The cover of Defoe's Footprints, with its reproduction of a nineteenth-century illustration of Robinson Crusoe's iconic footprint scene, might suggest that this collection is solely concerned with that novel. This would be appropriate in a festschrift for Maximillian Novak, since he has single-handedly set the terms of much serious scholarly treatment of Defoe's best-known novel. But the plural in the title emphasizes that there is more under consideration here: it recognizes that Daniel Defoe's contribution to letters goes far beyond Robinson Crusoe and acknowledges the wide-ranging work of the scholar that best helped us realize this fact. Edited by Robert M. Maniquis and Carl Fisher, this collection grew out of the 2002 conference of the same name held at the William Andrews Clark Library at UCLA in Novak's honor, though not all of the original papers are included and others have been added more recently.
The subjects examined in these essays include Defoe's poetry, the history of realist representation, colonial ideology, and the South Sea Bubble, though Defoe's imaginative works are given the lion's share of attention. The opening essay by Stuart Sherman, "Defoe's Silences," is an excellent example of this emphasis, touching on Defoe's Continuation of Letters Written by a Turkish Spy, Colonel Jack, A Journal of the Plague Year, and Serious Reflections. Extending Novak's observation that Defoe sees language as incapable of describing certain occurrences, Sherman claims, "Language, as [Defoe] deploys it, is adequate to one recurrent task: it emphasizes the distance of events and the silence of the text" (16). Silence is in fact both a representation of the period's growing consciousness of the mediating power of print as a means of transmission as well as part of early realist fiction's "reality effect," for what is partially occluded is all the more desirable. The result is an insight into both Defoe's fictional method and the significance of literary representation, and like many essays in the collection it foregrounds and then develops arguments put forward by Novak.
Though Defoe's Footprints is not divided into sections or explicit thematic groupings, the opening three essays, including Sherman's, are primarily concerned with examining formal features of Defoe's fictions and poetry. In "Poetic Footprints: Some Formal Issues in Defoe's Verse," J. Paul Hunter notes the poor critical fortunes of Defoe's poetry, and asks why, nevertheless, his poetry was demonstrably popular between 1700 and 1706. Making arguments congruent with those presented by Andreas Mueller in his recent Critical Study of Daniel Defoe's Verse: Recovering the Neglected Corpus of His Poetic Work (which is indebted to Hunter's previous writings on this subject), Hunter attributes this discrepancy to the imposition of anachronistic literary expectations on Defoe. Defoe's poems are powerful examples of late-seventeenth-century poetry, though published in the eighteenth, and are best understood within seventeenth-century conceptions of genre (especially of "satyr") and rhyme (as consonance rather than perfect rhyme was more acceptable). Taking factors such as these into account, Defoe's prominence in turn-of-the-century British poetry is transformed from anomalous to obvious.
"The Atmospheres of Robinson Crusoe" by Jayne Lewis is the last of the early essays that focus on the formal elements of Defoe's writings. But this essay, like several others in the collection, has a larger argument to make about the interpretation of realist writing of the eighteenth century. In addressing the "atmospheres" of Robinson Crusoe, Lewis quite literally looks at the "singularly eventful airspace that...surrounds, pervades, and penetrates Crusoe's island" (33), which she uses to demonstrate how Defoe linguistically constitutes Crusoe's experiences. Lewis interrogates the terms of the long-standing interpretive division between "allegorical" and "historical" readings of the novel. In this respect, her essay is similar to Robert Folkenflik's "Robinson Crusoe and the Semiotic Crisis of the Eighteenth Century," which frames this division as one between "religious" and "materialist" readings (98). Neither essay is able to resolve in a conclusive manner the interpretive split that has lain at the heart of discussions of Robinson Crusoe since its publication; however, the way in which Lewis equates descriptions of the phenomena of the air in the novel and the "air of truth" (49) created by such verisimilitude reminds us that both the allegorical and historical aspects of the novel "uphold and sustain the experience of novel fiction itself" (51). Folkenflik sees the dichotomy of religious and materialist readings not as a function of realist fiction but rather as arising from a "crisis in the history of signs" (99). Specifically targeting Ian Watt's reduction of Defoe to a formal realist, he argues that Defoe's writing is caught between the world of Milton and Bunyan and that of Richardson and Fielding, and as such represents the world in two different registers simultaneously (103). Both essays make revisiting the question of the Robinson Crusoe's interpretation well worthwhile.
