Daniel Defoe: Robinson Crusoe
(Also DeFoe and De Foe; born Daniel Foe) English novelist, essayist, poet, journalist, historian, and satirist. See also Moll Flanders Criticism.
Often credited with the creation of the first English novel, Defoe was one of the most prolific authors in world literature. While the exact number is impossible to determine, scholars attribute as many as 545 works to Defoe, including scores of essays and political pamphlets. Defoe is most famous for his The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner: Who Lived Eight and Twenty Years All Alone, in an Uninhabited Island on the Coast of America, Near the Mouth of the Great River Oroonoque, and The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe: Being the Second and Last Part of His Life; and the Strange Surprising Accounts of His Travels Round Three Parts of the Globe, both from 1719, and Serious Reflections during the Life and Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, with His Vision of the Angelick World, from 1720. Robinson Crusoe gained immediate success which continues to the present. In addition to having been published in hundreds of editions and translations, adapted in many stage and movie versions, and the source for many imitations, including Gulliver's Travels and The Swiss Family Robinson, Robinson Crusoe has pervaded the culture to such an extent it has been called a modern myth.
Defoe was born in London to nonconformist, middle-class parents. The noncomformists, or dissenters, were protestant sects that opposed the official state religion of Anglicism and consequently suffered persecution. Despite the oppression of noncomformists during his youth, Defoe enjoyed a relatively secure and religious upbringing. At the age of fourteen his parents sent him to the famous academy at Stoke Newington kept by Charles Morton, where most of the students were dissenters. At this time Defoe was intended for the ministry, but after three years of study he forfeited this ambition and turned to business. Around 1863, he established himself as a hosiery merchant and traveled throughout England and the continent, acquiring an expert knowledge of trade and economics. Defoe speculated in a number of financial ventures, one of which was so ruinous that he
had to file for bankruptcy, with debts mounting to over 17,000 pounds. Though he paid off all but 5000 pounds to his creditors, Defoe was haunted throughout his life by unsatisfied debt collectors. Many critics argue that this fact should always be kept in mind when judging his later political conduct, for he was consistently manipulated by shrewd politicians able to turn him over to his creditors if and when he failed to carry out their programs. After his bankruptcy, Defoe took a position as secretary at a brick factory and gradually improved his position until he became the chief owner of the brickworks. During this time Defoe published his first essays, the most significant being An Essay upon Projects (1697). In the 1700s, his spirited defense of the dissenters and staunch support of King William of Orange made Defoe the subject of attack. Arrested and charged with seditious libel, Defoe was found guilty and sentenced to a term in prison, to be served after spending three consecutive days in the pillory. Critics generally believe that the pillory had a lasting effect on Defoe, making him a bitter man and an outcast in his own society. His prison term cut short, Defoe became an instrument of the government, working as a political propagandist and secret agent for the Tories. Defoe began The Review in 1704 and continued as its sole writer for ten years. The Review served as a vehicle for Tory beliefs, which promoted Anglicanism and resisted religious toleration and foreign entanglements. Upon Queen Anne's death in 1714 and the fall of the Tory government, Defoe was able to devote more time to his imaginative writing. Partly inspired by the true adventures of an ill-disciplined sailor...
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