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  • True-Born Nationality and Other Patriarchal Fictions in Henry Neville's The Isle of Pines (1668) and Daniel Defoe's The True-Born Englishman (1700/1)1
  • Amanda Louise Johnson

"A True-Born Englishman's a Contradiction, / In Speech an Irony, in Fact a Fiction." (1.372-3).1 So says The True-Born Englishman, a satirical poem that by Daniel Defoe (ca. 1660-1731). Until recently, Defoe's early career as a poet has gone relatively ignored, perhaps because it reveals a Defoe living in the Restoration rather than the novel-dominated early eighteenth century. Written in heroic couplets and engaging with biblical allegories to discuss the English nation, The True-Born Englishman certainly shows the broad influence of Dryden's Absalom & Achitophel. Defoe biographers, moreover, have noted his admiration of Rochester and Milton, two men who deployed graphic language to expose the abuse of patriarchal power, another central theme of The True-Born Englishman.2 Neither Milton nor Rochester, though, linked dysfunctional monarchy with a vexed English identity quite as directly the republican satirist Henry Neville (1619-1694), an idiosyncratic figure most remembered for his fictional travel narrative, The Isle of Pines.

Published in its first complete edition in 1668, Neville's The Isle of Pines relates the discovery of a fictional island that has been settled by several English-speaking castaways.3 Because of the text's frank discussions of polygamy, The Isle of Pines has been received somewhat uncritically by some as a light-hearted satire or "pornotopia."4 Polygamy in The Isle, however, has serious consequences that expose the fictionality of legitimate descent that underwrote hereditary monarchy as well as the nativist system of national belonging. In this respect, The Isle of Pines anticipates Defoe's thesis in The True-Born Englishman (1701) that the principle of legitimate descent—central to Stuart royalism, ethnocentric [End Page 3] nationalism, and white supremacy in the colonies—was a noxious fiction that would divide England against itself and render it vulnerable to foreign conquest.

Henry Neville's The Isle of Pines and Patriarchal Dystopia

The Isle of Pines begins in 1668 with a frame narrative in which a Dutch sailor, Captain Henry Van Sloetten, relates his discovery of an island near Madagascar.5 Surprised when the "naked Islanders" turn out to speak English, Van Sloetten and his crew land on the island to investigate further (3).6 They meet the island's current ruler, William Pine, who offers Van Sloetten the testimony of his grandfather George Pine, the founder of the community. George Pine's testament thus appears to the reader as an inset narrative within William Pine's inset narrative, and when it ends, William Pine resumes narrating to Van Sloetten the island's history under George's successors. The Dutch captain then observes more of the Pines' culture, quells an islander rebellion, and sails onto the East Indies, musing on the Isle of Pines' ripeness for European conquest. The narrative moves quickly, and in just over thirty pages from a modern octavo volume, The Isle of Pines deconstructs systems of privilege based on descent, suggesting that the social inventions of legitimacy and illegitimacy will ultimately undo the patriarchal structure from which they arise.

The seeds of patriarchy's self-destruction first appear in The Isle of Pines' inset story, in which George Pine is a bookkeeper who joins a commercial vessel called The Indian Merchant, helmed by a man named "English," on a voyage to the East Indies (7). The year is 1569, during the reign of Elizabeth I, later idealized by seventeenth-century republicans as the antithesis of Stuart tyranny (7).7 Regarded by Restoration republicans as England's "Golden Age," the Elizabethan era comes to an abrupt end in 1603 with the queen's death and, because of the patriarchal laws of monarchical succession, the descent of the throne to James, who would alienate Parliament with his belief in the divine right of kings.8 For Restoration-era republicans looking back, England in 1569 must have seemed like a grand vessel unaware of its coming shipwreck.

And of course The Indian Merchant does wreck, killing everyone except George Pine, the merchant's daughter Sarah...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1941-952X
Print ISSN
0162-9905
Pages
pp. 3-28
Launched on MUSE
2019-07-19
Open Access
No
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