Daniel Foe was born in 1660 in a suburb of London called Cripplegate. The writer later added the aristocratic-sounding "De" to his surname.
His father James Foe, was a member of the butcher's company, but he worked as a chandler's merchant. In Defoe's early life he experienced some of the most unusual occurrences in English history; in 1665, a lot of people were killed by the Great Plague, and the Great Fire of London hit Defoe's neighborhood and destroyed many houses. Defoe's mother, Annie, died when he was only 10 year old.
His parents were Presbyterian dissenters and he was educated in a dissenting academy by Charles Morton. During this time period, England was not tolerant in religion. Dissenters refused to conform to the services of the Church of England and they were despised and oppressed.
James Foe wanted his son to become a dissenting minister, but Daniel preferred other things. When he was about 18, he left school and after some years of preparation, he went into the hosiery business.
Daniel Defoe married Mary Tuffley, the daughter of a London merchant and together they had eight children, six of whom survived.
In 1688 William III was crowned, and Defoe immediately became one of his close allies and a secret agent. Four years later he was arrested because he had too many debts and he didn't manage to pay back all the money. Following his release, he probably travelled in Europe and Scotland and in 1695 he was back in England where, a few years later, he was accused to have defamed English Church. He was closed in the Newgate's prison and during this time he started to write Moll Flanders.
Daniel Defoe died on 24 April 1731. He was interred in Bunhill Fields, in London, where his grave can still be visited.
HIS LITERARY CONTRIBUTION
Robinson Crusoe only became a writer when he was about 60.
When he was younger, he had been a politician and a businessman. In 1719 he suddenly wrote his first novel, Robinson Crusoe. This book had a great and immediate success; four editions were printed and sold in few months. Considered the success, he started writing other novels, like Moll Flanders. These two fictions are Defoe’s most famous writings.
Other novels were Captain Singleton, the story of an adventurer, A Journal of the Plague Year, where he described in an artistically written report the consequences of the plague that killed thousands of Londoners in 1665, and Memoirs of a Cavalier; in this book he imagined a cavalier who has to face a large number of adventures, during the Puritan Revolution.
Defoe is considered the father of the realistic novel, and all his fictions had a great importance for the development of the genre.
With his writings he influenced the other writers of that period.
In his novel, he gives a great importance to the theme of the “self-made man”, he admired the people that survive (Robinson Crusoe) or gain success (Moll Flanders) only with their ability.
In Captain Singleton the adventurer is seen as a noble and generous Highwayman, a figure that will be often used in the Romantics.
Daniel Defoe is considered the father of modern journalism, he didn’t write only novels, but also essays, pamphlets, travel books and he often wrote articles for newspapers and magazines. In particular in 1703 he founded The Review, a periodical printed in two different versions, in London and in Edinburgh. It was closed in 1713.
Defoe wrote his first and most famous novel in 1719: “Robinson Crusoe”. It tells of a man's shipwreck on a desert island and his subsequent adventures during the 28 years that he passed there. Despite its simple narrative style, it gained an important position in the literary world. The book is one of the most widely published books in history. It has been popular since the day it was published. One reason for its success is, probably, the large number of possible interpretations. He also wrote a Part II, “The farther adventures of Robinson Crusoe”: after Crusoe’s homecoming and his marriage in England he wants to see again “his island”.
Defoe’s next novel is “Captain Singleton”, (1720). It may be partially inspired by the life of English pirate Henry Every (who lived in the 17th century). It tells about the life of an Englishman, stolen from an ordinary and honest family as a child and raised by Gypsies who make him become a pirate. The first half of the book concerns Singleton's crossing of Africa and the second half his life as a pirate in the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea. Defoe's description of piracy focuses for the most part on matters of economics and logistics, but he makes it an intriguing read. Singleton, even if he’s a pirate, behaves more like a merchant adventurer, so perhaps the book is a Defoe's comment on the mercantilism of his days.
Later he wrote “Memoirs of a Cavalier” (1720). It’s a work of historical fiction, set during the Thirty Years' War and the English Civil Wars.
“A Journal of the Plague Year” is a novel first published in March 1722. The novel tells about the experience of one man in 1665, when the Great Plague struck the city of London. The story follows a chronological order. Defoe was only five years old in 1665, and the book was published under the initials H. F. The novel probably was based on the journals of Defoe's uncle, Henry Foe. Defoe managed to achieve an effect of verisimilitude, identifying specific neighborhoods, streets, and even houses where the events took place. It may be compared to the description of the plague in the Italian Manzoni's “The Betrothed” (orig. Italian: I Promessi Sposi). In spite of some analogies (for example, both novels were written many years after the end of the plague), the two writers used different techniques: Defoe wrote a work full of details but he used a detached tone, while Manzoni didn’t only reconstruct the general atmosphere in Milan, he also analyzed the plague with his view.
