Pat Rogers, 2 March 1989
Comically observant, admonitory, but not quite reproachful, very English in its good-humoured and long-suffering manner, The Canonisation of Daniel Defoe is in more ways than one a caution. The cautionary tale it tells concerns the unplanned growth of the canon of Defoe’s works, which has sprawled from a hundred items to something like six times that figure in the last two centuries. P.N. Furbank and W.R. Owens take us through the stages of this galloping hypertrophy more in sorrow than in anger, but they leave no doubt that the guilty men who have swollen the corpus with their rash attributions have been abetted by the passivity of other Defoe scholars. They argue that our sense of Defoe has been distorted by this process of aggrandisement, which has been going on virtually unchecked, and at an accelerating pace, in the 20th century. What they would like to see is a ‘root and branch’ exercise to clear away false accretions on the body of Defoe’s authenticated writing. So far so good: and no reader of their book can possibly demur at large parts of their thesis.