Caleb Williams

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Caleb Williams

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oct. 16, 2012, 2:03pm

Why I created this thread: (just substitute Caleb Williams for The Castle of Otranto). May contain spoilers, of course.

I'm starting this thread now because I'm about to read it as next up in my Punter & Byron's The Gothic, 'Key works', reading list. Having said that, I seem to remember veilofisis doubting its status as a 'key work' in the genre, so it's possible that it doesn't really deserve its own thread here (apologies to veil if I'm misremembering that).

oct. 16, 2012, 6:06pm

Back in the early '90s I worked through all nine(?) volumes of the Pelican Guide to English Literature. I remember the relevant volume devoted quite a lot of space to Caleb Williams (and in the way of these types of book, gave away the whole plot).

Perhaps that's why, but I've never read the book; however from what I can remember it is seen having an influence on the Gothic as the Genre developed in the 19th century, as well as being one of the sources of the thriller genre (I think I remember it being cited as a source for the plot of Les Miserables too, but I may be wrong; in any case I can't give any references, I'm afraid).

In its radical politics, it may be something of a 'road untaken', but then again there's the discussion in the introduction to The Oxford Book of Gothic Short Stories about the Gothic appealing to economically or otherwise disadvantaged groups (it occurs to me that, possibly, that's why Radcliffeian heroines-in-peril were appearing in British girls' comics (i.e. comic books) as late as the 1980s).

oct. 26, 2012, 12:01pm

I'm through the first book and another couple of chapters, so far.

I have to say that I haven't warmed to this. I'm struggling to pin down the 'whys and wherefores' of these things, but I don't believe in Godwin's characters and I find his style rather flat and uninspired.

oct. 31, 2012, 6:33am

As I said in #1, I'm reading this as it's a 'key work' in Punter & Byron's The Gothic. But would it and Godwin have been so well known if his daughter hadn't written one of the most iconic novels of all time and shacked-up with an iconic Romantic poet?

You may guess from the foregoing bitchiness that I'm not becoming a fan of Caleb Williams or its author: contrived, unrealistic character actions and plot twists, both quite worthy of a modern soap, and a flat, bland prose style.

And I don't care if it's the 'first mystery novel' (or only enough to take the idea with a big pinch of salt).

abr. 7, 2013, 11:30am

The trouble with committing oneself to reading lists is that, sooner or later, you're going to butt up against an unexpected stinker.

Unfortunately, I managed to develop such a dislike for Caleb Williams and his author that it became a real log-jam in my 'Gothc studies' activities. It got to the stage where I would wash dishes or vacuum a floor, purely to postpone picking the damned thing up.

Anyway, it's Sunday, the start of a new week, and I've decided that, by the end of it, I'll have finished reading this and written a review to vent my spleen. I'm saying this publicly in order to back myself into a corner, as it were. Now I've got to do it!

abr. 7, 2013, 11:42am

Gosh, it's been quiet around here!

Maybe Caleb Williams will step up a gear or two as it reaches the end, and the reading experience, for the final lap at least, won't be too painful.

abr. 7, 2013, 12:00pm

#6 - One can only hope ...

maig 28, 2013, 1:15pm

Well, I'm fed up to the back teeth with Caleb Williams. I've developed a probably irrational dislike for both Godwin and his book.

I've had several attempts at a fair and balanced review of it for my blog. I've given up - can't do it to save my life. So I've posted a bitchy (and rather cobbled together) one.

I'm just glad to be done with it.

maig 28, 2013, 2:03pm

> 8

I think your bonsai tree analogy is quite brilliant. And you're doing yourself an injustice in the way you've characterised your review. I'll consider myself suitably forewarned, should I ever decide to tackle Caleb Williams. I enjoyed and generally agreed with your other reviews too. In fact, I also have to overcome a childhood aversion when tacking Dickens (it's an aversion that used to extend to all things Victorian, which maybe goes some way to explaining my "issues" with Steampunk).

maig 29, 2013, 9:00am

Many thanks, houseful.

Editat: nov. 22, 2013, 1:29pm

I was reading the 'English Gothic Theatre' section in The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction and it had set me musing on Gothic villains in general, and suddenly, though Godwin didn't figure in that bit of reading, a light dawned on my dislike of Caleb Williams.

It struck me that Falkland is not actually a character from the Gothic villain/Byronic hero box, he's a 'wannabee' - a contemporary character who tries to live a similar role, trying to live by archaic and probably fictional conventions, Don Quixote-style, and paying a psychological price for it (that last bit implies rather more psychological credibility to Falkland than I think Godwin's authorship really earns, but I'll let it stand or I'll be here all day.)

In other words, Falkland seems to me closer to Northanger Abbey's Catherine Morland than to a 'proper' Gothic villain/Byronic hero.

