A Defoe Companion by J. R. Hammond (auth.)

By J. R. Hammond (auth.)

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To learn that Crusoe is a wholly imaginary account would destroy the myth Defoe has been at such pains to sustain. It may be objected that Defoe's narratives are not novels in the Jamesian or Leavisian sense but works of reportage; that what is presented is merely a journalistic impression masquerading as fiction. But close examination of his narratives (as will be demonstrated in the chapters which follow) does not support this view. For in considering Defoe we are faced with the question: how do we account for his continuing popularity?

The story is based in part on the experiences of Alexander Selkirk, a Scot who was marooned on the island of Juan Fernandez for four years (1704-9). Robinson Crusoe has been translated into almost every language and has even become the basis of pantomime. ROBINSON CRUSOE First published 1724. Full title: Roxana, The Fortunate Mistress. The fictional autobiography of a courtesan and adventuress, the daughter of Huguenot parents who settled in England. Roxana makes extensive use of flashback and reveals Defoe's growing mastery of the craft of the novel.

Reference has already been made to the similarities between Defoe and Wells. Both were didactic novelists with a strong sense of the role of the novel as a vehicle for the discussion of ideas; both were much more at home in the discursive tradition than in the conception of the novel as a harmoniously constructed work of art; and both regarded the genre as an infinitely flexible form which could accommodate fictionalised autobiography, documentary, travel adventure and confessional. When Wells proclaimed that the novel is a 'powerful instrument of moral suggestion' and that it should 'discuss conduct, analyse conduct, suggest conduct, illuminate it through and through' } 9 Defoe would undoubtedly have concurred.

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