Be A Man

Peep game. Peep vision. Written in 2004, I mentioned Barack Obama. Am I psychic? Does a bear shit in the woods?


EN 296

N. Leach

Friday, December 03, 2004

Be a Man

The representations of the private sphere and public life in Caleb Williams are seen quite distinctly in the portrayals of Mr. Barnabas Tyrell and Mr. Ferdinando Falkland. The novel suggests that these two men – along with the modes of life they each represent – are related through a false sense of pride. Rhetorically speaking, William Godwin is trying to show how a man should and should not act. To accomplish this, he creates two characters, cut from the same wealthy aristocratic cloth but sewn together with completely opposite moral fibers. Tyrell and Falkland are the antithesis of each other, and fittingly, are portrayed as extreme opposites. One is described as being “boisterous, rugged, and unfeeling” (Godwin 94), and the other is described as displaying “humanity, delicacy, firmness, and justice” (Godwin 105). In the first volume of this novel, Godwin has essentially created an arena for evil and good to do battle.

Apart from the rhetoric of model living, exists a deeper motive in Godwin’s writing that is driven by a thirst for knowledge of history he says is found in any “rational being” (Godwin 453). A being that, in its search for personal purpose, looks to the people of the past whom they can only assume have journeyed along the lines of a similar quest. But in their history books all these beings can find are passionately vague and impersonal representations of so called great men and women. Godwin strongly objected to this in “Of History and Romance”. In her “Introductory Discourse” to the Plays on the Passions, Joanna Baillie echoes Godwin’s sentiments which argue for the importance of depicting the private passions of individuals as opposed to the official, public representations given to historical figures. Despite their efforts, most history books remain written with an icy quill capable of showing history only as it is concerns economic and social conditions of the time. The censors of said material are seen by Godwin thusly:

They disdain the records of individuals. To interest our passions, or employ our thoughts about personal events, be they of patriots, of authors, of heroes or kings, they regard as a symptom of effeminacy. Their mighty minds cannot descend to be busied about anything less than the condition of nations, and the collation and comparison of successive ages. Whatever would disturb by exiting our feelings the torpid tranquility of the soul, they have in unspeakable abhorrence. (Godwin 454)

He holds these censors in such an unfavorable light because he feels they are doing an injustice to humanity by prohibiting them from being moved by history in a way that could possibly spark inspiration so divine that it could only benefit humanity as a whole. Godwin lobbied for historical figures to be portrayed more like fictional heroes were portrayed because – allegorically speaking – more kids want to be Superman or Batman than Malcolm X or Barack Obama. But these were truly trivial pursuits in society’s eye, whose gaze still distinctly discerns the difference between history and romance. Included in the connotations brought to mind when one thinks of romance are those immediately related to the feminine. This relation stems from fact that romance novels gained their literary prowess through the hands of women readers. But examining this fact, we see that our programmed disdain for the romance novel and all things thusly related is no more than misogynistic residue not fully washed from our society-programmed minds. Residue that causes men to look with condescension upon all things women are engrossed with; including their embrace of the passions. This misogynistic view followed this logic: women are emotional beings; displaying your emotions and emotions themselves are a sign of weakness; women are weak; therefore, to be strong, a man must do the opposite of woman. To the powers that be, the censors, romance can have no substantial value to the progress of humanity, in any facet, because, viewed as a whole, it is a pointless, artificial, mere form of entertainment. To determine which hero is liked more – the public man or the private man – Godwin creates Tyrell and Falkland, who share the values of the censors and of himself and Joanna Baillie, respectively. Through specific reference to Godwin’s article “Of History and Romance” and his novel Caleb Williams, along with citations from Joanna Baillie’s “Introductory Discourse”, this essay aims to prove that portraying historic heroes as men as passionate moral individuals rather than exclusively men of renowned fame or influence is a way of ensnaring the undivided attention of the reader and therefore facilitating the communication of rhetoric.

