Daniel Defoe (Magill's Literary Annual 1990)
In her preface, Paula Backscheider states the aims of her study: “I have tried to recreate the way the world felt to Defoe, to capture him in the act of living and writing, and to let him- and his contemporaries-speak for themselves whenever possible.” As familiar with Defoe as anyone-she published an earlier book on Defoe, Daniel Defoe: Ambition and Innovation, in 1986 and has read virtually everything Defoe wrote-Backscheider admirably accomplishes these goals.
Writing a biography of Defoe is no easy task. Indeed, Peter Earle, author of The World of Defoe (1976), argued that it was impossible. One difficulty is Defoe’s productivity: He wrote for as many as eight periodicals at once and frequently produced close to half a million words a year. Even determining the Defoe canon poses another challenge, since so much of his output appeared anonymously. Defoe was also protean; at the same time that he was writing for the extreme Tory Nathaniel Mist he contributed to the Whig Whitehall Evening Post. Charles Gildon, one of Defoe’s contemporaries, claimed that future generations would not know where Defoe’s sympathies lay; the Weekly Journal described him as “one hour a Whig and the next hour a Tory.” This involvement with public affairs further complicates the biographer’s task, for Defoe lived through and participated in some of the most tumultuous times in English history. It is difficult...
(The entire section is 1449 words.)
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