Did I customarily focus on the economic, cultural, and desires of Man? According to Hans Turly in Piracy, Identity, and Desire in "Captain Singleton," the most important of my piratical works is Captain Singleton, which focuses, according to Turly, on psychological realism and domestic subjectivity. In short, this work is dissected, beginning with young Singleton's pirate adventures created from or as a result of identity avoidance. For example, even after his success, Singleton "blushes" that he wasted all his wealth and preferred to go back to sea rather than return to his humble life and old friends. He determines to become a true sea rogue, enjoying the freedom that comes with unrestrained erotic and economical desires.
This absent sense of identity, whether natural or intentional, begins its resolution at the midpoint of the story with the introduction
of William Quaker. He is in his own eyes a good man, for he indulges in piracy only as an advisor, taking his shares of loot without getting his hands bloody. Throughout the rest of the story,
Quaker and Singleton forge a
bond of brotherhood that inspires both men to eventually seek their own ideas of
repentance. Singleton goes as far as to marry Quaker's sister and settle down in England, although according to Turly, it is a red herring designed to camouflage the true wishes of Singleton and Quaker, who desire only each other over money, jewels, or women.
Regardless of modern opinion of the homoerotic desires of pirates and other outsiders to society, Captain Singleton should direct the reader's thoughts to the hypocritical relationship between England and its pursuits at sea (domestic subjectivity).
Turly acknowledges the only difference between traders and privateers when held up to the Brethren of the Sea is the sanction of their activities. In addition, when there was no war there was no need of the excess of sailors ashore, thus perpetuating the temptation to rove. King and country were willing to offer pardons when more bodies were needed to control trade or conquer kingdoms. If pirates were not useful, they were executed. If Singleton is in fact a commentary on the psyche and influence of domesticity, it must be remembered that England herself was a perpetuator of the romance of piracy.
Much has been made of my attempt to replicate the voice of Woman in my fictitious novel, Roxanna, where I confess I am once again invested in the quest for freedom and success. While there is no mention of piracy, though surely a woman does not need a ship or the open sea to revolt, Julie Crane of Defoe's "Roxana": The Making and Unmaking of a Heroine, declares my main character, a female, first and foremost accountable to reality despite a small romantic influence. This novel examines the facets of social triumph and moral ruin, an option available to any class, especially in the imagination of a writer.
In Crane's essay, she contrasts the recovering city of London (the plague and fires have been conquered) against the unfortunate Roxana. The city is "pleased" and "recovered," but my heroine who escapes poverty and abandonment does so only to find herself alone, afflicted, and ruined in the end.
Why choose a common woman to achieve the heady success of wealth and fame (as a courtesan) only to lose it all? Perhaps I understand the
need for identity and acceptance in us all; the fairer sex being no stranger to the desire for those material comforts that ease the burden of our existence. However, according to Crane, I merely
unmake my heroine out of defeat, as if I had written myself into a corner and needed an escape.
I confess many find the story unresolved, but I stand by the reality that life rarely works itself out as we wish it. We do not find of
all the answers we seek, even if we believe we have all of the time and opportunity in the world.
Where Roxana was a cast out, starved wife, who found herself rescued by ambition only to fall into the tragic circumstances of a bereaved mother and ruined socialite, Robinson Crusoe meets his happy ending after almost two decades on a little island. Was success due in part to ingenuity, like the intelligent Roxana, or was it mere luck, a gift endowed by his Creator?
Harry F. Robins questions the modern critic who sings my praises for supplying Crusoe with so limited a selection of tools, as well as those who admire the castaway's "unusual mechanical ability," in his critical interpretation, How Smart was Robinson Crusoe? He is correct in pointing out that Crusoe has an enormous storehouse in his cave. Gathered before the ship broke up, there is clothing, provisions, powder, cable, rigging, rope, instruments, charts, and even the carpenter's chest. Robins admiringly raises the fact that one must assume the chest,
"would include augers, planes, files, rasps, pliers, spokeshaves, squares, several kinds of saws, and many other common cutting and
shaping tools? Since the life of every man aboard might depend upon the carpenter's skill, it is not likely that his equipment would have offered to Robinson Crusoe only an adze, a chisel, and a
mallet. Yet the castaway seems to have taken no more than these from the chest."