First let us look at Ferdinando Falkland. Early in the novel, he is described by young Caleb as having “a mind pregnant with emotions”, instantly placing him in an effeminate aura. However, thanks to the combined efforts of the narrators Collins and Williams, the reader immediately removes any negative impressions he may have of Falkland. Ferdinando, in his selfless restoration of Count Malvesi’s and Lady Lucretia’s engagement, proves indeed to be the “model of heroism” (Godwin 67). On the brink of having to fight a man he barely knew to defend an assumed but actually false lover, Falkland approaches the situation calm, apologetic, collected, and ready to make peace. He notes however to Count Malvesi, that he was “lucky” that no other knew of the situation the three aristocrats were in.

It was lucky, however, that in our interview of yesterday you found me alone, and that accident by that means threw the management of the affair into my disposal. If the transaction should be become known, the conclusion will now become known along with the provocation, and I am satisfied. But if the challenge had been public, the proofs I had formerly given of courage would not have excused my present moderation; and though desirous to have avoided combat, it would not have been in my power. Let us hence each of us learn to avoid haste and indiscretion, the consequences of which may be inexpiable but with blood… (Godwin 73)

Here Godwin has his hero acknowledge a duality found in all men in which they feel more responsibility to the public value system than to their own. Falkland acts as if the entire predicament would be out of his hands had it become public knowledge and honestly proclaims that outside the confines of his own reasonability the situation would have had to end in bloodshed. What is it that changes a man when he is placed beneath a microscope for all his fellow man to behold but his demeanor? He at once feels an innate obligation to uphold what society has deemed normal and appropriate. He at once is turned from himself into a pre-programmed drone and slave to what society tells him his values are. Luckily, for both Falkland and Malvesi, nobody caught wind of their little plight and Falkland was able to handle the situation displaying “the most brilliant manner as a man of gallantry and virtue” (Godwin 73). If someone had discovered him, Falkland would have been made to act like even “the most generous Italian” would.

He nevertheless believes than an indignity cannot be expiated but with blood, and is persuaded that the life of a man is a trifling consideration, in comparison of the indemnification to be made to his injured honor. There is, therefore, scarcely any Italian that would upon some occasions scruple assassination. Men of spirit among them, notwithstanding the prejudices of their education, cannot fail to have a secret conviction of its baseness and will be desirous of extending as far as possible the cartel of honor. Real or affected arrogance teaches others to regard almost the whole species as their inferiors… (Godwin 68)

Pride, biblically thought to be the father of all sins, is what Godwin is aptly attributing to Falkland as his one fatal flaw; that would cease to exist if society allowed men to be themselves. Instead, men are in constant competition with each other, relenting only when one man has been proved without a doubt, and for all to see, to be inferior. The ironic thing is that a man does this while possessing a passing knowledge that his actions are being delineated from some surrogate mind he does not completely trust. Nonetheless, Falkland is initially able to let his private values – those of the classic chivalric knight – shine through.

Later in the novel, we continue to see Falkland acting as an individual man should. He sees a fire blazing in the distance and he at once “puts his spurs into his horse” to rush toward the fire and the rescue of any poor soul. There, he finds, and rescues from the flames, Emily, the young cousin of his soon to be mortal enemy Tyrell. He then takes the initiative to rally the frightened mob into order so they can help extinguish the quickly spreading fire. The young lady naturally develops an appreciation for her rescuer and upon being returned to her cousin Tyrell, cannot help but sing endless praises in honor of his gallantry. At first, Tyrell is just happy his cousin is safe as is seen in his display of “those unpremeditated emotions which are common to almost every individual of the human race” when he sees that she is indeed safe (Godwin106). But when he is made to listen to Emily recount the tale, he finds that it is “all fairy-land and enchantment” and he soon becomes nauseous at her exaggerated depictions of “Mr. Falkland as the model of elegant manners and true wisdom” (Godwin 106). Here we see Tyrell change from a man concerned with his private interest in the safety of his cousin into a man blinded by public jealousy.

