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"The Gift of my Father's Bounty": Patriarchal Patronization in Moll Flanders and Roxana William E. Hummel Arizona State University But our tokens of compliment and love are for the most part barbarous. Rings and other jewels are not gifts, but apologies for gifts. The only gift is a portion of thyself. Thou must bleed for me. —Ralph Waldo Emerson What would a feminist analysis ofMoll Flanders and Roxana—two of Defoe's most anti-institutional novels—look like which presented as its theoretical framework not a Marxian critique of market economies but rather ethnographic studies of gift-based economies? Two points I want to contend in this paper are that such an analysis would both open up new avenues for exploring how female identity is constructed and female experience shared, and would also immediately enter into the debate between Marxists and Feminists— specifically, the issue raised by Marilyn Strathern, "whether primacy should be accorded to class or to gender divisions" (Gender 25). In one of the more popular examples of this debate, Lois A. Chaber shows how Moll Flanders represents Defoe's critique of an emergent capitalist society and the bourgeoisie who inhabit it: the intricacies of marriage laws, the overarching maleficence and disorder of Newgate, and the nuances of capitalism all attract Defoe's satire and social criticism, while finally revealing "the more longstanding evils of sexism" (213). No longer, implies Chaber, can the deepest impulses of Defoe's narratives be analyzed unless one is of a "joint Marxist and feminist persuasion, who emphasizels] the contradictions in the condition of women under capitalism" (213). But can Defoe's own genuine critique of those institutions which sustain patriarchal imperatives be construed as Marxist, especially since Defoe's most recent biographer, Paula Backscheider, details Defoe's own creative, often lucrative, yet finally doomed capitalist projects (50-52, 55-67)?' And although Marxist critics have rightly attempted to shift the critical emphasis on Defoe's characters from their souls to their material social conditions, can the author of An Essay on South-Sea Trade and Atlas Maritimus be regarded as the source for a critique of capitalistic market economies, especially when this latter suggests how London might become the axis for world-wide 119 120Rocky Mountain Review trade by "treating the history, geography, ports, commerce, natural resources, cities, and people of almost the entire known world" (Backscheider 442)?2 I raise these questions because my own contribution to the already overpopulated world of Defoe criticism attempts to explain how Defoe's critique of the social, political, and economic rights accruing to males and the deprivation of the same for women is not, as many have argued, dependent so much on the systematic consequences of the relations of production.3 Instead, it is my argument that a theory of gift exchange more accurately and more fully explains the types of material and symbolic transactions that take place between Defoe's male and female characters. Specifically, both Moll and Roxana are gifted women (thoughtful, intelligent, crafty, conscience-stricken, tenacious), and "gifted" by men; that is, the physical endowments they receive help to confer their identity and subsume their subjectivity. To give is to give a particular sex-role, one almost always embedded in subjugation, and it is the tendency of Defoe's male characters to turn a gift transaction into a market transaction by demanding profit that most fully reveals the "gender of the gift." I take my lead here from Marilyn Strathern who uses this term to explain differences in cultural and social practices that remain unexplained by theories of material capital on the one hand, and simplistic ethnographic theories of gender formations on the other. While Strathern's book never mentions Defoe and is not completely suited to my purposes here, so many of the conditions of experience in Moll Flanders and Roxana are subtended beneath instances of material and symbolic gift transactions that Strathern's notion of the "gender of the gift" will prove to be an appropriate theoretical framework for both disclosing what Defoe sometimes installs in place of the exchange of material wealth, and for complicating (but not obscuring) both Moll's and Roxana's variously positioned selves...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-2833
Print ISSN
1948-2825
Pages
pp. 119-141
Launched on MUSE
2016-01-06
Open Access
No
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