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Les Âges de la vie en Grande-Bretagne au XVIIIe siècle

Serge Soupel

Deuxième partie. Aspects littéraires

Coming of Age in Madagascar and Other Islands of the Mind in the Early Eighteenth Century

Norman Simms

Texte intégral

Margaret Mead, Derek Friedman, et al.

1Years before Derek Friedman, the Australian anthropologist, wrote his book-length critique of Margaret Mead’s misrepresentations of sexual experiences and customary coming-of-age rituals in the South Pacific, a friend of mine, a Samoan scholar, had remarked that he wished he had grown up in the island paradise Mead had written about in the 1930s. The carefree, anxiety-less sexual mores and adolescence of her Samoa, he told me, bore little or no relationship to the church-dominated puritanical village he grew up in at about the same time. My own further investigations show that it was not only the British representatives of the London Missionary Society who imposed their strict sexual codes on the peoples of Polynesia and Melanesia in the last two hundred years. Before the European intrusion these island nations were organized into fairly strict social hierarchies with powerful tapu Systems to ensure proper personal and social behavior. It is true, of course, that certain external chracteristics of dress (or its lack) and behavior distressed the men from the LMS, but once their message was across, well-bolstered by the advantages of European economic and military might, the missionaries found zealous support amongst the local people. Throughout the last part of the nineteenth century and the first part of this, it was Samoan and Tongan “teachers”, as they were usually called within the protocol of colonialist subordination, who brought and monitored the strictest of puritanical codes among the other islands of the region. In brief, we didn’t need a Derek Friedman to tell us that Margaret Mead only dreamed of sexual freedom and youthful exuberance in the South Pacific.

2But why did she dream what she did, and why were her dreams so popular as representations of what coming-of-age ought to be in New York, London and Paris? Moreover, why are the dreams of a serious and diligent scholar like Margaret Mead not the result of deliberate manipulation of “facts”, but the consequences of unconscious cultural filters which enforce particular perceptions and encode specific conceptual modes of processing information? While it is not our puprose to rehearse the “Friedman Affair” over what is and what is not true, efficacious and valid in Mead’s studies of the South Pacific, what we wish to indicate is that, in her case, fifty years of collapsing colonialism have allowed reassessments of her field work to take place, and to reveal what is often a matter of centuries of hindsight.

3If we can accept that Margaret Mead was neither a fool nor a dishonest manipulator of facts, then we must accept that she saw in Samoa and elsewhere projected resolutions of the sexual anxieties specific to North Americans and West Europeans of the 1930s and 1940s, anxieties both brought into focus and exacerbated by the revolutionary insights of psychoanalysis. These insights themselves, of course, were made possible by a conglomeration of changes to child-rearing patterns, adolescent sexual mores, and adult marital customs brought into being by the industrial and social revolutions of the ninteenth century, by the dislocations of urbane growth and the invention of total war. Ideals of a softer caring relationship between parents and children, of a freer display of sexual experimentation among adolescents, and a less rigid patriarchical marriage arrangement could only be focused on in a society small and exotic enough from Europe or America to permit the public fantasy to crystallize into the very images Margaret Mead provided to a waiting public.

4The point, then, to note is not the specific details of what and why Margaret Mead did what she did, but the principle of group fantasies projected on to exotic places. This kind of fantasizing moreover involves a complex process of spatializing two other developmental processes, one of an individual’s physical and psychological maturation and the other of the transformations in social institutions in response to these personal changes.

5The study of such spatializations in group fantasy goes under the name of psychogeography. Developed in the last two decades by a cluster of American psychohistorians, particularly William G. Niederland and Howard F. Stein out of hints already given in Sigmund Freud and his early associate Sándor Ferenczi, psychogeography has been defined as “the psychoanalytic study of spatial representation”, and as Stein explains more fully:

  • 1 Howard F. Stein, “Psychogeography and International Relations”, in Howard F. Stein and William G. (...)

The scope of psychogeography is the unconscious construction of the social and physical world. Men and women fashion the world out of the substance of their psyches from the experiences of their bodies, childhoods, and families; they project psychic contents outward on to the social physical world, and act as though what is projected is in fact an attribute of the other or outer1.

6Niederland develops more fully the historical aspects of the new discipline, and in particular deals with the fantasies coded into medieval maps and chronicles. He shows that for early explorers such as Christopher Columbus the voyages of discovery were in part at least trance-like journeys into psychic experiences otherwise beyond articulation for them and their contemporaries at a time of critical psychological changes which cumulatively and in association with political and intellectual events we term the transition from Middle Ages to Renaissance. But Niederland, like Stein and the other psychogeographers, tend to remain within a positivist cast of mind and thus fail to appreciate the depths and densities of historical change. For instance, though Niederland notes that there were, in addition to the phantasmagoria of creatures who inhabit the lands of the mappemundi, also maps of a much more rational and technical nature called portolari, he does not address the relationship between them (cf. Niederland, “River Symbolism, Part II”, in Maps from the Mind 73). Yet it is precisely in these zones of ambiguity, ambivalence and ironic silence or ellipsis that we would hope to find the mentality of the period. The tensions between the real and the fantasized, even as experienced at the time, are more revealing than either the monsters with faces in their chests or the realistic drawings of trade-winds and currents on their own are.

