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Daniel Defoe, Moll Flanders. Ed. G.A. Starr and Linda Bree. Intro. and Notes Linda Bree. Oxford World’s Classics. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. Pp. xlv + 332. $10.95. ISBN 978-0-19-280535-5.

In 2009 Oxford World's Classics re-issued its edition of Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders, the first time since 1998. Such a multi-year gap between press printings of literary classics is to be expected. So I was quite surprised to see that Oxford was coming out with this imprint edition yet again in 2011, a mere two years later. While we live in a world in which scholarship (and everything else) seems to advance at a much faster pace than it once did, this apparent update, nevertheless, seemed unexpectedly sudden. However, I soon realized that this 2011 Oxford World's Classics edition of Defoe's novel was not simply a duplication of the previous Oxford imprint editions (Oxford English Novels and World's Classics). Unlike earlier re-issues, which in essence reprint G.A. Starr's 1971 original, this most recent release, co-edited by Starr and Linda Bree, is significantly revised. Though this edition is based on the text established by Starr and relies on his explanatory notes, Bree contributes her own introduction and revises both the "Note on the Text" and the notes themselves to make them more readable than Starr's often heavily footnoted and documented prose. Bree also provides a more in-depth chronology of Defoe's life and work and of significant eighteenth-century historical events; constructs a glossary of words that might be unfamiliar to readers or whose meanings have changed considerably over time; streamlines the previous paragraph format of the "Select Bibliography" and provides a much needed update to the listings; and includes maps of the British colonies, England, and London. Starr's edition will no doubt remain the gold standard for Defoe scholars. However, Bree's revisions make the Oxford World's Classics Moll Flanders a more usable text in some ways for everyone, but especially for students and non-eighteenth-century specialists.

Perhaps the most significant change in this edition of Moll Flanders is Bree's introduction. Though the new introduction replaces that written by Starr forty years ago and highlights aspects of the novel not covered in Starr's original, Bree's focus remains on elements of the novel and its contexts that have preoccupied critics for decades and readers for centuries. Gone in Bree's introduction are Starr's comments on the quest as a major appeal of Moll Flanders for readers, his discussion of the readership of the novel, and his argument that descriptive details of surroundings are missing from the novel because Defoe is more interested in describing experience, what Starr calls "sensations of bodies and minds" (xx). Bree, like Starr, does discuss the influence of crime literature and reporting on Moll Flanders, though more briefly. However, she departs from Starr's concerns in the rest of her introduction to address the critical denigration of Defoe's works over two centuries; to consider the question of authenticity with regard to Moll's story and voice; to analyze the structure of the novel; to trace its "afterlife," with an emphasis on the numerous abridged versions that appeared in the eighteenth century; and, contra Starr, to argue that the many topographical details in the novel are reflective of Moll's (and by extension Defoe's) geographical knowledge and evidence of the story's authenticity. While these concerns are enduring ones to some extent, Bree's attention to them also indicates newer critical interests. Her discussion of the afterlife of the novel reflects more recent scholarly interest in literary adaptations, sequels, and piracies, and her discussion of topography gestures toward recent spatial or geographical approaches to literature. Thus, her introduction both foregrounds concerns that have captivated readers for years and points to new ways in which these concerns are being explored.

The other most notable revisions made by Bree are to the explanatory notes. Starr’s notes have been the specialist’s go-to source for quotations and allusions in Moll Flanders for decades and will no doubt remain so. However, Bree's modifications make her edition a more helpful source for other readers. Though we still encounter a large number of explanatory notes (283, down from Starr's 340), Bree takes measures that indicate they are composed with a broader reading audience in mind than those of Starr's original Oxford edition: she moves many of Starr's notes in which a single word is defined to her glossary; she excises some notes (e.g., one on Defoe's anticipation of objections to a foundling hospital [Starr 372]), while adding new ones of her own (e.g., an explanation of the phrase "the Steps and the String" [289]); she often excludes some of Starr's many sources for his notes; and she combines or divides up notes to render them more clear. While Bree does, at times, duplicate some of Starr's notes, she frequently relies on them more generally to create more readable prose by simplifying their form and couching references to eighteenth-century works, events, ideas, and figures in explanatory comments. This editorial practice is evident in the following reworking of Starr's note:

Starr: Page 3. (2) Advocates for the Stage: elsewhere D. usually sides with Jeremy Collier in the controversy initiated by A Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage (1698); but he holds that the blame for dramatic immorality lies chiefly with audiences, and offers economic extenuations for playwrights and actors. See Review, 3 May 1705, ii. 101–2; 26 Oct. 1706, iii. 511–2; 29 Oct. 1706, iii, 515-6; 1 Sept. 1709, vi. 257–60. Cf. also Due Prep., in Rom. & Narr., xv. 5–6. (349)

Bree: 4 THE Advocates…Stage: public dramatic performances were still controversial in the early years of the eighteenth century. Banned during the 1650s, they had quickly regained popularity during the reign of Charles II (1660–85) but were frequently criticized, especially by those with strong religious views, as immoral. The controversy achieved new impetus with the publication of Jeremy Collier's A Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage (1698), and continued on well into the eighteenth century. (288)

In this case, readers of Bree's note lose a sense of — and the sources for — Defoe's own thoughts on the stage, but gain a broader understanding of the theater controversy, illustrating how this edition of Moll Flanders seems better suited for those students and scholars new to Defoe and the eighteenth century.