So why did the castaway so often complain of his lack of tools and supplies? Did I, the author, simply forget about them?
admits he "never handled a tool" in his life, setting the stage for his poor attempts to build a boat. However, he does show himself to be quite resourceful, but he cannot launch a craft and fails in his attempts to create his own pottery. Robins reminds us that I was a London merchant in my early career, familiar with those parts that would sustain a ship. Indeed, at one time I owned and managed my own tile works. Thus it would have been my intentional decision to handicap my hero in order to legitimize the true experience of an Englishman attempting to survive on a deserted island, even with a surplus of stores. Robins agrees with me, stating,
"Defoe's artistic conception of his castaway lies behind Crusoe's remark: 'I was as yet but a very sorry workman, though time and
necessity made me a complete natural mechanic, as I believe it would do anyone else.' It is Defoe's ability to make the reader feel that he might have coped with Crusoe's problems successfully
that lifts the book out of the genre of romance."
I confess there are errors in Robinson Crusoe, besides the overlapping dates that trouble some critics. They are easily recognized by the modern reader today thanks in part to discovery and common knowledge. There are, to be sure, no tigers in Africa; no oak trees, penguins, or bears in South America; nor are there to be found citrus fruits flourishing on the virgin isles of the sea; however, just as Crusoe had his foreordained shortcomings, dear reader, I have mine.
Much like my other characters, Moll Flanders is an imperfect woman, born into circumstances she finds unfortunate. Through her desire to improve her situation, she finds herself struggling through the roles of the ruined lover, whore, and wife. She is a rogue, but an admirable one. After removing to the colonies, Moll avoids the penalty of death and finds penitence, honor, and eventual prosperity.
Many critics do not find the irony in this story so evident in my earlier political pamphlets (The Shortest Way with the Dissenters); in fact, I am not considered a frequenter or master of the ironic. In contrast, through his own interpretation, Maximillian E. Novak proposes there is great irony in my work, including Moll Flanders, most specifically in regards to human behavior. He suggests in the document, Conscious Irony in Moll Flanders: Facts and Problems, that I regarded such themes as paradoxical and that my intentions were completely conscious in pointing out the incongruities.
Novak believes in general that my work,
"saw man's condition in terms of contradic-tions and incongruities, but he did not always resolve his position on these mat-ters difficult."
The irony available in Moll Flanders can be examined through Moll's morality; sex, love, and marriage, children, servants, poverty, thieves and tradesman, prostitutes, gentlemen, economic individualism, projects, and colonial propaganda.
For example, the
author notes I once stated that "God did not put the sexual in-stinct under the control of the reason, and in this it differed from the passions which might be controlled" (Novak).
Passion, then, surmises Novak, is a joke upon the human condition. Within the confines of marriage, it curses women who "cannot buy a husband if they do not have money, and once they marry, they
are at the mercy of their husbands" (Novak).
Another ironic portrait may be examined through the role of servants in this book.
I wrote critically of the avaricious servant in my works, but in Moll Flanders I created a sharp-witted girl who behaves like an adopted child, though she is nothing more than a maid and companion to the Colchester family. In Moll, I created a clever servant who understands the ongoing change in society and can successfully rise up from her lowly station. Such ideals and behavior were not acceptable in my day, but irony always finds the exception. Any courtesan may tell you so.
A third inspection of the ironic in Moll Flanders in regards to Novak's theory could address the issue of colonial propaganda. The English criminal often avoided death by transportation to America. This punishment ironically offered opportunity. I, as well as my characters, realized that life in America could mean wealth and property if one was clever enough. Although Moll discovers this, readers may note the irony with which I developed Captain Jack (Colonel Jack); for this rogue felt the need for education and travel before he could think of himself as ascended above his own lowly birth.
Crane, Julie. Defoe's "Roxana": The Making and Unmaking of a Heroine. The Modern Language Review. Vol. 102, No. 1 (Jan., 2007), pp. 11-25. Published by: Modern Humanities Research Association. DOI: Web. 30 March 2016.
Hastings, William T. Errors and Inconsistencies in Defoe's Robinson Crusoe. Modern Language Notes. Vol. 27, No. 6 (Jun., 1912), pp. 161-166. Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press. Web. 29 March 2016.
Novak, Maxmillian E. Conscious Irony in Moll Flanders: Facts and Problems. College English
Vol. 26, No. 3 (Dec., 1964), pp. 198-204. Published by: National Council of Teachers of English. Web. 29 March 2016. URL: http://www.jstor.org.byui.idm.oclc.org/stable/373590
Robins, Harry F. How Smart Was Robinson Crusoe? PMLA. Vol. 67, No. 5 (Sep., 1952), pp. 782-789. Published by: Modern Language Association.Web. 30 March 2016.