Joshua's Reviews > Caleb Williams: Or, Things As They Are

Caleb Williams by William Godwin
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's review
Nov 22, 2010

really liked it
Read in October, 2010 — I own a copy , read count: 1

Caleb Williams is a much overlooked novel these days, though when reading it, it's impossible not to see it's influence on modern crime drama--especially the "innocent accused" motif. Aside from that obvious influence, the novel as well as the author went on to influence a wide range of writers, from classic Victorian novelists to the modern thriller writer (even if some weren't aware of it). But influence alone is not always a good reason to read something.
One word I've heard quite often to describe this story is "fierce." It's a good term for not only the story, but the concept Godwin was trying to express. Justice is a fierce thing, but no where near as fierce as injustice; and that's truly what this story is driven by: injustice. Mr. Falkland evades justice and Caleb cannot seem to find it. Caleb becomes a criminal, hunted for a crime he did not commit.
But Caleb Williams is a few things beyond the basic plot. It is a psychological novel. Throughout the story we are inside the mind of Caleb, and it is a stunning picture he paints of himself and of others. But I for one couldn't help but question the honesty of that picture. Even in the first Volume when he is recounting the early life of Mr. Falkland, we cannot be sure that there isn't something Caleb neglected to tell us or something he purposely changed. For that, the novel is a perfect study for anyone looking for unreliable narrators. Also, the novel is philosophical. Throughout we are feed lines about justice, humanity, and other morals the author wants to convey. This should be little of a problem for most people, considering the things Godwin is propagating are almost universally considered proper today.
I do have one complaint about the book, which is this: Godwin is too wordy in his style. I love novels from this period, so I'm used to their general style, but Godwin's style is more akin to a philosophical essay than a novel. It can be distracting, and often I would go from completely enthralled to completely bored in the middle of a paragraph. This is the most notable in the first volume, but the story picks up heavy pace in the second, with a few lulls. By the time the third volume begins, it becomes very hard to put down until the end.
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