Caleb Williams Quotes


Did you ever read, Williams, of a man more gallant, generous and free? Was ever mortal so completely the reverse of everything engrossing and selfish? He formed to himself a sublime image of excellence, and his only ambition was to realise it in his own story.

Faukland, Volume II: Chapter 1

Here Faukland converses with Williams on the legacy of Alexander III of Macedon, or Alexander the Great. Faukland admires Alexander, seeing him as the builder of cities and cultivator of minds. However, by the end of the eighteenth century, Alexander was regarded as problematic stemming from his role as a brutal conqueror. Godwin published 'Political Justice', just a year before 'Caleb Williams', asserting that Error is the cause of tyranny, Faukland's error lies in his miseducation. Like Alexander, Faukland too has a sublime image of excellence that he tries to live out in his story, the image of the gentleman. However, Faukland's error is that the image he worships is a tyrannical one and leads to his tyranny.

Thank God, exclaims the Englishman, we have no Bastille! Thank God, with us no man can be punished without a crime! Unthinking wretch! Is that a country of liberty where thousands languish in dungeons and fetters?

Williams narrating, Volume II: Chapter 11

Williams begins to reflect after Faukland arranges his imprisonment under false accusations. This reflection is one of a few in the novel that is not germane to the plot but instead relates to the French revolution. The Bastille in Paris was a fortress used by the French monarchy to imprison political opponents and represented the oppressive nature of the monarchy. Through Williams, Godwin directly attacks the English system of justice and the self-righteous assumption that injustice only exists in foreign places. The eighteenth century justice system in Britain advantaged the upper classes and the lower classes were rare to receive a fair trial. Godwin calls out the naivety of the British public who did not see the similarities in ruling between Louis XVI's French government and the Justice system under King George III's British government.

I began these memoirs with the idea of vindicating my own character. I have now no character that I wish to vindicate: but I will finish them that thy story may be fully understood; and that, if those errors of thy life be known which thou so ardently desiredst to conceal, the world may at least not hear and repeat a half-told and mangled tale.

Williams, Volume III: Postscript

The novel's resolution is bleak, despite Faukland's confession and the end to his persecution of Williams there is no liberation for Williams. Throughout the novel, Williams' character has become entirely structured around Faukland; from his admiration for and obsession with Faukland to being persecuted by him. Williams has always felt an attachment to Faukland and, once Faukland is imprisoned, it is obvious Williams has created his own character in relation to Faukland. Williams is permanently altered by the events, he cannot return to his state before he met Faukland. All Williams can do is tell the truth.

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