Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Caleb Williams is engaged as secretary by Mr. Ferdinando Falkland, the wealthiest and most respected squire in the country. Falkland, although a considerate employer, is subject to fits of distemper that bewilder Caleb. These black moods are so contrary to his employer’s usual gentle nature that Caleb soon investigates, asking Collins, a trusted servant of the household, about them and learning from him the story of Falkland’s early life.
Studious and romantic in his youth, Falkland lived many years abroad before he returned to England to live on his ancestral estate. One of his neighbors was Barnabas Tyrrel, a man of proud, combative nature. When Falkland returned to his family estate, Tyrrel was the leading gentleman in the neighborhood. As a result of his graceful manners and warm intelligence, Falkland soon began to win the admiration of his neighbors. Tyrrel was jealous and showed his feelings by speech and actions. Falkland tried to make peace, but the ill-tempered Tyrrel refused his proffered friendship.
Miss Emily Melvile, Tyrrel’s cousin, occupied the position of a servant in his household. One night, she was trapped in a burning building, and Falkland saved her. Afterward, Emily could do nothing but praise her benefactor. Her gratitude annoyed her cousin, who planned to take revenge on Emily for her admiration of Falkland. He found one of his tenants, Grimes, a clumsy, ill-bred lout, to consent to marry Emily. When Emily...
(The entire section is 948 words.)
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Volume I, Chapters I–XII
Caleb Williams, born to a poor family laboring on the estate of the wealthy Ferdinando Falkland, is raised to be honest and virtuous, with an active mind and healthy body. Though of limited means, Caleb learns to read and write. Mr. Collins, the chief administrator of Mr. Falkland's estate, notices Caleb's progress, and, after the death of Caleb's parents, Collins recommends Caleb for service to Mr. Falkland. Mr. Falkland, though a cultivated and not unkind master, has a reserved and distant manner and at other times seems to be possessed by “paroxysms” that cause him to retreat into “a solitude upon which no person dared intrude.” He employs Caleb as his amanuensis, and Caleb thus finds himself frequently in the company of Falkland. During his employment, Caleb surprises Mr. Falkland at some mysterious activity concerning a locked chest in the library. Mr. Falkland, “sparkling with rage,” accuses Caleb of being “a spy” and terrifies Caleb by his irrational outburst. Though Mr. Falkland later expresses regret and gives a gift of money to Caleb, Caleb confides his confusion about the day’s events to Mr. Collins who then narrates the story of Mr. Falkland.
Ferdinando Falkland’s aristocratic lineage was not wasted on him. He cultivated his mind, body, and virtues and brought them all to bear upon improving the general welfare. He was active in executing the requirements of good governance and good management, respecting the structures by which his culture distributed in equitable fashion the fruits of individual labor. He found expression for this gallantry in the stories of Italian epic poets such as Boiardo, Ariosto, and Tasso. However, he was also exposed to the darker side of such codes of chivalry as practiced by the Italians—namely, the use of duels and assassination to rectify perceived slights to one's honor. In one instance, he acquits himself, through the use of reason and straightforward talk, of a charge of seducing the Lady Lucretia away from her betrothed, Count Malvese. Thus in a display of Falkland’s genius, he expresses an understanding of “things as they are” concluding to Count Malvese,...
(The entire section is 5341 words.)