Critical Evaluation

(Masterpieces of British Fiction)

Fascinated as they were by tales about remote nations of the world, Daniel Defoe’s readers thrilled to such fictions as ROBINSON CRUSOE (1719), COLONEL JACK (1722), and CAPTAIN SINGLETON. Nor, of course, was Defoe the only writer of such literature. One thinks immediately of Jonathan Swift’s GULLIVER’S TRAVELS (1726), which, if it is not altogether typical of the genre, clearly attests to its popularity.

Defoe can justly be called the first English novelist. The three outstanding works of prose fiction before Defoe wrote were Lyly’s EUPHUES, a courtly and philosophical work; Sidney’s ARCADIA, a chivalrous romance, and John Bunyan’s religious and symbolic allegory, THE PILGRIM’S PROGRESS. Realistic characters and the commonsense point of view were Defoe’s contributions to prose fiction. In THE LIFE, ADVENTURES, AND PIRACIES OF THE FAMOUS CAPTAIN SINGLETON, unlike Robinson Crusoe to which it is undoubtedly inferior, character is subordinated to action. In both books, Defoe relied heavily on Dampier’s accounts of voyages, travelers’ tales, and available maps and geographies. The novel also contains a wealth of clearly imagined detail in its objective narrative, and two contrasted characters: the courageous, egocentric Singleton and the shrewd pacifist, William. Here and in the rest of Defoe’s fiction is the germ of the English novel.

CAPTAIN SINGLETON not only fulfills the requirements for travel literature of the period but does so...

(The entire section is 635 words.)