Starting this week, Ken Knabb leads discussion of Daniel Defoe's novel Moll Flanders.
The group will be meeting every other Sunday at 4:30-7:00 p.m. in the University Press Bookstore (2430 Bancroft in Berkeley) for four meetings (September 24, October 8, October 22, November 5), then we'll move on to the next work in our series.* Participation is free, but donations of $10 or so per meeting are suggested to help support the bookstore, which provides us with a pleasant meeting space and complimentary wine and snacks. We'll be using the Penguin Classics edition, edited by David Blewett (copies are available in the bookstore). Please let me know if you'd like to join us.
Soldier, speculator, and secret agent, Daniel Defoe (1660-1731) was also one of the most prolific authors of all time. In addition to editing more than a dozen newspapers, composing answers for some of the first advice columns, and writing hundreds of articles, pamphlets, and books on politics, economics, geography, religion, marriage, manners, morals, crime, psychology, superstition, and many other topics, he also authored a number of fictional works that are at the origin of the English novel, two of which have remained deservedly popular for nearly 300 years: Robinson Crusoe (1719) and Moll Flanders (1722).
In Defoe’s novels everything is stripped to the bare, narrative substance, and it is this that reveals the psychology or morality of the individual. The most significant details are purely objective, exterior. The interiority of the characters is revealed by their elaborately presented outside. When they talk about their own motives, their psychology, their morals, their self-analyses and self-justifications are to be read backwards, as of course is true of most people. . . . Defoe was perfectly conscious of the parallel he was drawing between the morality of the complete whore and that of the new middle class which was rising around him, yet he remains aware of Moll Flanders as a woman of flesh and blood, and we in turn are aware of her. She comes to life in our minds as clearly as Chaucer’s wife of Bath. . . . When we come to the end with Moll, old, comfortable, and probably fat, and look back over a long life that came so often so near to total disaster, we think, ‘Well, old girl, you sure pulled a fast one.’ (Kenneth Rexroth)
*Moll Flanders is part of an ongoing series, led by Ken Knabb and hosted by the University Press Books store, in which we have explored these classic works: Cervantes’s Don Quixote, Montaigne’s Essays, Rabelais’s Gargantua and Pantagruel, Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, and Madame de Lafayette's The Princesse de Clèves. After Defoe’s Moll Flanders, the group will traverse Fielding’s Tom Jones, Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, Diderot’s Jacques the Fatalist, and Boswell’s The Life of Samuel Johnson.