  • 2 See Paul-Gabriel Boucé, “Mentalités sexuelles” in Mentalities/Mentalités 3:1 (1986).

7Freud and Ferenczi were aware that there is a striking analogy to be drawn between the sexual geography of the body and the actually experienced or dreamed experience of the physical world. Students of Enlightenment pornography, like PaulGabriel Boucé, as well, have drawn our attention to the deep-seated anxieties over sexuality revealed in the maps and allegorical tales which cross the genres of erotic adventure and exploration of new worlds2. The questions remain, however, about where these anxieties are located in the mentality of Europeans of the eighteenth century, and how they arise in such societies. When we ask such questions we have to go beyond the usual boundaries of discourse practised by students of Bunyan’s spiritual spatializations of the Puritan conversion process or of Swift’s satirical recasting of English, Irish and French social and political themes on to the fantasized remote nations of the world his Gulliver visits.

Disturbances in the European Mentality

8Especially among Englishmen, the changes in psychic and domestic relations during the seventeenth century were powerful and disturbing, with their consequences remaining unsettled well into the the next century. At the beginning of the period, England was emerging from the conditions which describe the Catholic Middle Ages, a period when, under its own many variations, the individual is born into the body of Christ, corpus christi, and the many analogous corporate institutions which constiute the body politic. For most people, life was indeed nasty, brutish and brief, and child-rearing was in the phase Lloyd DeMause has termed abandoning. In other words, most children were neglected by their parents, treated roughly, often rejected—left as foundlings at convents, or even drowned in so-called holy-wells. Incomplete emotional bonding between infants and mothers and fathers were completed through the medium of Mother Church and some version of the anointed King-Father. Worship of the Virgin Mary is a characteristic feature of such incomplete ego-structures, as is the cult of violence known as chivalry. By the close of the eighteenth century, new child-rearing practices were in force on a fairly general basis throughout Western Europe, and new attitudes towards children, labelled intrusive by the psychohistorians, were prevalent. Based on Lockean and later Rousseauistic principles, these new attitudes would favor extended education of children, respect for their physical integrity as minors, and protection from adult violation. But the kind of emergent individuality that appeared in the 1790s was also marked by new anxieties, since the older symbols and institutions of psychic and social cohesion were under attack, both by the revolutionary replacement of maternal church and paternal monarchy and also by the great social and economic forces moving through society at this time. Longing for the absent mother and guilt before the father who no longer chastizes can be seen in the imagery and posturing of the Romantics, their nostalgia for medievalism, Catholicism and folklore. But the discourses of the nineteenth century, as Michel Foucault has shown, already are dense with a self-consciousness of the body as a site for personality in a way hardly ever observed in Renaissance or earlier texts. At most, medieval and later romances, allegories and homiletic tales deal with socialized consequences of erotic feelings and sexual encounters. Thus the period between these two clearly marked attitudes towards children, bodies and families remains to be discussed.

9In England, as I have suggested, the transformation occurs under the aegis of puritanical surveillance. Many institutional changes are either made during or are possible in the generations following the Puritan Commonwealth itself during the middle years of the seventeenth century. The abandon and exuberance of the Restoration of Charles II was a temporary affair and did not reach down from the élite court circles except to provide a manifest set of images of negative behavior. The harshest of Puritan measures were sentimentalized by the generation that followed the Glorious Revolution of 1688. By sentimentalization I mean a complex process of re-siting the locus of morality from the sphere of public space monitored by Church and King to one bounded by emotions and physiology. Rather than keying individual development to a System of culturally-sanctioned sacraments which effectively relegates persona eccentricity to the realm of satiric derision or public shame, the new sentimental code treats each individual as a focus of public scrutiny, beginning with exercises in self-scrutiny and moving towards regular policing of beliefs and behavior. In such a System, the child cannot be left on his or her own, with infantile or childish behavior meeting only bemused glances or a swift kick in the behind if it proves inconvenient. The child becomes the object of intense concern by the family and the community, and in it are recognized aspects of the self which adults wish to punish and eradicate. Thus treatment of the child forms a regime of self-cleansing and self-regulation for the adults associated with it, and all individual attempts at self-expression by the child are interpreted as challenges to authority both in the family and the State. The child’s body becomes a text in which society reads its own development, and the noises, fluids and solid materials that emerge from the child’s body are threatening poisons that must be controled. If children under this new mode of rearing are neither killed, rejected or neglected, they are subject to a perpetual discipline and a general opinion that they are dirty, idle and wasteful creatures in themselves.