Also in 1722, Defoe wrote “Moll Flanders”. She is the principal character in that picaresque novel (a popular sub-genre of prose fiction which is usually satirical and depicts and tells about someone of low social class who lives in a corrupt society). The novel tells about the fall and redemption of an alone woman in the17th century England. Although Moll appears as a whore and thief who lives in The Mint (south London), committing adultery and incest, she manages to retain the reader's sympathy.
“Roxana: The Fortunate Mistress” is the last Defoe’s novel, written in 1724. The novel concerns the story of an unnamed "fallen woman" and it’s, after “Moll Flanders”, the second time that Defoe creates a character like that. In Roxana, a woman who takes on various pseudonyms, including "Roxana", Defoe describes her fall from the “respectable” life style of the middle class to abandonment of a husband and movement into prostitution. Roxana moves up and down through the social levels a lot of times, marrying a jeweler, secretly courting a prince and almost marrying a merchant. She finally can afford her own freedom, thanks to the property received from these men.
Crusoe sets sail from the Queen's Dock in Hull on a sea voyage in August 1651, against the wishes of his parents, who want him to start a career in law. After a tumultuous journey that sees his ship wrecked in a storm, his lust for the sea remains so strong that he sets out to sea again. This journey, too, ends in disaster as the ship is taken over by Salé pirates and Crusoe becomes the slave of a Moor. After two years of slavery, he manages to escape in a boat with a boy named Xury; later, Crusoe is rescued by the Captain of a Portuguese ship near the west coast of Africa. The ship is travelling to Brazil. There, with the help of the captain, Crusoe becomes owner of a plantation.
Years later, he joins an expedition to bring slaves from Africa but he is shipwrecked in a on an island near the mouth of the Orinoco river on September 30, 1659. His companions all die, save himself and three animals that also survived the shipwreck, the captain's dog and two cats. He fetches arms, tools and other supplies from the ship before it breaks apart and sinks. He proceeds to build a fenced habitation near a cave which he excavates himself. He hunts, grows barley and rice, dries grapes to make raisins for the winter months, learns to make pottery and raises goats, all using tools taken from his ship, as well as created from stone and wood which he harvests on the island. He also adopts a small parrot.
Years later, he discovers native cannibals, who occasionally visit the island to kill and eat prisoners. He dreams of obtaining one or two servants by freeing some prisoners; when a prisoner manages to escape, Crusoe helps him, naming his new companion "Friday" after the day of the week he appeared. Crusoe then teaches him English and converts him to Christianity.
After another party of natives arrives to eat other prisoners, Crusoe and Friday manage to kill most of the natives and save two of them. One is Friday's father and the other is a Spaniard, who informs Crusoe that there are other Spaniards shipwrecked on the mainland. A plan is devised wherein the Spaniard would return with Friday's father to the mainland and bring back the others, build a ship and sail to a Spanish port.
Before the Spaniards return, an English ship appears; mutineers have taken control of the ship and want to leave their captain on the island. Crusoe and the ship's captain make a deal in which he helps the captain and the loyal sailors retake the ship from the mutineers; the captain intends to leave the worst of the mutineers on the island. Before they leave for England, Crusoe shows the former mutineers how he lived on the island and states that there will be more men coming. When he finally returns home, he learns that his family believed him dead and there was nothing in his father's will for him. In conclusion, while he is travelling from London to Lisbon on the land, he and Friday have one last adventure together as they fight off hundreds of famished wolves while crossing the Pyrenees.
In Robinson Crusoe, the main intention of Daniel Defoe is to celebrate the ideal of the “self-made man”, a person who manage to survive with his own skills and cleverness. Besides this main theme, there are three main interpretation of Robinson Crusoe: the colonial one, the religious, the moral and the economic ones.
Novelist James Joyce noted that:” Robinson Crusoe is the true prototype of the British colonist. …" The whole Anglo-Saxon spirit is in Crusoe: the manly independence, the persistence, the calculating taciturnity, …”
Crusoe during his life on the island attempts to replicate his society on it. Through the use of European technology, agriculture and even a rudimentary political hierarchy he accomplishes it. Several times in the novel Crusoe refers to himself as the 'king' of the island; At the very end of the novel the island is explicitly referred to as a 'colony'. The relationship between Crusoe and Friday can be seen in terms of cultural imperialism. Crusoe represents the modern European, while Friday represent the primitive barbarian, who can be redeemed through assimilation into Crusoe's culture.
Defoe also takes the opportunity to criticize the historic Spanish conquest of South America.
Robinson is not a hero but an everyman. The book tells the story of how Robinson becomes closer to God, not through listening to sermons in a church but through spending time alone in nature with only a Bible to read.
Robinson Crusoe is filled with religious aspects. Defoe was a Puritan moralist and normally worked in the guide tradition, writing books on how to be a good Puritan Christian. In fact the name Crusoe could refers to Timothy Crusoe, an important Puritan who had written religious guides, before dying.
The Biblical story of Jonah is alluded to in the first part of the novel. Like Jonah, Crusoe neglects his 'duty' and is punished at sea.
