English literature, novel, law, blackmail, accusation, sodomy, terror, stealing, sociohistory
In the later eighteenth century, the twelve justices of the supreme English common law courts ruled repeatedly that blackmailing a man by threatening to accuse him of sodomitical practices constituted the capital offense of robbery; the judges focused on the overwhelming terror they claimed was unique to this threat. This legal doctrine is a covert presence in William Godwin's novel Caleb Williams (1794). Ferdinando Falkland, fearing that his secret is about to be revealed by Caleb, accuses him of having 'robbed' him, and even though Falkland's secret is literally murder, the mutual persecution and mutual terrorizing that ensue evoke the relation between sodomy and blackmail.
Dyer, Gary, "The Arrest of Caleb Williams: Unnatural Crime, Constructive Violence, and Overwhelming Terror in Late Eighteenth-Century England" (2012). English Faculty Publications. 5.
This work remains under copyright © 2014 Eighteenth-Century Life, Duke University Press, doi: 10.1215/00982601-1672817, http://muse.jhu.edu.proxy2.library.illinois.edu/journals/eighteenth-century_life/v036/36.3.dyer.html