10Not all parents, of course, brought their children up in such a strict regime of puritanical discipline. The alternative caring regime, signaled by Locke and Rousseau, was also at work in England, and often led to contradictory patterns even within the same family. Children would grow up with incomplete longings for nurturing mothers and protecting fathers, and find that relations with members of the opposite sex were difficult to establish or sustain because they were still angry at and guilty before the images of their mothers and fathers. These confused feelings could not really become conscious subjects of discussion in eighteenth-century literature. We find them only through indirection in the traces they make on the shape and events of narratives whose ostensible purposes lie elsewhere, usually in the discussion of intellectual and romantic matters. Perhaps closest to the surface are the narratives, now taken as clearly fictional, which appear in Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe or Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, Robinson’s reflections on his disobedience to his father and his relgiious conversion in the first part of his adventures and even in the third section of serious reflections indicate that Defoe was aware of some of the developmental difficulties in his protagonist’s childhood. Swift also seems aware that his Gulliver’s dysfunctional relationship to his wife and children, finally presented as a preference for horses, is related to his incomplete ego structure, as Gulliver is increasingly unable to see himself in relation to others around him and eventually loses all sense of proportion.

11But these kind of books, and I include Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress with its specifically puritanical narrative of separation from family and anxiety over individual identity, project these problems into spadalizadons that are highly crafted literary works, and thus resistant to the kind of psychohistorical approach I wish to undertake in this paper. For my purposes, several books from the same period which have a more problematic literary character are more amenable to this kind of analysis, and the insights from them only then can be applied as heuristic tools to further interpretation. The kinds of problematic I am talking about are both in the coherence of the fiction itself, that is, where the text may be all or in part biographical or autobiographical or historical, where the narrator’s role is ambivalent in relation to real or presumed editorial interference, and where the generic character of the work either splits or collapses in the course of its construction. These kind of problematic texts may be taken as the methodological equivalents of (public) dreams in the following analyses.


12Let me begin with a text that is fairly well-known and which I have written about elsewhere, Aphra Behn’s Oronooco. This book begins as though it were the romance of a black prince from West Africa who is taken prisoner to British Guyana and forced to live as a slave, but about half way through the text the narrator intrudes with a personal history that may or may not be based on real events in the author’s own life. The female narrator declares that the telling of Oronooco’s life story is both a shame, in that he deserves better than a mere female author to perpetuate his fame, and a way in which she herself can come-of-age as a woman, an adult, that is, a recognized writer of tales. In fact, the very guilt-ridden anxieties she feels about the story she has to write are vital to the kind of individuality she presents in the text.

13There are two emblematic events in the story which I wish to single out for discussion in relation to this ambiguous coming-of-age of the narrator. In the first, under the protection of Oronooco and her brother, who hide in the bushes behind her, the narrator presents herself in a jungle clearing to a group of Indians who have never seen a white person before. She stands rigid and silent while the natives gaze on her, talk about her, and put their hands under her garments trying to find out if she is human and whether she is male or female. Assured of her own superiority, but dependent upon the hidden protection of her male companions, the narrator allows herself to be interpreted by sight, language and hands. She enjoys this superiority, in that her identity is confirmed as other persons fumble towards a correct interpretation of her person through the presentation of her body as a text. A public reading, even if faulty, confirms her identity with the body of her text. She feels sure of her central self by virtue of its fixity and silence, and even its hidden protectors behind the bushes. The Indians, by contrast, must create their identities in public rituals of self-mutilation and scarification, daring each other into wilder and more savage acts of cutting off ears, noses and so forth, all to the accompaniment of boasts and challenges and cries of victory or defeat.

14The narrator’s own sexuality is thus coded into the presentation of her text which can resist the efforts of naive tribalization. Nevertheless, the threats of violation and violence which are denied by the emblem of herself as an icon of pure textuality, must be put next to the second emblematic tableau in the book. This is the scene of Oronooco’s torture and death by British authorities after he has led a slave revolt and been captured. The narrator laments the fact that she was not present to try to stop the mutilation and killing of her hero, but she finds a tragic glory in his silence as his tormentors cut off his limbs, his genitals and finally his life. It is not only that Oronooco is made whole again by the coherence of her text, although even that is problematical in the way her own story intrudes into and intereferes with his life as pure romance: it is also that the narrator feels particular shame in finding that the British officers perform this savage deed on the noble black prince. Her inscription of Oronooco’s life in English is thus part of a complex palimpsest of contradictory feelings about him—a radiantly potent sexual being whose emasculation is in part her fault, whose reputation now depends on her, a mere female, and an exotic slave whose life may be appropriated by her as a text to make her famous, to give her a name, an identity.

15The young girl whose father dies on the way to Guyana, whose presence in the colony is ambiguous, since she is unwanted and is tolerated only until a ship comes to return her to England, manipulates her own vulnerability into an instrument of self-assertion. That the colony itself is about to fall into Dutch hands casts a further light on the dark forces shaping the narrative. Set in an exotic place, the same zone of the world where Defoe places his Robinson Crusoe and other authors their projected psyches, Oronooco reveals qualifies of female development not yet in focus within British society, and which, unfortunately, the powers of puritan sentimentalization will crush as the eighteenth century dawns.

