Susan Staves


Hal Gladfelder, Criminality and Narrative in Eighteenth-Century England - Beyond the Law. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001. Pp. xiii, 281. $42.50.

Hal Gladfelder reconsiders the much-considered relation between early modern nonfictional representations of crime and the novel. His nonfictional accounts include newspaper reports, Old Bailey Sessions reports, dying speeches of malefactors about to be hanged, and popular criminal biographies. He focuses on two novelists, Daniel Defoe and Henry Fielding, both of whom also wrote nonfiction about crime. A third novelist, William Godwin, who addressed the problem of crime in his anarchist Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793), comes in to frame the overall analysis. Some earlier writers have stressed the differences between, on the one hand, the nonfictional literature of crime, which they see as serving primarily to inculcate and reinforce ruling-class norms, and, on the other hand, fiction, which they see as critical of those norms. Others have found the novel itself an ally of the police. Gladfelder, however, argues that both the nonfiction and the fiction are oppositional. He contends that both forms of writing "tend to legitimate, to project as desirable, the very disruptive potentialities they set out to contain."