By J. R. Hammond (auth.)
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As it is, we have in Moll Flanders and Roxana a tantalising glimpse of what might have been. That these are still read today, 270 years after their composition, is impressive testimony to his powers as a novelist. What are his limitations as a creative writer? For many years it was a commonplace of Defoe criticism to assert that his works lack artistic control: that he fails to exclude the irrelevant and insignificant. Thus, Lionel Stevenson in The English Novel depre- Defoe's Literary Achievement 35 cates him for 'the absence of customary artistic responsibility' and argues that 'in fiction we expect the irrelevant to be excluded, the significant to be intensified, and an underlying pattern of causation to be revealed'.
I felt the first inkling of a thing that presently grew quite clear in my mind, that oppressed me for many days, a sense of dethronement, a persuasion that I was no longer a master, but an animal among the animals, under 28 A Defoe Companion the Martian heel. With us it would be as with them, to lurk and watch, to run and hide; the fear and empire of man had passed away. (War of the Worlds, Book 2, 6) In both passages the reader is aware of an individual voice commenting and participating in the story: 'Business led me out sometimes', 'the thing was new to me', 'of which I shall speak presently', 'For some time I stood tottering on the mound', 'I had expected to see Sheen in ruins'.
For many years it was a commonplace of Defoe criticism to assert that his works lack artistic control: that he fails to exclude the irrelevant and insignificant. Thus, Lionel Stevenson in The English Novel depre- Defoe's Literary Achievement 35 cates him for 'the absence of customary artistic responsibility' and argues that 'in fiction we expect the irrelevant to be excluded, the significant to be intensified, and an underlying pattern of causation to be revealed'. 27 To some extent this is based on a misunderstanding of Defoe's position.