984) 366; Work 170.

32. Though it is important that Inchbald’s play is set in Sumatra, thus weakening its character as a domestic critique, in this context we may also think of Blake’s incriminating national question, “Are such things done on Albion’s shore?” (“A Little Boy Lost,” line 24).

33. Political Writing of the 1790s, vol. 3, ed. Gregory Claeys (London: Pickering, 1995) 3–22.

34. The title of Rolfe Humphries’ translation.

35. See Hugh Roberts, Shelley and the Chaos of History: A New Politics of Poetry (University Park: Pennsylvania State UP, 1997) 411–86. Shelley can be shown to have two poets specifically in mind, Lucretius and Wordsworth, in composing his interesting juvenile piece, “A Tale of Society as it is / from facts 1811.” The poem is a small-scale revision of Wordsworth’s Ruined Cottage and Salisbury Plain projects, in light of Shelley’s ongoing commitment to reform both material and mental conditions. Peter Bell the Third, written in Shelley’s annus mirabilis of 1819, then climactically revisits what he views as Wordsworth’s accommodation to things as they are in the comically high-flown conversion narrative, Peter Bell.

36. William Keach, Arbitrary Power: Romanticism, Language, Politics (Princeton: Princeton UP, 2004) 39–40; also see 45.

37. Uttara Natarajan, Hazlitt and the Reach of Sense: Criticism, Morals, and the Metaphysics of Power (Oxford: Clarendon, 1998) 25.

38. Wordsworth, Poetical Works, ed. Thomas Hutchinson, revised by Ernest de Selincourt (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1936) 743.

39. Thus a Marxian reform of “things” is emphasized in The German Ideology: “The social structure and the State are continually evolving out of the life process of definite individuals, but of individuals, not as they may appear in their own or other people’s imagination, but as they really are[.]” Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The German Ideology, Part One, with Selections from Parts Two and Three and Supplementary Texts, ed. C. J. Arthur (New York: International Publishers, 1970) 46.

40. Nancy E. Johnson, The English Jacobin Novel on Rights Property and the Law: Critiquing the Contract (London: Palgrave, 2004) 93.

41. For the title change of Things as They Are to Caleb Williams, see Godwin’s The Collected Novels and Memoirs 3: 279.

42. For a thoughtful assessment of Shelley’s refusal to accommodate, see Bromwich’s remarks in Disowned by Memory 145n.

43. Falkland’s aim to hunt down and annihilate Caleb, at a truly Foucauldian level of microphysical power, can be observed in the Penguin edition of the novel on pages 159, 163, 197, 247, 249, 252, 258, 288, 294, 309, 325.

44. Charles Lamb to Wordsworth, January 30, 1801, The Letters of Charles and Mary Lamb, ed. E. V. Lucas (New Haven: Yale UP, 1935) 1: 239.

I quote “The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism” (1933), Selected Prose of T. S. Eliot, ed. Frank Kermode (San Diego: Harcourt, 1975) 93.

46. Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (New York: Vintage, 1994) xvii.

47. Autobiographical fragment, dated 10 Oct. 1824, in the Abinger Collection (microfilm of the Pforzheimer Library, New York City); my source for the passage is Kelly 183.

48. Godwin argues in Book 4, chapter 6 of Political Justice: “A knife is as capable as a man of being employed in the purpose of virtue, and the one is no more free than the other as to its employment.” See An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice in The Political and Philosophical Writings of William Godwin, vol. 3, ed. Mark Philp (London: Pickering, 1993) 170. For a good, appropriately vertiginous, account of the circular effects of character in the novel, including a reference to “things as they are,” see Ferguson, Solitude and the Sublime 102–5.

49. This English literary version of the thing-in-itself suggests a link between my argument about “things as they are” and the much larger scale work of Robert Kaufman on Romanticism, Adorno and Kant. Where Kaufman’s “Red Kant” argues against too easily reduced versions of Kantian aesthetics in the theory of late Marxism, I am arguing against the too easy reduction of “things as they are” both in Godwin’s time and ours. Between reified status quo, commonsense notions of “things as they are,” and the reified transcendental void of subject and object found in the inherited view of noumena or things-in-themselves, is left a viciously hollowed middle area: a position that is exciting to see articulated by Simon Jarvis on behalf of Wordsworth in Wordsworth’s Philosophic Song (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2007) 84–107.

50. Charles Dickens, Great Expectations [1860–61] (London: Penguin, 2003) 3.

51. Shelley’s Poetry ami Prose, 2nd edition, eds. Donald H. Reiman and Neil Fraistat (New York: Norton, 2002) 97.

52. Jon Klancher’s remark may be helpful here, on the unique reflexive claims for fiction Godwin makes in “Of History and Romance”: “The notion that such reflexivity makes a political difference has no counterpart, to my knowledge, in the discourse about novels and romances that filled British prefaces, reviews, histories, and polemics from 1750 through 1800” (160).

53. (Dickens makes a trivial error about Caleb Williams; it is a three-volume novel, and so was conceptualized not from the second, but from the third and final volume to the first.) The Fall of the House of Usher and Other Writings, ed. David Galloway (London: Penguin, 1986) 480. Suggestively, the essay in this collection that precedes “The Philosophy of Composition,” and was written the previous year, is a review of Hazlitt’s Shakespeare criticism; see 478–79. Poe seems on a number of levels to be thinking about Hazlitt and Godwin in these years.

54. “High Windows,” Philip Larkin, Collected Poems, ed. Anthony Thwaite (Noonday P, 1993) 165.

Additional Information

Print ISSN
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.