The Adventures of Alexander Vendchurch

16While Behn’s narrative takes its black hero and its female narrator to the northeastern tip of South America, the events mostly occur within a settled colony, and even the excusion into the interior to visit the wild Indians happens under protection of patriarchal authority. In the second narrative I wish to discuss, the events move the protagonist-narrator increasingly far from controlled European territory until its final events, before his return home, on an almost-deserted island. It is more than interesting to note that this book was published in 1719, the same year as the first part of Robinson Crusoe, and in the same region of the new world as both Defoe’s text and Behn’s quasi-autobiographical romance. The book entitled The Adventures of Alexander Vendchurch, and of his Ship's Crew Rebelling against him and Setting him on Shore in an Island in the South-Sea, &c. was published with one other romance in a volume under the name of Ambrose Evens, but the author is actually Mary de la Rivière Manley (1663-1724). She not only takes a male nom de plume but writes this tale in the persona of the male protagonist, and thus makes the perspective of the male coming-of-age ambiguous, if not ironic. The female perspective, as we shall see, is limited to a digression told my the main character’s beloved when he finds her on the Caribbean island where he has been marooned by his mutinous crew.

17The title page’s emphasis on rebellion and exile partly distorts the real direction of the narrative and of the ostensible structure that follows the model of the parable of the Prodigal Son. Alexander Vendchurch runs away from home to escape an “ill temper’d” step-mother, goes to London where he proves a diligent and keen apprentice to a merchant-sailor, insists on staying in Cadiz where he is taken by his first master and assimilates into Spanish culture and language, so that when his second master takes him to Panama Alexander is able to pass for a Spanish youth named Roderigo and as such to carry on a romantic affair with the beautiful young Doña Elvira and then when his relationship is exposed and the lady violently taken away by her brother and sent into exile by her father, Alexander alias Roderigo is forced to flee Panama and it is then that his ship’s crew mutinies and sets him on what they take to be a desert island but wherehe discovers in true romance fashion that Elvira had been shipwrecked shortly before. After three years of pseudo-marital bliss on this island, Elvira dies and then at last Alexander is finally isolated like Robinson Crusoe. But his period of penetential solitude lasts only three years, when he is rescued by a English ship and so can make his return to his still-living father in Scotland. The Prodigal Son is welcomed home and allowed a fair share of the father’s estate when the old man dies shortly thereafter.

18The insertion of a Spanish romance into the cautionary telling of the biblical parable only partly distorts the course of the narrative. Rather more significant is the transformation of a superficial tale of adventure and passion into a spatialization of an adolescent identity crisis.

19Alexander leaves his home in Scotland because he cannot “bear the ill temper” of his “ill-natur’d” “mother-in-law”, that is, step-mother. At this point nothing is said of father or siblings, and we must infer that his whole sense of crisis focuses on a mother who is not a mother, a step-mother who clearly replaces his own birthmother, who by dying at some point in his childhood seems to have abandoned and rejected him. The step-mother exists only in his pejorative designations, so that she can only be the image of his original mother as a negative figure. There is nothing and no one else at home he can live with, and so he enters his adolescence, at twelve, by running away.

20But he does more than just run away from home to London. When he comes into the employ of the merchant-sailor he behaves with great diligence and responsibility, and uses his time usefully to learn whatever he can of the commercial arts and also music. In fact, he so engratiates himself with the merchant’s daughter—and the word engratiates is repeated—she pays for him to have lute lessons with her tutor. For five years in that household, we are told, “I never lost any time, as lads of my age very often do”. Though he speaks of no emotional ties established with the master or his family, it is clear that Alexander has made himself a model son. He thus adopts himself into this London family and yet displays no feelings about it. He plays out the role of apprentice in an exemplary way, and thus goes from age twelve to age seventeen in a studied impersonality. His growing up is restricted to intellectual attainments.

21When his master brings him to Cadiz to help him with business, Alexander switches his allegiance to Spain and the Spanish master his First father-suorrogate introduced him to. More than just a switch in allegiance, Alexander absorbs the local language and customs: “I was always for improving my time, and therefore employ’d all the leisure I had in learnins the Spanish tongue; in which I got such a mastery in a short time, that I could almost have pass’d for a native Spaniard...” (3).

22The absorption into Spanish culture becomes almost pathological, as he refuses to sing English lyrics and only play Spanish melodies, even transferring his skills from the lute to the guitar in order to please his new master in Cadiz. I am reminded here of Woody Allen’s Zelig who keeps becoming the people he meets, a real chameleon character. Alexander’s purpose in hiding his real identity in these absorptions is not only to divorce himself from any personal emotions but to repress the anxieties of his incomplete ego, to suppress the longings for the absent mother whom he cannot stand to hate for what she did to him by dying. If he becomes, as he says, “a perfect Spaniard”, it is only in a superficial sense. There is not allowed to be any inner experience for him. Here, however, he allows the relationship with his new master to be articulated into what was hidden in London: “he lov’d me extremely; nay, as much as if I had been his own son, but he was a batchelor, and a great marriage hater” (4).

23Thus it is not enough to say that Alexander is a main-chancer out to advance himself with no consideration of family or national loyalties. He is an adolescent denying more and more of his own identity by playing out a set of roles which he wears like a superficial costume. Above all, as we see in his relationship with father-figures, he avoids relations with women or girls. His own sexuality is denied, because to become conscious of erotic desires would force him to confront the ambiguities of his feelings about his mother and his guilt in abandoning his father.

