Defoe and the pirates function of genre conventions in raiding narratives

William J Dezoma, Marquette University


Scholars have long recognized that the fiction of Daniel Defoe is much indebted to contemporary texts that were often non-literary. Understanding the nature of this indebtedness can assist in the interpretation of his works and can reveal his particular genius as an author. Interpretation and understanding of a work's meaning depends upon situating it in appropriate context; failure to recognize the context and its influence promotes interpretation that can be merely subjective and that can minimize the role of the author in creation of the work. Recognizing the sources of Defoe's borrowing reveals the meaning structures to which his works can be compared and contrasted for better understanding. Even his departures from his sources can serve to reveal Defoe's vision in his works. In the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, there were numerous accounts published chronicling the raiding expeditions of pirates and privateers, especially in the Caribbean and South Seas. When Defoe presents his own fictional raiding narratives, he engages the genre conventions that evolved for the factual narratives. The first task of the present study is to define the dynamics of textual interrelation, going well beyond borrowing of material and inspiration. The second task is to define the characteristics of raiding narratives, which exist as a sub-genre of maritime literature, which in turn participates in the very broad category of travel literature. Having established the genre conventions of raiding narratives, this study's final task is to explore the relation of select works of Daniel Defoe to those conventions. The works considered are: A General History of the Pyrates, A New Voyage Round the World, Captain Singleton , and Robinson Crusoe . Defoe's narrative mastery in these works stems from his successful interrelation of materials, themes, and motifs from the raiding narrative tradition. Understanding how literary works interrelate genre conventions of other works, even non-literary works, can help free us from our own historically evolved perspective on the past. This can lead us from errors of subjective interpretation and lead us to fruitful exploration.

Recommended Citation

Dezoma, William J, "Defoe and the pirates function of genre conventions in raiding narratives" (2004). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3133740.