Killing the Illegitimate: The Narrative Function of Shame in Defoe’s Roxana
The following abstract is for a paper presented at the 2009 meeting of NEASECS.
In The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Adam Smith asserts that a pilloried man is contemptible, shamed and excluded from the sympathy which, in Smith’s model, is necessary to sociability. Smith’s view reverses that ironically voiced by Bernard de Mandeville twenty-five years earlier: “It is incredible how necessary an Ingredient Shame is to make us sociable” (68). This paper examines the shifting value of shame in the early eighteenth century by studying Daniel Defoe’s Roxana. In it I suggest, first, that shame becomes a topos at the point that the novel becomes a genre; and, second, that Roxana reveals the novel’s navigation between two models of sociability, the shame-based model observed by Mandeville and Smith’s modern, sympathetic one. While critics of the eighteenth-century novel have largely focused on the development of “sociable” feelings associated with the age of sentiment, I argue that shame, not sympathy, is the unsightly passion most necessary to the genre and that it persists as the core of sympathetic sociability.