Date of Publication: 1794, Penguin Classics
“When young Caleb Williams comes to work as a secretary for Squire Falkland, he soon begins to suspect that his master is hiding a terrible secret. His unearthing of the guilty truth proves calamitous when – despite Caleb loyally swearing never to reveal his discovery – the Squire enacts a cruel revenge. A tale of gripping suspense and psychological power, William Godwin’s novel creates a searing depiction of the intolerable persecution meted out to a good man in pursuit of justice and equality. Written to expose the political oppression and corrupt hierarchies its author saw in the world around him, Caleb Williams embodies a radical appeal to end the abuses of power while simultaneously exploring the complexities of that endeavor.” -Blurb from back cover
This is another of my text books, and one I found almost impossible to finish. Don’t get me wrong, the tale itself is exceedingly compelling. I guess I should try to explain my feelings about this book, which were powerful. Maybe it comes from being an American, and a liberal one at that, or maybe it’s in my blood, as my mother says, but I have an over-developed sense of justice, or right and wrong. I cannot tolerate the idea of one person abusing their power to oppress another person. The very thing sickens me to an alarming extent. While reading about the outrageous persecution of poor Caleb, and the willful blindness of the people around him, I actually had a strong desire to punch the book, to literally punch it. I wept with frustration as I witnessed the injustices that the poor young man was made to suffer, and I almost gave up on it completely (while risking a bad grade in my English Romantic Literature class) because I felt that it was ruining my peace of mind.
In terms of the basics, this book has well-developed characters, evocative settings, and the story reads at a furious pace. Many people have reacted in a similar way to this book, and I believe that is the intention of its author. Godwin wanted people to react to this book because he wanted to change the statusquo . Although this book upset me greatly, I have to allow that it did its job. I believe this book is valuable, not only as a piece of great literature, but also as a reminder of the inequalities that still exist in our society today, and of what millions of people suffered at the hands of everyday tyrants not that long ago.