When confronted with the cannibals, Crusoe faces problem of cultural relativism. Despite his disgust, he feels unjustified in holding the natives morally responsible for a practice so deeply ingrained in their culture. Nevertheless he regards cannibalism as a 'national crime' and forbids Friday from practicing it.
Another great success was certainly The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders (commonly known simply as Moll Flanders), in which a poor girl makes a way for herself in the world thanks to her physical beauty and her cleverness.
Daniel Defoe wrote it in 1721, after his work as a journalist and pamphleteer. By 1721, Defoe had become a recognised novelist, with the success of Robinson Crusoe in 1719. His political work was tapering off at this point, due to the fall of both Whig and Tory party leaders with whom he had been associated; Robert Walpole was beginning his rise, and Defoe was never fully at home with the Walpole group.
Moll Flanders was born in a poor family; her mother has been convicted in a prison. As an infant, Moll lives on public charity, under the care of a kind widow who teaches her manners and needlework. She grows into a beautiful teenager and is seduced at an early age. Abandoned by her first lover, she is compelled to marry his younger brother. He dies after a few years, and she marries a draper who soon flees the country as a fugitive from the law. She marries yet again and moves to America, only to find out that her husband is actually her half- man whose wife has gone insane. He renounces his affair with Moll after a religious experience.
Moll's next marriage offer is from a banker whose wife has been cheating on him. Moll agrees to marry him if he can obtain a divorce, and meanwhile she travels around the country and marries a rich gentleman in Lancashire. This man turns out to be a fraud: he is as poor as she. Moll returns to marry the banker, who by this time has succeeded in divorcing his wife. However he dies soon after and Moll is thrown back upon her own resources once again. She lives in poverty for several years and then begins stealing. She is quite talented at this new "trade" and soon becomes an expert thief and a local legend. Eventually she is caught, imprisoned, and sentenced to death. In prison at Newgate, she reunites with her Lancashire husband, who has also been arrested. They both manage to have their sentences reduced, and they are transported to the colonies, where they begin a new life as plantation owners. In America, Moll rediscovers her brother and her son and claims the inheritance her mother has left her. Prosperous and repentant, she returns with her husband to England at the age of seventy.
Some believe that the story is a narrative representation of capitalism, given the numerous allusions to money, contracts and other matters related to money. Everything, including people, has a monetary value. This can give the reader a sense of personality calculator Moll. Capitalism, however, did not become a familiar concept until much later, so it is better to believe that Defoe, who himself was a prisoner in Newgate, wanted to represent the social life of the eighteenth century.
As a morality tale the novel can be read in two different ways. On the one hand, the story of Moll could be classically tragic: she commits adultery, prostitutes, abandoned children, and commits incest in an effort to rise to the "respectable" middle class. On the other hand, it could also be read as the story of a woman whose crime is the self-sufficiency and lack of Christian obedience; she commits crimes but can achieve prosperity and peace only with the confession and redemption.
Daniel Defoe was a Puritan. His views were clear, because he believed in hard work, devotion, and the work of providence as grace, and writes. The novel, which devotes many pages to the crime and sin, and very few to repentance or remorse, takes the reader to question the desire for forgiveness of Moll.
In the novel come together the interest of Defoe's narratives of conversion and his experience and attention to criminal activities. The success of Moll Flanders took advantage of the reputation of the author, who had written articles about criminals in his newspaper.
From the point of view of historians, Moll Flanders provides valuable information on life, habits and punishment of the criminal world. It is one of the best narrative representations of life in Newgate prison, the punishment for prostitution, and how they viewed the early eighteenth century America.
Along with Samuel Richardson, Defoe is considered the founder of the modern English novel, which is a form of prose fiction in which the figure of a single character or group of characters and their fate is the center of the story.
Although there are earlier also important, Defoe was actually the first to use this literary form in a systematic way.
To explain better this thing, we can say that Defoe was not really interested in creating or developing novel to literary purposes. In fact he was primarily a journalist and essayist and we don’t forget that the main reason why Defoe wrote was, apparently, the need to pay its debts.
Defoe was one of the first to write stories about believable characters in realistic situations, using simple prose.
The mixture of reality and fiction, sensationalism and credibility, intentions and uplifting taste of the story at the end of entertainment in the form of Defoe's writing was later used as model by other writers from different countries. Certainly the first narrative summary functioning was the astute and "dishonest" Daniel Defoe; it’s proved by the success that his books still have nowadays.
· The Consolidator or, Memoirs of Sundry Transactions from the World in the Moon (1705)
· Atlantis Major (1711)
· Robinson Crusoe (1719)
· The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1719)
· The King of Pirates (1719)
· Captain Singleton (1720)
· Memoirs of a Cavalier (1720)
· A Journal of the Plague Year (1722)
· Moll Flanders (1722)
· Roxana: The Fortunate Mistress (1724)
· The Pirate Gow, an account of John Gow
· Colonel Jack
· The Storm (1704)
· The Family Instructor (1715)
· A General History of the Pirates (1724) (Defoe's authorship is disputed)
· A tour thro' the whole island of Great Britain, divided into circuits or journeys (1724–1727)