By grappling with secular and religious approaches to Defoe's fiction, this essay describes the theory of fiction that Defoe writes his way toward during the course of his three-book Crusoe novel, which includes The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, and The Serious Reflections during the Life and Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe. The essay sets out to rediscover irony in the Crusoe novel itself—particularly the irony that gathers in its most religiously charged scenes—rather than looking for it, as most critics do, in the historical gap between our secular age and the late Puritan age of Defoe. Next, the essay finds the fullest expression of Defoe's procedures as a novelist in the parable of the atheists at the end of Serious Reflections, rather than in the prefaces that begin the three Crusoe books. In that concluding parable, Defoe finally reveals his ambitions as a novelist, plotting the exposure of his characters' fear and gullibility in regard to the supernatural in order to open them up to a greater sense of divine providence.

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