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Caleb Williams

Caleb Williams (Penguin Classics) - William Godwin Caleb Williams is part philosophical novel, part thriller and part vocabulary lesson. Usually the book is cited as being anarchic, but it isn't directly so. It doesn't suggest an alternative to the existing government, it's not pro-capitalism or pro-syndicalism but it does hold to the most basic principles of moral anarchy which are non-violence and non-coercion. It is extremely critical of "monopolists and kings." In Godwin's own words: "law ] better adapted for a weapon of tyranny in the hands of the rich, than for a shield to protect the humbler part of the community against their usurpations."His case is compelling, especially given the late 18th century England setting. The protagonist is pursued ruthlessly by a man who is able to manipulate the law based on his wealth and reputation. Caleb Williams tries every legal and social recourse to escape, but at each turn is prevailed upon by his more wealthy and influential enemy. At times, this scenario seems pretty unlikely and is possibly a little too pessimistic about the motives of government, but still, it illustrates the harrowing point rather well.Philosophy aside, Caleb Williams is a page-turner. It doesn't move as fast as modern thrillers, William's internal dialog becomes a little tedious, but there is no lack of danger or suspense. He is the archetype of rugged manliness and never subject to moral equivocation. It's plausible that he provided Rand with some inspiration for Howard Roark.At the end of the edition I read, there some great contemporary reviews. Some miss the philosophical point of the book entirely and only praise or criticize it on its literary merits. Most of the rest blast it to perdition for its blasphemous criticism of the English government and its lack of an explicit religious message. Even so, they all praise the writing style (some even compare him to [a:DeFoe and Cervantes). Only William Hazlitt (tellingly, the only one of the critics whose name hasn't been relegated to obscurity today) is somewhat sympathetic to the ideas of the book. A quotation:"Strange that men, from age to age, should consent to hold their lives at the breath of another, merely that each in his turn may have a power of acting the tyrant according to the law! Oh, God! give me poverty! Shower upon me all the imaginary hardships of human life! I will receive them with all thankfulness. Turn me a prey to the wild beasts of the desert, so I be never again the victim of man, dressed in the gore-dripping robes of authority! Suffer me at least to call life, the pursuits of life, my own! Let me hold it at the mercy of the elements, of the hunger of the beasts, or the revenge of barbarians, but not of the cold-blooded prudence of monopolists and kings!"