Discourse With Oneself and The Solitude of Place: Robinson Crusoe

  • Edward Engelberg


Virginia Woolf’s essays and reviews on English fiction are particularly astute, and most of her observations hit the mark with exceptional accuracy. However, on Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe she appears to have misfired, and what is of interest is not that she did but how and why. One reason clearly was her relentless, almost irrational, fear of realism as embodying the destructive power that ruined fiction and threatened its future. Her dismissive comments on the Edwardians are well known, but with Defoe she was taking on a classic, and somehow she meant her essay to celebrate rather than condemn the novel’s realism. That proved not so easily achieved; she devised an elaborate rear-guard maneuver, with such hesitations and rationalizations that it is clear Woolf was almost fearful of her own strategy. Whether one reads the first version in Essays or the somewhat more toned-down version in The Common Reader, Second Series, an uncomfortable feeling emerges that—because she is self-consciously dealing with a “classic”—Woolf is coercing herself into praise of a method she may have admired in Defoe but toward which she felt an innate antipathy.


Creative Imagination Solitary Life Desert Island Adventure Story Solitary Condition 
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© Edward Engelberg 2001

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  • Edward Engelberg

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