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Daniel Defoe

Daniel Defoe Daniel Defoe[2†]

Daniel Defoe, originally named Daniel Foe, was an English writer, trader, journalist, pamphleteer, and spy[1†][2†]. He was born around 1660 in London, England[1†][2†]. Defoe is most famous for his novel “Robinson Crusoe”, published in 1719, which is claimed to be second only to the Bible in its number of translations[1†][3†]. He has been seen as one of the earliest proponents of the English novel, and helped to popularise the form in Britain with others such as Aphra Behn and Samuel Richardson[1†][2†].

Defoe was a prolific and versatile writer, producing more than three hundred works[1†][2†] —books, pamphlets, and journals—on diverse topics, including politics, crime, religion, marriage, psychology, and the supernatural. He was also a pioneer of business journalism and economic journalism[1†][2†].

Defoe’s father, James Foe, was a hard-working and fairly prosperous tallow chandler (perhaps also, later, a butcher), of Flemish descent[1†]. By his middle 30s, Daniel was calling himself “Defoe,” probably reviving a variant of what may have been the original family name[1†].

Defoe was a well-educated London merchant, he became an acute economic theorist and began to write eloquent, witty, often audacious tracts on public affairs[1†][4†]. He dealt in many commodities, traveled widely at home and abroad, and became an acute and intelligent economic theorist, in many respects ahead of his time[1†].

Early Years and Education

Daniel Defoe was born around 1660 in London, England[1†][5†]. His father, James Foe, was a hard-working and fairly prosperous tallow chandler (perhaps also, later, a butcher), of Flemish descent[1†]. By his middle 30s, Daniel was calling himself “Defoe,” probably reviving a variant of what may have been the original family name[1†].

As a Nonconformist, or Dissenter, Foe could not send his son to the University of Oxford or to Cambridge; he sent him instead to the excellent academy at Newington Green kept by the Reverend Charles Morton[1†]. There Defoe received an education in many ways better, and certainly broader, than any he would have had at an English university[1†]. Morton was an admirable teacher, later becoming first vice president of Harvard College[1†]. The clarity, simplicity, and ease of his style of writing—together with the Bible, the works of John Bunyan, and the pulpit oratory of the day—may have helped to form Defoe’s own literary style[1†].

Although intended for the Presbyterian ministry, Defoe decided against this and by 1683 had set up as a merchant[1†]. He called trade his “beloved subject,” and it was one of the abiding interests of his life[1†]. He dealt in many commodities, traveled widely at home and abroad, and became an acute and intelligent economic theorist, in many respects ahead of his time[1†].

Career Development and Achievements

Daniel Defoe was a prolific and versatile writer, producing more than three hundred works[2†]. These works spanned a wide range of topics, including politics, crime, religion, marriage, psychology, and the supernatural[2†]. He was also a pioneer of business journalism and economic journalism[2†].

Defoe’s early career involved ventures into various trades, including hosiery, wool goods, and wine[2†][6†]. However, he often faced financial struggles and debts[2†][6†]. His writing career took off with his notable publication, “An Essay Upon Projects” in 1697, which proposed ideas for social and economic improvements[2†][6†].

Despite facing bankruptcy in 1692[2†][1†], Defoe began writing professionally[2†][7†]. He wrote a satirical pamphlet in 1703 called “The Shortest Way with the Dissenters”, for which he was pilloried[2†][7†]. After a stint in Newgate prison and more troubles with his bankruptcy, Defoe wrote “Robinson Crusoe” and “Moll Flanders”, both of which were great successes[2†][7†].

Defoe’s intelligence and skills as a writer did not go unnoticed, and he became a secret agent and intelligence operative for the government, particularly during the reign of William III and Queen Anne[2†][6†]. His works often supported the political agenda of the government and influenced public opinion on significant matters, including the Acts of Union in 1707[2†][6†].

First Publication of His Main Works

Daniel Defoe was a prolific writer, producing more than three hundred works[2†]. His novels and other writings covered a wide range of topics, reflecting his diverse interests and experiences[2†]. Here are some of his most notable works:

Each of these works made a significant contribution to literature and had a profound impact on the development of the novel as a literary form[2†]. Defoe’s realistic portrayals of his characters and their experiences, his exploration of social issues, and his innovative narrative techniques all helped to shape the future of English literature[2†].

Analysis and Evaluation

Daniel Defoe’s work has been subject to extensive analysis and evaluation. His principal contribution to English literature is in the novel, and he has been called the first English novelist[9†]. The extent of his contribution, however, has been debated[9†].

Defoe’s novels are known for their realistic episodes and superbly detailed descriptions, which often make it difficult for readers to believe that the tales are fictional[9†][10†]. This style, known as “circumstantial realism,” has earned Defoe a reputation as a realist[9†]. His constant enumeration of things, such as the objects Moll Flanders steals or her escape routes through London, contributes to this realism[9†].

