Things as They Are,
The Adventures of Caleb Williams
by William Godwin

Things are seldom what they seem

Skim-milk masquerades as cream;

High-lows pass as patent leathers;

Jackdaws strut in peacocks’ feathers.

H.M.S. Pinafore

Today William Godwin (1756–1836) is best remembered as the husband of Mary Wollstonecraft and father of Mary Shelley. Unless, that is, you’re a philo­sopher, in which case he is “the father of philosophical anarchism.” Along the way he cranked out several novels—of which the present title, first published in 1794, is the best-known—and a string of educational books for children.

Title Page



Volume I

Volume II

Volume III

Unlike most multi-volume novels, the physical divisions correspond nicely to distinct parts of the narrative: Acts One, Two and Three, let’s say. In particular, almost all of Volume I is backstory involving the man who is to become Caleb Williams’s nemesis. Chapter numbering starts over at I (one) in each volume.

Godwin’s literary style balances on the cusp between 18th and 19th century. On the one hand, “fame” means reputation, while ladies are “the fair”; on the other hand, “curiosity” has its modern meaning.


This ebook is based on the 1816 fourth edition: Volume I, Volume II, Volume III.

Typographical errors are marked with mouse-hover popups and are listed again at the end of each chapter. The word “invisible” means that the letter or punctuation mark is missing, but there is an appropriately sized blank space.




J. DAVISON, Lombard-street,
Whitefriars, London.











printed for w. simpkin and r. marshal,
stationers’-court, ludgate-street.



THE Author of Caleb Williams and St. Leon has been called upon once again to revise these productions in their passage through the press. They are such as his faculties enabled him to make them sixteen or twenty years ago, at a period when the human understanding is commonly supposed to be sufficiently mature. Now, at sixty years of age, he has exercised no other power over them, than what properly belongs to a corrector of the press. He vi despaired of being able to introduce into them any essential and leading improvements; he respected the indulgence they have experienced from the public too much, to feel inclined lightly to change what that public had received with favour; and various avocations and demands upon his thoughts and attention, some of them not altogether pleasant, have indisposed him from allowing himself in that degree of luxury, which might have been his seducer in a more commodious fortune.

January 1, 1816.



THE following narrative is intended to answer a purpose, more general and important than immediately appears upon the face of it. The question now afloat in the world respecting THINGS AS THEY ARE, is the most interesting that can be presented to the human mind. While one party pleads for reformation and change, the other extols, in the viii warmest terms, the existing constitution of society. It seemed as if something would be gained for the decision of this question, if that constitution were faithfully developed in its practical effects. What is now presented to the public, is no refined and abstract speculation; it is a study and delineation of things passing in the moral world. It is but of late that the inestimable importance of political principles has been adequately apprehended. It is now known to philosophers, that the spirit and character of the government intrudes itself into every ix rank of society. But this is a truth, highly worthy to be communicated to persons, whom books of philosophy and science are never likely to reach. Accordingly it was proposed, in the invention of the following work, to comprehend, as far as the progressive nature of a single story would allow, a general review of the modes of domestic and unrecorded despotism, by which man becomes the destroyer of man. If the author shall have taught a valuable lesson, without subtracting from the interest and passion by which a performance of this sort ought to be x characterised, he will have reason to congratulate himself upon the vehicle he has chosen.

May 12, 1794.

This Preface was withdrawn in the original edition, in compliance with the alarms of booksellers. Caleb Williams made his first appearance in the world, in the same month in which the sanguinary plot broke out against the liberties of Englishmen, which was happily terminated by the acquittal of its first intended victims, xi in the close of that year. Terror was the order of the day; and it was feared that even the humble novelist, might be shewn to be constructively a traitor.

October 29, 1795.