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420 LETTERS IN CANADA 1979 recommend a better handbook for beginning or renewing an acquaintance with John Marston's work. (DAVID A. BLOSTEIN) David Blewett. Defoe's Art of Fiction: Robinson Crusoe, Moll Flanders, Colonel Jack, and Roxana University of Toronto Press. xii, 175. $17.50 Surveys of the English novel should assign this lucid book, and critics harassed by the rat-race of postmodern revisionist activity should read it as a means of coming up for air. After a preface outlining recent Defoe criticism Blewett provides an accurate sketch of 'The Artist's Vision' based on works written by Defoe before Robinson Crusoe. That novel is next analysed in a chapter entitled 'The Island and the World' in which Blewett argues that Defoe's ideas as 'expressed in his political and social non-fiction are transmuted into the themes of the novel' and that 'the special shape of Robinson Crusoe ... arises from the rhythm of imprisonment and deliverance which can be felt throughout the novel and which establishes the basic alternation of the world and the island' (p 28). Here, as in succeeding chapters on 'Moll as Whore and Thief,' 'Jacobite and Gentleman,' and 'Roxana's Secret Hell Within,' the discussion is governed by two premises: that Defoe's themes endow his fiction with coherent structures not reflected in his episodic narrative sequences; and that by reading his fiction with awareness of the context provided by eighteenth-century history as well as by Defoe's thought it is possible to find a coherent moral vision often standing in deliberately ironic contrast to the muddled thinking of protagonists like Moll, Jack, and Roxana. Blewett thus argues for irony as an effect of art not chance in Moll Flanders by turning to Religious Courtship for 'evidence that Moll's point ofview [on marriage] is not Defoe's, a fact that is confirmed by the widely different results of Moll's convictions and those of the Eldest Sister's .. . The only marriage that is successful and lasting is the one that [Moll] remakes, after the expiation of Newgate, out of love and not as the consequence of a politic scheme for carrying on business, and this fact of course gives the lie to her earlier doctrine' (p 68). Such readings do not depend on external evidence for confirmation but they gain plausibility from Blewett's comparisons. While Defoe remains as elusive as could be wished by those who argue against the metaphysics of presence, it is good to have this book as a reminder that the traces of his thought are sufficiently clear to serve as valid clues to the deSigns of his fiction even if its significance for us today and some of its formal attributes are better defined by less well-tried methods. For the riddle of why Defoe chose a double time-scheme in Roxana the contextual approach provides a solution that could hardly be otherwise HUMANITIES 421 achieved. Blewett is the first to explain (in a discussion hitherto available only in a journal) why for satiric purposes of joining contemporary attacks on eighteenth-century masquerades Defoe conceived the 'central scenes of Roxana' in such a way that they 'take place simultaneously in the reign of Charles II and of George I' (p 126). Almost equally refreshing are places where Blewett shows the value for interpretation of taking Defoe's prefaces as more than conventional gestures aimed at warding off charges offrivolous intent. Less original but no less helpful in clearing away misunderstandings are the many places where Blewett points out Defoe's success at including details for effects more important than verisimilitude, and at manipulating verbal surfaces of diction and imagery to reinforce thematic patterns. Sustained attention to such patterns by so skilful a reader as Blewett does risk leaving the impression that nothing remains to challenge enquiry. But students of criticism are in little danger these days of seeing early narratives, espeCially Defoe's, as anything but problematic. Blewett's study should help free us from the nagging question of whether Defoe's artistry preponderates over his carelessness. The answer persuasively argued here is yes. (PAUL K. ALKON) Samuel Johnson. Sermons. Edited by Jean Hagstrum and James...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 420-421
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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