However, viewing Defoe as a photographic realist also highlights his limitations. Some critics argue that the formlessness of his novels shows his lack of the very shaping power that belongs to great art[9†]. Even his circumstantial realism is not of the visual sort: Once Moll has named an object, for example, she rarely goes on to describe it in such detail that the reader may visualize it[9†].

In the late twentieth century, Defoe’s novels underwent a reassessment, and critics started to see him as more than a mere assembler of objects[9†]. They agree that Defoe consciously developed themes and used his narratives to shape these themes, all of which center on the conflict between spiritual and earthly values[9†]. Some critics see a keen irony in his work: Moll’s actions and her commentary on those actions, they argue, do not always agree[9†]. This double perspective contributes to a rudimentary analysis of character[9†].

Others see a religious vision in his works, one that underwrites an almost allegorical interpretation of his novels[9†]. The ending of Robinson Crusoe, the killing of the wolves, is seen as Crusoe slaying his earthly passions[9†]. While such a reading may seem forced, one should perhaps remember that John Bunyan was a near contemporary of Defoe[9†].

Personal Life

Daniel Defoe was born as Daniel Foe around 1660 in London, England[2†][1†]. His father, James Foe, was a hard-working and fairly prosperous tallow chandler, possibly of Flemish descent[2†][1†]. Defoe later added the aristocratic-sounding “De” to his name, and on occasion claimed descent from a family named De Beau Faux[2†].

Defoe was the eldest son and third child of James and Mary Defoe[2†][7†]. His mother, Alice, had died by the time he was about ten[2†]. In Defoe’s early childhood, he experienced some of the most unusual occurrences in English history: in 1665, seventy thousand were killed by the Great Plague of London, and the next year, the Great Fire of London left standing only Defoe’s and two other houses in his neighborhood[2†].

In 1684, Defoe joined the army of the rebel Duke of Monmouth, but when the rebellion failed, Defoe was forced into semi-exile[2†][7†]. Despite these challenges, Defoe was determined to become a merchant rather than a Presbyterian minister as his father had intended[2†][7†].

Defoe was married to Mary Tuffley, the daughter of a London merchant, who received a dowry of £3,700 – a huge amount by the standards of the day[2†][1†]. They had eight children, six of whom survived[2†][1†]. Defoe’s marriage was, by all accounts, rather strained – his wife was often the subject of Defoe’s sardonic wit in his writings, where he referred to her as “Plague,” “Hell,” or "Madam Furry"[2†][1†].

Defoe died on April 24, 1731, in London, England[2†][1†]. He was around 71 years old[2†][1†].

Conclusion and Legacy

Daniel Defoe’s enduring legacy in British heritage lies in his contributions to the English novel through his masterpiece “Robinson Crusoe,” his impact on journalism, and his exploration of unconventional themes in his fictional works[6†]. His novel, “Robinson Crusoe,” published in 1719, has captivated readers for generations and remains an essential part of English literature[6†]. The novel’s enduring popularity and numerous translations have solidified its status as a literary masterpiece[6†].

Defoe’s contributions extend beyond his novels; he is recognized as one of the pioneers of the English novel, alongside writers like Aphra Behn and Samuel Richardson, who helped establish the genre in Britain[6†]. Throughout his prolific career, Defoe penned over three hundred works, ranging from political tracts to religious treatises, reflecting his diverse interests and expertise[6†]. Notably, he played a crucial role in the development of business journalism and economic journalism, contributing to the growth and understanding of the British economy during his time[6†].

Defoe’s intelligence and skills as a writer did not go unnoticed, and he became a secret agent and intelligence operative for the government, particularly during the reign of William III and Queen Anne[6†]. His works often supported the political agenda of the government and influenced public opinion on significant matters, including the Acts of Union in 1707[6†].

In conclusion, Daniel Defoe’s enduring legacy in British heritage lies in his contributions to the English novel through his masterpiece “Robinson Crusoe,” his impact on journalism, and his exploration of unconventional themes in his fictional works[6†]. He established himself as a crucial link in the evolution of eighteenth-century theories of civil society, political thought, and modern historical understanding[6†][11†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Britannica - Daniel Defoe: English author [website] - link
  2. Wikipedia (English) - Daniel Defoe [website] - link
  3. Wikiwand - Daniel Defoe - Wikiwand [website] - link
  4. Britannica - Daniel Defoe summary [website] - link
  5. Encyclopedia of World Biography - Daniel Defoe Biography [website] - link
  6. British Heritage - Daniel Defoe [website] - link
  7. IMDb - Daniel Defoe - Biography [website] - link
  8. Literary Devices - Daniel Defoe [website] - link
  9. eNotes - Daniel Defoe Analysis [website] - link
  10. eNotes - Daniel Defoe World Literature Analysis [website] - link
  11. Springer Link - Daniel Defoe - Chapter: Conclusion [website] - link
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