John Richetti's "Mimesis/mimesis and the Eighteenth-Century British Novel: Representation and Knowledge" enters this volume's conversation on realism not to comment on Defoe's technique but rather to defend and expand upon Erich Auerbach's arguments in Mimesis. Citing and dismissing critics of Auerbach's work, Richetti develops what he sees as a "missed opportunity" on Auerbach's part to recognize the "last phase of the emergence of new realistic forms of representation" as it was realized in the novels of Defoe, Haywood, and Fielding (73). Through insightful close readings, particularly of Haywood and Fielding, Richetti both confirms and complicates Auerbach's arguments by discovering not realism but realisms.
Roxanne Wheeler's and Laura Brown's contributions to the collection both begin by examining the same moment in Captain Singleton, and both are distinct from the rest in their focus upon colonial ideology. Wheeler's "Powerful Affections: Slaves, Servants, and Labours of Love in Defoe's Writing" explains the strange importance Defoe frequently places on the affection of the subordinated in his fiction, mapping how the feelings of gratefulness and reverence supposedly due to a head of household or master in England came to be expected of slaves, thus turning "patriarchal governance into colonial ideology" (127). Wheeler's argument questions aspects of George Boulukos's The Grateful Slave: The Emergence of Race in Eighteenth-Century British and American Culture (2008), and will make most readers re-examine Friday's more obsequious moments from a new perspective. Laura Brown's subject in "Defoe's 'Black Prince': Elitism, Capitalism, and Cultural Difference" is "the ideological uses of primitivism" (153). Brown explores how Defoe employed the figure of the Oroonoko-like Black Prince to naturalize the foreign, noting that Africans can be represented as either princes or monsters (163). Drawing on the work of Terry Jay Ellingson (erroneously referred to in the introduction to the book as Terry Eagleton) and Hayden White, Brown uses this example from Defoe to demonstrate that the "noble savage" is in fact a tool used to absorb the values of the aristocratic system into "bourgeois ideology," creating a "universal humanism" and systems of racial and economic inequality at one and the same time (167–68).
Three essays toward the end of the volume depart to varying degrees from the rest. Carl Fisher's "'The Project and the People': Defoe on the South Sea Bubble and the Public Good" is an excellent scholarly review of Defoe's writing on the South Sea scheme and the economic crisis that resulted from it, but is alone in this volume in presenting Defoe's words without offering a close or detailed explication of them. Manuel Schonhorn's "The Writer as Hero from Jonson to Fielding" is topically more of a fit. Stylistically, however, it reads like the précis to a forthcoming book—one would assume it describes the ongoing project on the "consecration of the artist" mentioned in the author's note (253). The essay moves rapidly through ten heavily-footnoted pages, with a mere paragraph or two devoted to the individual examples of Defoe, Pope, and Fielding, to arrive at a conclusion about the writer's place in modern society that would be better developed at greater length. Michael Seidel's essay differs from others in the volume in that its focus is on James Joyce, not Defoe, though he discusses Joyce's relationship to Defoe as a realist writer. In "Robinson Trousseau: Joyce's Defoe," Seidel contends that not only are both Defoe and Joyce part of the same realist tradition, but also that Joyce acknowledged his debt to Defoe for some of the "accoutrements of realism" (206) through oblique references and puns in Ulysses and Finnegan's Wake.
If these three essays make this a somewhat less coherent collection, John Bender's "The Novel as Modern Myth" returns this book's focus to the concerns with which it began. Writing with a style and scope that will remind readers of his Imagining the Penitentiary: Fiction and the Architecture of Mind in Eighteenth-Century England, particularly in his continued emphasis on the role of free indirect discourse in the development of fictional narrative, Bender outlines the qualities that have allowed Robinson Crusoe, Frankenstein, and Dracula to become more than the sum of their narrative parts—to become, by his definition, myths. What makes a narrative a myth is not its content or themes but qualities such as a sense of primal originality or "firstness" (224) and a style that effaces itself, that is "apparitional" (233). This argument interestingly is perhaps the greatest departure from Novak's thinking, for, as Robert Folkenflik reminds us in his essay, it was upon reading Ian Watt's "Robinson Crusoe: The Novel as Myth" that Novak began to work on Defoe in order to argue against some of Watt's conclusions. Though at odds with Novak's own thinking, Bender's essay ends this collection and this tribute in an appropriately grand way, emphasizing that Robinson Crusoe and Defoe's writing in general will remain objects of scholarly inquiry for many years to come.
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