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A “Body Unfitt”: Daniel Defoe in the Pillory and the Resurrection of the Versifying Self

From: The Eighteenth Century
Volume 54, Number 3, Fall 2013
pp. 393-407 | 10.1353/ecy.2013.0033

Abstract

Abstract:

This article explores Daniel Defoe’s poetic attempts at fashioning a new public literary identity for himself before and after his experience of the pillory in 1703. When his standing as a satirist and moral commentator came under attack as a consequence of publishing the controversial The Shortest Way with the Dissenters, Defoe used his poetry to counteract the disastrous consequences of his public punishment. This article suggests that, in order to recover his previously elevated position as the period’s leading verse satirist, Defoe tried to (re-)author an alternative, disembodied self. This process begins in A Hymn to the Pillory (1703) with an imagined merging of Defoe’s own body with that of the pillory to produce a monstrous symbol of governmental corruption and continues in An Elegy on the Author of the True-Born Englishman (1704) through the theme of compromised corporality and a metaphorical burial of the author’s tainted body. The process of Defoe’s authorial refashioning is then completed in the poem appended to An Elegy, ‘The Storm’, which describes the resurrection from its grave of an indignant but disembodied and therefore uncompromised versifying ‘walking Ghost’ that, having withdrawn itself from the gaze of the authoring other, could resume the function of national moral guardian.



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