This has the effect that, rather than being a real Gothic novel, Caleb Williams strikes me as on the edge of being a parody or satire of a Gothic novel. I'll point out that the Gothic genre was well into its stride at this period, with, for instance, Ann Radcliffe already having three novels in print; so it was well into the contemporary consciousness. This may be my prejudice, but I suggest that Godwin was aiming at a parody - or started off aiming at one, but just wasn't up to the job. In fact, I think arguments can be made that Caleb Williams actually is a failed or rather weak parody of the Gothic; the fact of the 'damsel in distress' being a male - Williams - being part of the joke.

I believe that Possibly one of the reasons I remained unconvinced by this book was that I was subconsciously sensing that detachment or distance from the genre on the part of the author that parody entails.

ag. 7, 2014, 9:30am

I think I've stumbled upon why academics of the Gothic are so keen on Caleb Williams. It's because said academics are so heavily invested in Freud. Think of Falkland as the tyrannical father and Williams as the rebellious son and the book becomes so reekingly Freudian as to be irresistible to them - whatever other Gothic elements it may lack.

Editat: feb. 10, 2018, 7:15pm

This thread is a gem! Everything you want to hear, everything you don't want to hear, all in one spot. Naive piece of fluff that I am, I'd not known of the book until last month, or its author. The name meant nothing to me, and now it appears he was Mary Shelley's papa. Unreal. But then I had never heard the Wollstonecraft name until reading the actual Frankenstein novel the year before last. So, although I am far behind the times in terms of research, I was much more acquainted with Mr. Shelley than with Mr. Godwin. Caleb Williams will have to be wrestled with eventually, but this thread helps lower him into the recesses of next year. I shall think no further of it! And liking David Copperfield better than I thought I would, and loving A Tale of Two Cities, I will replace Godwin with Dickens and demolish in autumn 2018:
1. The Old Curiosity Shop 2. Hard Times 3. Bleak House 4. Nicholas Nickleby
That is one possible order of attack, but might be tempted to draw straws. An old habit is to not go looking for literature, but to let it find me. Overlaps keep me on my toes.

>9 housefulofpaper: My mother gave me a detailed book on Victorian Christmas traditions, and I had no difficulty getting rid of it fairly recently. Blah. I refuse to allow table cloths in my home, so that book was suffocating. I am, however, determined to get through every last Dickens if it takes a lifetime to do it. Six down. Soon to be ten.

>4 alaudacorax: Dickens fled England with a young filly, didn't he? A young woman from the theatre? I am sure his wife was none too pleased, any more than the first Mrs. Shelley. Both continue to sell... remaining literary powerhouses. Mary, too. Maybe it did boost William Godwin's career ?! You are full of wonderful trivia and food for thought.

feb. 11, 2018, 2:31am

>13 frahealee: LOL, Frankenstein was originally published anonymously. Godwin is famous as a philosopher (as was his wife, Mary Wollstonecraft, as well as for being a major advocate of women's rights), it has nothing to do with his daughter.

Editat: set. 8, 2018, 9:19am

>13 frahealee: Well, going against my own intentions, I've impatiently and impulsively jumped into the fray - currently 8 chapters in with volume 1. Viewing it as a soap opera sounds more fun than as a literary classic with historical value, or as on the 1001 books to read before you die list, so am proceeding with no urgency or false notions. It is simply a book to read, and move on. Zero gothic vibes thus far ...

Having never before used audiobooks, online or CD, my juggling act now includes ebooks, audio, print. My Atwood is as much print as I can manage right now (The Blind Assassin) and with Faulkner (Absalom, Absalom!) on ebook/Kobo, a much needed morsel of lighter fare was needed to balance the murk. The narrator is a bit showy, but in reading along with the Guttenberg online text, my attention remains riveted. If only to distract from laundry mountain in the next room. Wish me luck !

My favourite line so far: "A wink or a nod is all the same to a blind horse." =)

CW cannot possibly be as tough to get through as DocZhivago, and is shorter than my looming Dickens binge. This context might make it more tolerable all around.

For future reference:
paperback version of Caleb Williams or Things As They Are = 384p.
HT = 353p. / TOCS = 608p. / NN = 928p. / BH = 992p.
The Mystery of Edwin Drood (288p.) will be saved for 2019 since it is on the Kobo 50 Best Gothic Books list, noted in my other post.

My only complaint so far, is that I have very little interest in courts/lawyers and usually only tolerate these stories if they are considered classic literature. I cannot force myself otherwise. So although the politics and tyranny in Caleb Williams is at the root of the story, it mires me in wet cement. Determination of mind over matter is a powerful force.

set. 12, 2018, 10:38am

Finished audio/online text read and will let the dust settle before offering an opinion. I must admit I simply surfed through parts which might have offset any frustrated feelings. Happy though to have ticked the box.