24The men whom Alexander becomes attached to are kind and loving, as much mother substitutes as father surrogates. His intellectual achievements and loyalty towards them serve not to bring him to maturity in an emptional sense but to keep him in pre-pubescent sexuality.

25After an undetermined period, Alexander, now in his early twenties, goes to Panama with the merchant of Cadiz. Since foreigners and especially Protestants are forbidden to enter the Spanish colonies, Alexander makes his most complete metamorphosis. He becomes Roderigo the merchant’s relative, and in Panama is completely accepted for what he seems to be. But this new situation imposes complications which serve to undermine the very purposes of the masquerade. As a young Spaniard, Roderigo can neither work too hard, which was appropriate to him as a British Protestant nor avoid the company of women. He must pay them “addresses”, but he assures himself and his master that they are mere “amusements, mere effects of gallentry, without the least tincture of love”. Given this leisure and the proximity of women, Roderigo falls into the generic role of lover when he meets his master’s arch-enemy’s daughter in church. His erotic interest is roused first by her “shape and hand”, and then by the “side view of her face” she allowed him, until the two use the formulaic language of “addresses” to arrange a tryst, and that in turn leads to the normal romantic intrigue in which a Duenna is bribed to allow further meetings and another female relative paid to provide a venue for their passionate meetings. While these meetings provide occasion for what we would call increasingly heavy pettings, there is no consummation in intercourse, and the lovers begin to plot out a clandestine marriage. This plot goes beyond what their confidantes will allow, and they are betrayed, with Elvira’s brother ambushing them one evening and taking the girl prisoner. Alexander, who has already through this liaison been forced to lie to his master, something he had avoided, because his relationships had hitherto been one-dimensional masks hiding an emotional self he denied any articulation or recognition, now is caught up in dangers which threaten his existence. The family of Elvira plan to send her back to Spain and to take vengeance on the young man. Meanwhile, his master having died and left him a portion of the estate, a relative from Spain comes to challenge this unknown Roderigo, and thus threatens to expose him as an imposter, a Scotsman and a Protestant. Lorenzo, the master’s true heir, leagues with Elvira’s family, and when the young Roderigo seeks to escape with whatever wealth he can take and sail away, the opposition hire a spy to go aboard and turn the crew against Roderigo.

26The admission of sexual passion thus sows the seeds of Alexander alias Roderigo’s downfall. But two kinds of genres are competing here. In the Spanish romance, the dangers Roderigo faces are legitimate and even his exile on the island fits this pattern. They are what can happen to a Roderigo. But another story, partly crystallized in the cautionary tale of the Prodigal Son, requires that Alexander be forced to confront his own sinful ways and repent his errors, so he can be purified and return home a sadder but a wiser person, in fact, become a man and assume the responsibilities he left behind in Edinburgh. The two genres do not fit well together, and the resolution is disturbed by the presence of an unconscious narrative, the spatialized development of Alexander’s ego. His true coming-of-age cannot happen until he buries the false images of self and reality he has constructed through the fantasy of running away.

27The opportunity for Alexander alias Roderigo to play out the role of the penitinet as Robinson Crusoe did is lost. When he stands melancholy on the shores watching the ship sail off into the horizon, he is ready to recognize providential signs. But after moving his few supplies inland, he finds a hut, lies down, and on the verge of sleep hears a voice murmuring “Roderigo, Roderigo”. It is, of course, Elvira, and he is to be Roderigo the Spaniard not Alexander the pentant on this island.

28Asked how she came there, Elvira recounts her sad romantic tale: how she was captured by her brother, refused access to her father, and sent away on board a ship bound for Spain. The ship was attacked by French privateers, and the crew wounded and exhausted, and unable then to withstand a storm which came soon after and wrecked them on this very island. Elvira, however, protected as much by the magic innocence of her beauty as by her servant Diego, comes to shore while most of the crew drown, and is able to survive the dangers of the island while all others die. Even Diego, her faithful old servant, has just recently died, and poor Elvira, helpless female that she is, being unable to bury him, has been forced to leave the larger house some way distant because of the purtifying corpse and come to this poor hut in the jungle.

29After Roderigo convinces Elvira that they are now truly husband and wife, having performed before heaven the vows of matrimony without any priest available, they consummate their love. Physically at last Roderigo becomes a man. But physically this act of passion in the hammock requires an emblematic event to confirm it. The next day, then, he goes to bury the stinking body of Diego. A nauseous task, he performs it with his usual diligence. What we can see here beyond the sanitary purposes and vague reference to Christian duty is something symbolic in his coming-of-age: it is the recognition of flesh and the burying of a composite icon. Throughout his retarded adolescence, he has been fixated on kindly older men, and now at last he puts that image to rest. But this burial only partly resolves his problems. He is still Roderigo and living out a masquerade, a fantasy with Elvira.

30This dream of marital bliss lasts only three years, bringing Alexander alias Roderigo into his late twenties, surely time to move on from adolescence into real manhood. Elvira falls ill and dies. Roderigo tries to keep her with him, caressing and kissing her, but this kind of Gothic Liebestod is not meant for the tropics, and within two days her body is starting to decompose.

