Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Caleb Williams

You have a suspicion that your master, the man you previously thought to be the pinnacle of excellence, intelligence, and nobility, is, in fact, a murderer. 


You are a poor working-man's son who has been accepted into service in this great man's household. This great man has 6,000£ a year and is widely acknowledged to be, shall we say, a Righteous Dude. 


 So, instead of quitting or quietly going about your business, what do you do? Did you answer, "Ferret around, arouse suspicion, let the guy know you're on to him and then earn his undying hatred and suspicion?" Congratulations! Your name is Caleb Williams, and you are the protagonist of this book!
How do they choose the artwork for these classics, anyway? 

Godwin can tell a good story, as shown by the backstory of Falkland (the rich master), which is told in the first part of the book. I mean, Godwin does go a bit overboard in the EVIL GUY IS REALLY EVIL department, and Falkland, who the reader knows to be the Bad Guy, is shown to be so nauseatingly virtuous, smart, handsome, and good, that it's hard to reconcile the two parts of the story. However, the little backstory is rather compelling, and I admit to being hooked and wondering how it would all pan out. Yet, I find that the two parts of the story do not really match--I cannot see the Falkland of the backstory becoming the wicked, nasty villain of the rest of it. I just can't. Maybe that's part of the point--good people can do bad things, blah blah blah, but really? It has to have some modicum of believability.

Caleb Williams himself is the kind of protagonist/narrator you just want to shake. Hey Caleb, ever hear the saying "curiosity killed the cat"? Hmmm? Evidently not. After hearing the backstory of his employer and benefactor Falkland, Caleb keeps digging up the past and even breaks into Falkland's personal property, and spends the rest of the book running around in various disguises, being dogged at every turn by a rather ridiculously omnipotent Falkland. I kept wishing he would just jump into the river as he threatened to, so as to put everyone out of their misery. 

I admit to skimming through the mid-to-end sections of the book, as Godwin tended to ramble on about ... stuff (tyranny, mostly). Others have mentioned that this is a fictional companion to Godwin's political treatise, and I can see how that might work. However, if Godwin intended to condemn the tyranny of the rich over the poor, or the government over the people, I didn't feel very moved. Mostly, I felt that what happened to Caleb was his own durned fault for being nosy--would I then say that people deserve to be oppressed by tyrannical governments (hint: No!)? I really don't know anything about Godwin's political leanings, and I'm sure that that would have better informed my reading of this.

2 comments:

  1. He was an anarchist and, BTW, the father of Mary Shelley of Frankenstein fame. I rather suspect that if the hero of this book had run away from scary master there wouldn't have been a story. ;-)

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    1. *whispers* this was an old review that I found and forgot I had written several years ago. I am constantly amazed at how that little knot of famous writers at the end of the 18th/beginning of 19th century were somehow all involved with each other (legally or otherwise).

      I think I would have preferred this as a sort of pursuit/revenge tale: like Caleb quits, lets it drop that Super Awesome Master is in fact the Devil Incarnate, and then Evil Master dogs him until the day he dies as he's on the run. But as this book is already written and Mr. Godwin is quite dead then it really doesn't matter. :D

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