All his kindness for this unhappy orphan gradually subsided. Her partiality for the man, who was the object of his unbound abhorrence, appeared to him as the last persecution of a malicious destiny. He figured himself as about to be deserted by every creature in human form; all men, under the influence of a fatal enchantment, approving only what was sophisticated and artificial, and holding the rude and genuine offspring of nature in mortal antipathy. (Godwin 108)

Tyrell’s apparent fall into what may be called the ‘dark-side’ of the aristocracy is sealed with Emily’s innocent praise of her hero who displays “such dignity, such affability, so perpetual an attention to the happiness of others, such delicacy of sentiment and expression. [All while being] learned without ostentation, refined without foppery, elegant without effeminacy” (Godwin 79). But Tyrell does see Falkland as an effeminate man, fatally enchanted with books of poetry and prose, and believes “the human species were made to be nailed to a chair” (Godwin 78). On the contrary, he sees himself as a “rude and genuine offspring of nature” because he is often brutally honest and naturally tyrannous; born to rule. Consequently, he will not suffer Emily and her infatuation and swears to teach Emily “the difference between high-flown notions and realities” (Godwin 111). Tyrell clearly represents here the sentiments of the censors who often forbid fantasy from entering the history books. He is made to represent these people, whose “wealth and despotism” rule society with unfeeling cruelty and stubbornness. However, it is Tyrell’s stubbornness that makes him much like Falkland. He too has pride, and too much at that, for “however wrong his conduct might be, he would by no means admit of its being set right by the suggestions of others” (Godwin 133). In private, Tyrell can be found to display gentleness, but must at once counter that display to uphold his public reputation of being a no-nonsense kind of man. For example, when he attempts to force Emily to marry Grimes just to spite her for praising Falkland in his own home, he is initially moved by her oratory of self-rule, but upon consideration of the public’s knowledge of his flip-flop, he decides to ruin Emily as he already planned.

In both Tyrell and Falkland we see men too ashamed, as if by fear of being exiled by society, to do what their individual self knows what is right. In the end however, it is Tyrell, the man so extremely obsessed with is public image, who has is personal image shattered. Just as Falkland prophesized, Tyrell is shunned by society once they learn of his harshness that lead to the untimely death of his own cousin. Tyrell now not only hates Falkland but he hates what he himself has become and is at times “blasted with compunctions of guilt” (Godwin 144). At the end of volume one of Caleb Williams, the pride of these two men is responsible for the death of one woman, a father and his son. Yet if we, the readers, ask ourselves which man we sympathize with more, and relate to more, it would be hard to imagine not answering in the favor of Mr. Falkland. For he, unlike Tyrell, has identified his weakness as his pride. Of course this decision is made easy for the reader by the narrator who obviously himself favors the noble hero in his extensive descriptions of his virtue. On the other hand, Tyrell is mostly described in terms of how he behaves in the company of other people. In essence, the narrator shows us two men, one private and one public and because of Godwin’s rhetoric, we come out supporting the private man.

But it is not just that the reader is steered into this decision to favor the private man. Godwin brings us with him along flawless logic that cannot motivate any other rational conclusion. In this sense he achieves what his novel set out to do; that is proving that a historical figure’s story would be strengthened if it told the tale of his struggle with his greatest adversary, himself. To quote Joanna Baillie:

If we are not acquainted with him, how eagerly will we listen to similar recollections from another! Let us understand, from observation or report, that any person harbors in his breast, concealed from the world’s eye, some powerful rankling passion of what kind so ever it may be, we will observe every word, every motion, every look, even the distant gait of such a man, with a constancy and attention bestowed upon no other. (Baillie 73)

The basis for her argument is simply that greater knowledge, understanding, and wisdom can be communicated through historical figures that are annexed as being individuals whom the reader can relate to on an individual level; that is, through their mutual struggles with the emotions of the soul and their secret passions of high merit.

Works Cited

Baillie, Joanna. “Introductory Discourse” from The Plays on the Passions. Peter Duthie, ed., Broadview Press, 2001.

Godwin, William. Caleb Williams. Macdonald and Kathleen Scherf. Peterborough:

Broadview, 2004.

Not the cover I have, but cool still.

Not the cover I have, but cool still.

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