William Godwin intended Caleb Williams (1794) to be a “book of fictitious adventure” that would literally transform the reader, so “that no one, after he has read it, shall ever be exactly the same man that he was before” (Caleb Williams 444, 447). Godwin was fairly prescient; Caleb Williams, which outsold Godwin’s more philosophically dense and politically radical Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793), not only affected his readers but inspired a generation of authors, from the rising generation of British romantics to popular novelists portraying sensational crimes.1 Among Godwin’s admirers was Philadelphian novelist Charles Brockden Brown, whom John Neal dubbed the “Godwin of America” (68), and while there is little question that Brown was deeply influenced by Godwin’s carefully crafted plot, philosophical underpinnings, and overt didacticism, readers have all too often accepted the accuracy of David Lee Clark’s early assessment of Brown as a Godwinian radical.2 Recent readings have troubled such easy categorizations, downplaying Brown’s politics in favor of a fuller contextualization of Brown’s

intellectual debts.3 It is precisely in this spirit that we should call for a reexamination of Brown’s and Godwin’s novels; though Brown shared with Godwin an interest in sensational plots, Brown’s most famous works-Wieland (1798), Edgar Huntly (1799), Ormond (1799), and Arthur Mervyn (Vol. I 1799, Vol. II 1800)—used the sensational as a platform from which to launch philosophical musings that rival Godwin’s in depth and breadth.