Yet, at times, something more does seem lost in these reformulations. In the explanatory comments on "The Mint" and sponging houses, Bree combines two of Starr's notes, creating, again, more readable text that forgoes some of the detailed parenthetical citation and abbreviations. However, we lose the source of some important information. Bree informs us that the status of "The Mint" as "a haven for debtors who claimed it had special jurisdiction as an  ancient palace of the Crown" was "formally suppressed by law in 1723" (295). Starr's notes provide sources for both pieces of information, but while most eighteenth-century scholars are already aware of the reputation of "the Mint" as a debtors' sanctuary (this information is repeated frequently enough that we tend to take it for granted), fewer, I think, will know that legal action was taken to invalidate its traditional status in 1723. I can imagine readers wanting a source for this information to acquire more general knowledge of the period. Knowledge of the nullification of the Mint's customary role, it might be argued, is not necessary for understanding Moll Flanders, as the novel was published before 1723, but the timing of this change helps readers think about Defoe's novel as one written on the cusp of things, as traditional ways of life gave way to more modern — and, in this case, bureaucratic — ones. For those of us who are already familiar with Starr's notes, we need only consult one of these earlier Oxford editions of the novel, but those not "in the know" may find themselves occasionally feeling in need of direction for further research. Bree advises in the "Note on the Text" that anyone seeking "an extensive list of [textual] variants" should consult Starr's earlier edition of the novel (xxix–xxx). A similar comment on the explanatory notes would have been helpful to new scholars and non-specialists.

A new addition to Bree's Oxford World's Classics Moll Flanders is the inclusion of three maps. Cartographic illustrations of early eighteenth-century London, England, and the British colonies on the American eastern seaboard, all drawn for this particular edition of the novel, appear on some of the introductory pages. Each map illustrates places (buildings, parks, streets, cities, rivers, etc.) that are specifically mentioned in the novel, as well as others significant to it, which help to orient readers as they follow Moll on her seemingly constant travels. The map of England indicates the location of coach roads between different cities and towns, offering a way to visualize and understand the less than direct routes Moll takes at times. The map of London identifies main streets as well as lesser arteries that figure in Moll Flanders and pinpoints a number of landmarks. It does highlight two landmarks that are not labeled, but which — based on a comparison with maps in David Blewett's Penguin edition of Moll Flanders, which this one resembles — appear to be St. James's Palace and Bridewell (Blewett 456). But this minor point aside, the maps provide a welcome addition to this imprint of Defoe's novel. Indeed, given Defoe's attention to geography, spatial distance, place names, and descriptions of Moll's traveling routes, one wonders why such a supplement does not accompany every version of the novel. As much as I appreciate these maps, however, I would have liked to see some eighteenth-century maps alongside them. Certainly, reducing period maps to approximately 5 x 7.5 inch dimensions to fit the page of the Oxford edition would compromise their legibility in some cases. Nevertheless, supplying some sense of how eighteenth-century readers saw London, England, and the colonies cartographically would have been beneficial.

Finally, Bree provides a long overdue update to the "Select Bibliography" of the Oxford World's Classics edition of Moll Flanders. While the bibliography in the 2009 edition still did not include any scholarship beyond the late 1970s, we now have listings that extend through 2010.  Bree also organizes the bibliography into distinct categories rather than retaining the previous paragraph formatting, which made referencing difficult. The "Criticism" subsection, which is the longest, includes works ranging from Ian Watt’s study of the novel (1957) to Dennis Todd's Defoe’s America (2010), with sample criticism from the years between. However, there are still only three entries from 2000 onward, all book-length studies. I would have liked to see more recent criticism highlighted here, not least of all to show that critical interest in Defoe is still alive. Entries for articles such as Melissa Ganz's examination of Moll Flanders within debates about English marriage laws (2005), Srividhya Swaminathan's focus on female networks in the novel as a challenge to readings that emphasize its possessive individualism (2003), and Lee Kahan's excavation of concerns about serial publication in the novel would have illustrated the broader concerns of current criticism (2009). Likewise, mention of Digital Defoe itself would have noted an important development in Defoe studies more broadly.

All in all, the new Oxford World's Classics Moll Flanders provides a very useful update to a classic edition of Defoe's novel. This edition will most certainly be more attractive for teaching purposes at undergraduate and even graduate levels. And, though I doubt any eighteenth-century specialist or Defoe enthusiast will be replacing their Starr edition with this new one, I also doubt that anyone who gets hold of this edition will let it go either.

Jessica L. Hollis
Ohio University, Athens

 

WORKS CITED

Defoe, Daniel. Moll Flanders. Ed. David Blewett. London: Penguin, 1989. Print.

---. Moll Flanders. Ed. G.A. Starr. Oxford and New York: Oxford UP, 2009. Print.

Ganz, Melissa. "Moll Flanders and English Marriage Law." Eighteenth-Century Fiction 17 (2005): 157–82. Print.

Kahan, Lee. "'A Thousand Little Things': Seriality and the Dangers of Suspense in The Spectator and Moll Flanders." Digital Defoe: Studies in Defoe & His Contemporaries 1.1 (Spring 2009): 25–44. Web.


Swaminathan, Srividhya. "Defoe's Alternative Conduct Manual: Survival Strategies and Female Networks in Moll Flanders." Eighteenth-Century Fiction 15 (2003): 185–206. Print.

Todd, Dennis. Defoe's America. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010. Print.

Watt, Ian. The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson, and Fielding. London: Chatto and Windus, 1957. Print
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