Defoe and the 'improvisatory' sentence

Furbank, P. N. and Owens, W. R. (1986). Defoe and the 'improvisatory' sentence. English Studies, 67(2) pp. 157–166.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/00138388608598434

Abstract

Argues that Defoe's sentences (and his novels) are constructed by improvisation, and that in his writings form -- fictional form as well as syntactical form -- is almost always retrospective form. In this he goes against what might be called the 'Ciceronian' tradition in prose-writing, which attributes special value to the end of sentences,which function as a logical and rhetorical 'resolution' of all that has gone before. Defoe general outlook on life (his 'projecting' spirit, his Whiggism, his contempt for the past and tradition) may be seen as predisposing factors to his very different, 'improvisatory' notion of literary form, in which ends are not embryonically contained in beginnings. The subtle flavour of this improvisatory style is damaged when editors modernize Defoe's punctuation.

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