I took pains, therefore, to dig a grave as deep as I could; into which having first kiss’d her, tho’ she began to smell pretty strong, I gently let her down in her cloaths, and I cover’d her up with the earth, my eyes flowing all the while with tears. (32)

31Recapitulating the burial of Diego, this scene also serves as an emblematic revelation of another step closer to the facing up to reality. In burying Elvira, Alexander also finally buries the mother he has hated in the person of his stepmother all these long years. He is now ready again to be Robinson Crusoe, and this time does serve two years, five months, and seven days of penitence, at which time an English ship hoves into view and rescues not Roderigo but Alexander Vendchurch.

32The tale ends quickly with the young man, truely a man now, welcomed back home by his father who is “very old and crazy”. The Prodigal Son has returned and instead of the fatted calf gels a fair protion of the old man’s estate when he soon after dies. There is no talk of putrescence here. The son is there to bury the father, and the natural order serves to confirm the resolution of Alexander’s adolescent identity crisis.

33Many questions about the oedipal complex could be asked, as well as about what exactly the father’s craziness consisted of, where the siblings came from and whether the step-mother was really as ill-natured as we are told; but these are not questions the author can answer because virtually all that we have discussed was not part of her conscious design in writing this tale of adventures and love.


34My last example is a travel book that goes under the full title of Madagascar: or, Robert Drury’s Journal during Fifteen Years Captivity on That Island, which was first published in 1729 and then in a second edition, with changes mostly in the Preface, in 1750. Though Robert Drury was an actual person and may have had something to do with the writing and editing of this text, as the various ethical proofs suggest and as the narrator claims, there are at least two problematic deconstructions of this version of authorship. First, Defoe seems to have had a fairly large hand in designing and actually writing out the journals, and is usually identified as the anonymous Transcriber of the Preface. Second, evidence of two sorts works against the autobiographical claims of Robert Drury. Insofar as he is identified historically, his time in Madagascar was not spent in innocent growing-up amongst the natives but rather he was a pirate raiding up and down the coast of that East African island. Furthermore, much that he describes of the land, the people and their customs, as well as particular incidents, derive directly from a series of French reports published over the two or three decades prior to the appearence of the journal. Some of these were published in the extremely popular Four volume A Collection of Voyages and Travels printed in 1704 by Awnshaw and John Churchill. An expanded edition of six volumes was in preparation in London when Madagascar was first published.

35Thus like the other two books we have already noticed, Drury’s Journal comes to light in a haze of textual ambiguity. The initial disclaimer of the Transcriber is that these pages are not to be taken as a romance like Robinson Crusoe, a statement which, of course, has the rhetorical effect of alerting us to precisely the opposite motives: that this pseudo-travel book will go over the same grounds as the earlier one but with a different kind of insight at work. Ostensibly, the book has been edited—as the Transcriber and his associates affirm—in order to function in the debates over Natural Religion. The major changes effected by the 1750 edition are to integrate material taken from Archbishop Tillotson’s twelve volumes of sermons published in 1742-1743.

36Where Lemuel Gulliver complains in his letter to his Cousin Sympson that his manuscript was severely cut and altered before publication, Drury assures us that he has overseen the editorial work and approves of all the changes, including the reflections on religion interpolated by the Transcriber. But these remarks only continue the problematic nature of his autobiographical presence in the text. The pose of Robinson Crusoe assumed in the early pages, where Drury speaks of the providential signs inscribed on his life and the cautionary function of his experience, the development of the narrative leaves behind. Our analysis will focus on the interstices of the web woven between the various generic strands ostensibly constituting the book: the adventures of a young man who, as a slave in Madagascar, comes to see and experience Natural Religion first hand; the reflections of a wiser adult looking back on those experiences and extrapolating principles in accord with an Anglican version of Deism; as well as a Gulliver-like satirization of European politics through projection on to an unfamiliar and exotic landscape. Between these strands we find the narrative of a young boy’s coming-of-age, the attainment of sexual maturity and the resolution of an identity crisis.

37Born on 24 July 1687, on the eve of the Glorious Revolution, young Robin spends his childhood in a household where “soft” reforms in child-rearing are practiced. At the age of thirteen in order to purge their son of an obsessive desire to be a sailor, his parents ship him out on what they think is a controlled voyage. He sails away in 1700 and is shipwrecked a year later on the voyage home, forced then to spend fifteen years in captivity amongst the Madagascans. His journal is written and published some thirteen years later when his putative life-story is edited to serve political and theological ideas functioning in the 1720s.

38From the time he is eleven, Robin taunts his parents with a refusal to learn anything but seamanship and to be interested in nothing else. Rather than stern warnings and appeals to divine retribution, his father, like his mother, plead with him. They go down on their knees to beg him to apply himself to middle-class-concerns, but all in vein. This irresponsible, headstrong sub-pubescent child is given his own way. Again and again he and his editors call attention to his immaturity during the earliest years in Madagascar, thus accounting for his lack of perspicacity and insight into what is going on around him, and the failure of the text to provide important data to the running argument on Natural Religion. That is, unlike Alexander Vendchurch, Robin does not hide his incomplete ego development behind a screen of diligence and intellectual acquisitions. Though he says clever things when he first arrives in Madagascar so that he stands out from the other captives, he is treated as a cute child, not a serious adolescent.

