Page:Moll Flanders (1906 edition).djvu/19

This page has been validated.
XV
INTRODUCTION

In all the different kinds of fiction that had come and gone, in the romances and idylls, in the adaptations of Spanish picaresque novels, and above all in the tales from Boccaccio, Bandello, and other Italian novellieri, the story as a series of dramatic incidents, more or less pointedly arranged, was the principal matter. Take away the story, and there is nothing left. With Defoe the story is of no importance. Plots he has none. His men and women are carefully limned; the tale takes care of itself. Though he is one of the finest masters of graphic narration in the language, his stories show hardly a trace of constructive art; in truth, that was a thing they did not require.

How did a man like Defoe come to invent something so momentous as the Naturalistic novel? That question has already been partially answered. The old, semi-poetic types of fiction were played out there was no possibly future for anything of that sort. Their lifeless survival, the heroical romance, with its unrealities and affectations, was so antipathetic to the dawning spirit of the eighteenth century that the mild satire of Mrs. Lennox's Female Quixote sufficed to snuff it out of existence. If any more fiction was to be written, it was bound to take a new turn, and the deep interest of the age in actuality would direct that turn towards Realism. Even in such a thing as religious allegory, as already observed, Bunyan had pointed out the new route. Defoe, we may be sure, did not think out a new theory of the novel. Take a man of his peculiar mental constitution, and set him writing novels, (the last thing, perhaps, that would have been predicted of him), and the result will be something of the nature of pseudo-biography, pseudo-history, or fictitious narratives of travel. Let him display certain intuitions of the born artist, and the result will be Naturalism. Not that Defoe cared a pin for art. In the case of such a man as he, always ready to turn his hand to any lucrative employment, business considerations, of course, came foremost. Having, whether by design or accident, struck out a profitable line, he was sure to follow it up with indefatigable perseverance, without being swayed very much by literary motives. Now Defoe was an extraordinary collector of facts. As an observer, not even Zola, with his arsenal of note-books, surpassed the unwearied, the insatiable curiosity of Daniel Defoe, And for a romance writer, he was strangely lacking in invention. He found, the moment he began to produce fiction, or rather he had found already in his accounts of illustrious criminals, that he had hit a huge section of the public who wanted facts, wanted to be told all about the world they lived in, especially about those phases of which they knew least. Having, it the course of an extremely versatile career, amassed an enormous store of this commodity, as soon as he found there was money in it, he began to pour out his facts in the copious stream of his novels.

Here was his special endowment, a mastery of fact. As a man