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Abstract

Let me begin by saying that I am writing as a defender of Defoe's place in what has sometimes been called "the rise of the novel." A few years ago, at a meeting of the Western Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, I heard a diatribe against Defoe and his creation Moll Flanders as an example of male usurpation. By assuming the voice of a female narrator, so the argument went, Defoe had insulted women in general. The work was not so much writing as ventriloquism, and Defoe was simply exploiting the character of Moll and womankind to make money and for some obscure nefarious purposes. This attack resembled, but went far beyond, the accusations against Defoe in Madeleine Kahn's Narrative Transvestism; Defoe's writing amounted to narrative villainy. Shortly thereafter, I read a book which advocated replacing Robinson Crusoe with what was apparently a much more satisfying work-Charles Martin's Passages from Friday--that is, replacing a book that has maintained an audience throughout the world for 280 years with a work having a more appropriate message for us. Who, after all, would want to read a work that is clearly prejudiced against cannibals and opposed to vegetarian principles (among the charges levelled against Crusoe were that he eats the goats on his island and appears to feel a distinct dislike for the Caribs who use what he had come to think of as his island for the purpose of devouring the natives of other tribes)? That the cannibals would most willingly hack his body into pieces with their wooden swords and indeed, eventually, engage in an attack upon the nascent colony in The Further Adventures of Robinson Crusoe is not seen as an excuse. What is most at issue here is the vicious mind of the colonialist which must be castigated against all common sense.

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