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XIX
INTRODUCTION

The points of inferiority in Defoe's novel compared with such a book as the Journal, are due in part to the limitations of his genius, but more perhaps to the time when he wrote. One would not look in Moll Flanders for the constructive art, or the subtly calculated use of suggestion, displayed by a French realist in the last year of the nineteenth century. Even in criticising the narrowness of Defoe's outlook, and the shallowness of his psychology, we must make due allowance for the circumstance that the novel was in his day in a very rude and experimental stage of development. Whilst keeping our attention enchained by the sensations and mental states of Celestine, Mirbeau contrives, not only to convey the atmosphere of crowded life, but to give his reader through her eyes a clear and vivid insight into the actual life of the main classes of French society. Moll Flanders and Roxana themselves monopolize attention; the reader gets glimpses of the world about them; but these are but the accidental features of their story. No doubt, these two novels owe much of their strength to this simplicity and concentration; but, at the same time, it is obvious that Defoe's imagination was limited. He had no special intuition into feminine character, any more than any feeling for the more elusive factors of temperament. Very rarely indeed, in any of his stories, does one come across anything so profoundly true to human nature as the scene where Roxana persuades her maid Amy to be ruined, from an instinctive desire to drag her down to her own level. Defoe's are very simple types of character; Celestine is a complex product of our civilization; and what enthralls one most is the revelation of the workings of her mind, the close analysis of her own sensations and impulses by a keenly self-conscious autobiographer. Compared with this, Defoe has no psychology. The coldness and impassibility of his disposition are genuine, not the effect of an artistic attitude of detachment. These traits are patent to every one in Robinson Crusoe, where he never dwells on the imaginative significance of the situation, but sets down moving incident and meaningless detail with the same cold precision. So too in Colonel Jack, Captain Singleton, and the present pair of stories,—the group that represent him best in the light of Naturalist,—instances abound of this curious lack of sensibility. Take but one example, the episode of the heroine's discovery that she is married to her own brother. Here is material for tragedy, if you like; but the full meaning and realisation of the episode is left entirely to the reader's imagination. Defoe simply tells us that his heroine was horror-stricken, the husband fainted, and the mother was shocked; but all this is related with the same absence of emotion, or of any sense of its dreadful significance, as if it were but another of the monetary misfortunes that at last brought Moll Flanders to the dogs. The autobiographic form of these novels lent itself peculiarly well to the free expression of feeling; and the absence of it strikes one as an unnatural thing. And yet, when the reader