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Abstract

Analyses of Defoe's narratives tend to dismiss his secondary characters because they lack well-developed personalities. The extensive cast of women in Moll Flanders, for instance, has been ignored largely because twentieth-century critics privilege interiority and psychology, and discount stock or "flat" characters. Ian Watt's The Rise of Novel canonized Defoe as the great novelist of self-maximizing individualism, identifying in Moll a "criminal individualism" that "tends to minimise the importance of personal relationships." Though Watt's analysis of Moll Flanders has been hotly contested, critics focus on defining the nature of Moll's individualism, tacitly agreeing with Watt's contention that personal relationships are diminished in the novel. This neglect would not be a problem if secondary characters merely provided local colour, but the actions of women in particular turn out to be critical to Moll's survival. Ignoring the "minor" female characters has led to odd imbalances in critical readings, notably with respect to feminist criticism. For example, Defoe's "narrative transvestism" has been read as seeking to misrepresent the "sexual other" and thus to co-opt the female voice." Other feminist readings of Moll Flanders tend to focus on Defoe's obsession with commerce and economics and their influence on gender relations." While Moll's narrative amply rewards these lines of critical inquiry, such approaches ignore the relationships formed between women: the factor in the story that makes Moll's survival possible.

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