39Taken into slavery, when seen within the perspective of the spatialization of his development, as psychogeography teaches us to do, we become aware that the whole stay in Madagascar puts the boy into a strict regimen of discipline which his mother and father were unwilling or incapable of applying. Their indulgence is taken as a form of neglect, and thus his retarded entry into manhood derives from the lack of proper intrusive parenting. Since he lacks proper models of adult male and female behavior and has missed out on the consequent clear distinctions between the sexes, he remains a naif in regard to his own sexual development.

40Three events in the text indicate the progress he makes under the tutelage of his slave-masters in Madagascar. They not only enforce conditions in which he learns to fend for himself, look after cattle, perform useful diplomatic and political negotiations, and in other ways achieve the arts, skills, and achievements his own English parents failed to oversee, but he also comes of age sexually and overcomes the adolescent obsessions attendant upon a repressed and retarded development.

41In the first event, just as his fate is being decided by his captors and he will be sent inland as a slave, shows him meeting with a fourteen year old black princess who tries to coax him into a sexual liaison. He is too naive to interpret her signals and to respond in kind.

She sat down over against me, and though I had no notion of love, yet I could not help observing a particular softness in her speaking to me; and when she asked Sam [his companion interpreter] of our misfortunes, she showed a great deal of concern and pity, and looked at me with some uncommon pleasure, as people do at pictures which please them, and stared me almost out of countenance.... (61)

42In this scene and the one that follows where the princess (who is fairly innocent herself in terms of her own society) tries to make him understand her passion, the callowness of Robin is quite touching. When the young girl finally makes her feelings explicit to Sam, and he reports them to Robin, the hero of the book becomes frightened, and pretends to be ill the next time she calls him for a private interview. Editorializing on this event, Robin later writes:

Since I came to be a man, I have wondered at thoughts of my own stupidity so as to put a young lady to the expense of acquainting me with her love, and exposing herself to another man. I have nothing to offer in excuses, but that being a youth not sixteen years of age, the disovery of so great a secret created in me more fear than love, lest the consequences of this affair might prove fatal to me. (61)

43There is a slip here that may indicate repression of a later scene in which the sexual encounter is not so innocent, in that Robin speaks of himself as not yet sixteen when he is probably a year or more younger at the time he meets the king’s daughter a few days before he is made a slave.

44Be that as it may, this first episode illustrates more than the guacheries of a naive teenager. The princess speaks and acts in the presence of Sam, and when she spends too much time with Robin her mother enters the room and asks her to step outside and see the whitemen. In short, the situation is under parental control, and the king’s wife acts in the way his own mother should have to guide his coming-of-age. The intrusive mother here, however, is not his own. Robin has got to be forced into a disciplined regime.

45Although he keeps repeating the refrain, “I was but a boy when I went from home”, his lack of discernment and his fumbling towards self-reliance show more than youthful innocence. In terms of the text, the whole of society for him is alien: people speak a strange language he must learn, they behave according to customs he must conform to against his instincts and prior training, and they believe in ways he finds absurd or contrary to principles he is incapable of defending in a logical manner: “But I was too young when reduced to this slavery, and had neither companions nor books to assist me, that I did not intend to make those remarks then which I could do now” (147). The transition from childhood to manhood occurs thus under extreme conditions where everything is foreign and strange.

46At a time when he finds his attempts to speak up on behalf of Christian beliefs making him a laughing stock amongst the Madagascans, he has the second episode of sexual maturing. One day he goes along on a raiding expedition with his master and, in the course of the fighting, he captures two women, a mother and a daughter. Asked to set one free and to keep the other, he chooses the young girl as his own because, he says, “I was in truth extremely pleased with her front the very moment I took her” (169). He has an impulse to set her free at the same time as the mother, but finds his desire for her overcoming this humanitarian twinge. He realizes he is in love, in which that word carries more eroticism than general friendliness. Even in writing down the statement, the sentence structure catches the heavy-breathing and confused passions of the moment: “But to confess the truth, I was downright in love with her, never before having seen any woman I liked so well, though I had been here so many years.. (170).

47In love with his “pretty prisoner”, he ties her to him, and holds her fast all night. Her response is laughter. But he cannot consummate the love without going through the motions of a Christian wedding, and so he makes her exchange vows of tenderness and faithfulness with him. His view of marriage, then, is not a harsh version of duty and honor but, as with his parents’ relationship, one of soft mutuality. Again, despite the apparent distances and differences of setting, as he comes of age Robin recapitualtes the marital model of those he loves best.

48But though he spends the next several years as though he were a loving husband with a wife who cares for him in the physical, emotional, and social sense, he is not yet really a man. He is a slave, a dependent creature, whose destiny is not completely his own, and he is always an alien who cannot believe what the surrounding society believes. This marriage to the “pretty captive” is no marriage at all, and when the situation changes and he is forced to flee there are no bonds of obligation for him to take her with him. She is abandoned. But there is also guilt and regret, and, looking back on this incident years later, he writes with some intensity that he does not see anything wrong with having loved a black women, and he asserts: “But if an impartial comparison was to be made of their virtue, I think the negro heathens will excel the white Christians” (172).

