Caleb Williams

Caleb Williams: Realism Out of Romance College

In William Godwin’s Caleb Williams, the titular protagonist Caleb is purportedly writing to prove his innocence after his former master, Mr. Falkland, destroys his reputation. However, in the postscript, once Falkland has died after being convicted for his crimes, Caleb appears to regret his actions. He represents himself and Falkland as idealized and romantic versions of their respective roles; a good master who acts prudently in the face of adverse conditions, and a loyal servant who mistakenly betrays his master. Closer inspection of Caleb’s ambiguous syntax, though, reveals implications that he does not think as highly of Falkland as he claims. This reveals him as an unreliable narrator who may have more realistic feelings than he portrays.

Before the postscript, Caleb decides to attempt to bring Falkland to justice. When he arrives at court to see Falkland ill, however, he seems to no longer wish to incriminate him. “Would to God,” he says, “it were possible for me to retire… without uttering another word! I would brave the consequences… rather than add to the weight of misfortune with which Mr. Falkland is overwhelmed” (Godwin 331). This is the first indication that he may not be speaking honestly. If he were most...

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