The novels we focus on in this book are Robinson Crusoe (1719) Moll Flanders (1722), and Roxana (1724). The stories of all three remind us of how unpredictable life could be. Defoe’s critics are almost equally unpredictable. So Harold Bloom writes that Defoe does not understand Moll; Virginia Woolf writes that Robinson does not believe in nature, God, or death; V. O. Birdsall says the narrators vainly seek ‘a significant selfhood’;1 Rousseau saw Robinson as a pre-industrial ideal while for Marx he was an emblem of industry; for Katherine Clark his story is ‘a sacred drama that involved the redemption of Crusoe and Friday’2 while for Michael McKeon Crusoe justifies ‘material and social ambition’ as ‘the way of nature and the will of God’.3 There is such a wide variety of opinions that it could be hard to maintain our grip on the original experience of reading the novels themselves for the first time.
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