49This is not the mad Gulliver returning home to prefer horses to his wife and children, but it is hardly an impartial judgment, and shows how strongly Robin still feels about his first love, the woman who helped him become a man in all but the last sense of having control over his own destiny. Once he becomes in his own eyes a married man, Robin can start to see more maturely the society around him: “and now being less fatigued than formerly, I was capable of taking more notice than before of the religion and laws of the country” (173).

50Intellectual maturity here follows physical maturity, unlike the experience of Alexander alias Roderigo. The attainment is also symbolized in his lengthy reportage of a circumcision rite he witnesses soon after his wedding, and that description is preceded as well by a careful analysis of the belief structures that justify the ritual. Soon the situation has changed, and Robin runs off to avoid dangerous political intrigue, leaving his supposed wife behind. In this new phase of his career as a slave, he becomes a much more crafty and cunning person, able to play off one leader against another, and to move towards a position which will allow him to enter one of the port towns where European vessels call from time to time. Shortly before he comes close enough to hear the news that his father has sent a ship captain out to ransom him and bring him home, Robin has a third emblematic event. This one completes his coming-of-age in Madagascar.

51One day, the narrative begins, echoing the kind of myths told in the region, he went out to look for water. He met a woman going to the river with a calabash. When he asked her for a drink, she said he should follow her. She went into the river, squatted down to fill her gourd, and suddenly an alligator attacked. It “caught fast hold of both her thighs, and dragged her into the stream, driving down with it”. The woman begins to scream. She keeps her head and hands above water, while Robin follows. He reaches towards her with a lance, which she takes hold of, and he pulls her in towards the shore. “The alligator still keeping fast hold, we calling out all this while for help; but taking her by the hand, she directed me where the creature lay, I struck him with my lance and wounded him, but he did not let go till a second stroke”. Robin then disengages the jaws, and finds her relatively unhurt, except for tooth-marks on her thighs.

52At that moment, he notes that she is naked below the waist, “having lost her lamber in the scuffle, but”, he says, “that was not worth minding; we saved her life and everybody was highly pleased with that” (244-45). This emblem looks remarkably like a public dreaming, a myth. A woman goes into the stream for water. She squats down and is attacked by a water-monster, but is brought back by a clever hero. Even further: the woman who goes into the river and squats as though she were giving birth is attacked by a sharp-toothed monster who causes her to bleed, as the onset of menstrual blood prevents the birth cycle. The monster at her waist tums her vagina into a frightening fanged creature ready to devour the man who tries to penetrate its depths. The woman directs the hero’s lance to enter the monster again and again until its teeth can be unhooked. The woman who squats in the river to give birth wants to feed the hero but is prevented by the monster. After he mimes sexual intercourse with her, her life is saved, and she can be seen naked with no erotic desires. The oedipal wish to have intercourse with the mother is diverted into mutual celebration of life. The boy who is replaced by an alligator need not return to the womb for nurturance but can later find a woman he can have intercourse without fear it is his mother. The slain monster is not his father who has prevented him from going back into the womb. He need not feel guilty any longer. He is a man. He can return home.

53Lastly, like the woman in the river, Robin himself needs to be rescued, because when he is a slave he is in the inferior role of dependence in society. His father’s letter affirms his lasting tender concern for the boy, as well now as his active dutiful intrusion on the young man’s behalf: Robin can go home as both a man who has come of age and as a son thankful for his parents tenderness. The coming of the letter makes him think he is dreaming, but in reality the letter ends the long dream of adolescence, the projected crisis of his identity spatialized on the landscape of an exotic island. Back in England, his only known occupation is the writing out of his journal because, as a man he is, as he said at the start of the central text, capable “of making those many curious observations which only a riper age and better judgment (freed from slavery) might have done” (39). Not providential direction or puritanic penitence lead towards Robert Drury’s coming of-age, but the psychological development signalled by the three episodes we have looked at. Like Aphra Behn’s female narrator whose independence depends on the assimilation of the suffering and sexual potency of Oronooco, so Drury’s identity comes to maturity through the textualization of his life in these journals. That narrator, as well as Robin and even Alexander alias Roderigo all come of age in the projected territory of journeys to unknown and exotic nations of the world. Thus their adolescent crises are solved, as Bunyan’s Christian found his spiritual crisis resolved, “UNDER THE SIMILITUDE OF A DREAM”.


1 Howard F. Stein, “Psychogeography and International Relations”, in Howard F. Stein and William G. Niederland, eds., Maps From the Mind: Readings in Psychogeography (Norman, 1989) 182. See also Howard F. Stein, Developmental Time, Culture Space: Studies in Psychogeography (Norman, 1987).

2 See Paul-Gabriel Boucé, “Mentalités sexuelles” in Mentalities/Mentalités 3:1 (1986).


University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand

© Presses Sorbonne Nouvelle, 1995

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