How do you characterize Daniel Defoe?

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teachkwon | High School Teacher | (Level 2) eNoter

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Defoe (1660−1731) has long been considered the father of the English novel, even though he inherited an established picaresque tradition. He may also be regarded as a great journalist, with a sharp eye for current events in early-18th-century London. The picaresque novel is of Spanish invention, dating back to the mid-16th century and relating the affairs of a picaro, a lowlife figure. Critics have claimed that such novels have no plot but are strictly episodic. From an aesthetic point of view, the episodic nature of the picaresque novel may be a weakness, but it also prompts us to ask: Does life itself have a pattern? The genre is most known for its bottom-up angle of vision, as the authors of such works satirize the arrangements of the wealthy or powerful from the perspectives of beggars or thieves or con men. Picaresque novels are rich in information about the kinds of resources available to people without resources. This tradition can be said to live on in fiction of every century.

As a “journalist,” Defoe published papers and pamphlets on virtually all the issues of his age: religious controversy, duels, bankruptcy, insurance, care for the elderly, and conditions for the mentally ill. Defoe’s signature appears to be his plain style and his prosaic—as opposed to poetic—view of life. The writing itself takes on a conversational, unadorned style, with few allusions and few flourishes. It is attuned to modern life. Defoe is our great witness to the emergence of the middle class; he celebrates enterprise, mercantilism, and hard work. His views on industriousness and profit have been seen in terms of Protestantism and the work ethic. The focus in Defoe’s books is on the individual in this life; he doesn’t address religious salvation or transcendence. The commonsense Defoe is visible in his world-famous 'Robinson Crusoe, " the story of a man abandoned on a desert island.


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