From the City of London to the Desert Island

Defoe and the writing of space and place

Authored by: Emmanuelle Peraldo

The Routledge Handbook of Literature and Space

Print publication date:  January  2017
Online publication date:  January  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138816350
eBook ISBN: 9781315745978
Adobe ISBN:


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Drawing on the early modern theories of Optics of Locke, Berkeley or Newton and modern theories of agency and space by Lévy and Lussault, I argued in an article in Digital Defoe (2012a) that landscape in Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe was, at the very least, an actant if not an actor, a reading that helped to clarify the relationship between humans and the natural environment in Defoe’s time and texts. In this chapter I would like to go further by adding to the reflection on nature (through the island environment) the urban environment, especially the London of Defoe’s novels, through the insertion of his characters in an urban environment at a time when cities developed very quickly. Seidel reminds us that “Ian Watt identified the central subject in the new fiction of the early eighteenth century: the realistic configuration of a life in a circumstantially recognizable place” (Seidel, 1991, 55). This chapter will attempt to tackle the dichotomy between urban and natural space and places in some of Defoe’s novel, especially Moll Flanders and Robinson Crusoe, the hypothesis being that what interests Defoe is not so much the natural and the urban landscapes in their aesthetic dimensions, as the milieu, defined by French geographer Augustin Berque as “the relationship of a society with space and nature” (1992, 94).

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