Daniel Defoe was a prolific writer
(over 370 known publications) who could–and would–turn his hand to
almost any topic; he has been called one of the greatest journalists
and the father of journalism. To many of his contemporaries, he was a
man who sold his pen to the political party in office and so lacking
integrity. He was not taken seriously by literary men, though his skill at writing was
acknowledged. Alexander Pope said of him, "The first part of Robinson
Crusoe is very good–De Foe wrote a vast many things; and none bad,
though none excellent, except this" (1742).
He was an outsider, being a
Dissenter or Puritan, the son of a butcher, and a suspected government
spy (this suspicion was confirmed in the nineteenth century). Jonathan
Swift regarded him with contempt, "One of these Authors (the Fellow
that was pilloryed, I have forgot his Name) is indeed so grave,
sententious, dogmatical a Rogue, that there is no enduring him." At
least part of Swift's attitude is snobbery; Defoe was not a gentleman
born or raised though he aspired to be one and changed his name from
Foe to Defoe and bought a coach with his coat of arms on its door.
For nearly seventy-five years,
Defoe's reputation as a writer was in decline. But from 1780 to1830, a
succession of biographies and editions of his works was published, and
his literary star began to rise. As perceptive a critic as Coleridge
appreciated his artistry. But Sir Walter Scott, though appreciative,
raised the objection that Defoe lacked conscious artistry, "Defoe seems
to have written too rapidly to pay the least attention to his
circumstances; the incidents are huddled together like paving-stones
discharged from a cart, and as little connexion between the one and the
other." This objection continues to be raised.
Despite these favorable changes,
Defoe had not yet achieved his current literary eminence. The
revelation that he had been a government spy reinforced the earlier
negative view of him, and some mid-19th century readers were shocked by
the language and content of Moll Flanders and other novels with
rogues as the main character. Despite these negative reactions, by 1860
the number of books and essays about him increased dramatically, and he
was on the way to being acknowledged as one of the great eighteenth
He received widespread and
consistent serious critical attention in the twentieth century, and his
works have been subjected to modern interpretations, e.g., Marxist,
psychoanalytic, feminist, and poststructuralist.
With six printings in four months, Robinson
Crusoe was a popular and financial success in 1719. To capitalize
on its success, he wrote, in the same year, The Farther Adventures
of Robinson Crusoe, which is a disappointment for most readers. The
next year, he recycled some essays as Serious Reflections of
Robinson Crusoe. Through the remainder of the eighteenth century
and the first half of the nineteenth century, Robinson Crusoe
was printed with both the first and second parts. The modern practice
of publishing only the first part of Robinson Crusoe began
Because of Robinson Crusoe's
success, it was immediately pirated, abridged, imitated, translated and
adapted for the stage as pantomime and as drama. Because of its
universal appeal, the novel continued to be published, adapted, and
tranformed for over two centuries. By 1895, 196 editions of Robinson
Crusoe had been published, 114 revisions, 277 imitations, and 110
translations–translations in Dutch, Hebrew, Armenian, Bengali, Persian,
and even Eskimo, to name a few. It has been packaged as a picture book
with little or no text; this degradation was consistent with a tendency
to view it as a children's book, a fate it shared with Gulliver's
Travels.. It continues to inspire novels like Swiss Family
Robinson and Muriel Spark's Robinson; Crusoe has been
reincarnated as a boy, as a girl, as a dog, and as a sexual Crusoe.
Crusoe has appeared in succession of movies, including one which sent
him to Mars. And Engelbert Humperdinck starred in a 1969 pantomime in
two acts called Robinson Crusoe.
Defoe's greatest work, by the
general agreement of critics and the acclaim of readers throughout the
world, is Robinson Crusoe.
The Victorian Web
The first two paragraphs discuss capitalism and
Capsule biography of Defoe. Numerous links explain
key terms, like dissenter, Tory, and Anglican Church.
I find so many links in short texts annoying, but you may not.
Chronology of major events in his life and writing,
bibliography, Defoe as "the true-born Englishman." Also a section on
studying fiction and basic literary terms. Ignore the ads unless you
are interested in buying.
Daniel Defoe in The Cambridge History of English and
American Literature, 1907-1921
Defoe is discussed in three chapters–"The Newspaper
and the Novel" by W.P. Trent ; "The Literature of Dissent, 1660-1760"
by W.A. Shaw; and "Education" by J.W. Adamson. The chapters are broken
down into sections. You might try browsing, or just pick the section
topics that appeal to you.
"The Newspaper and the Novel" (Chapter XVI, Volume 9)
§1. Defoe–The Newspaper and
the Novel: Beginnings of the English Newspaper
§2. The Oxford,
afterward The London Gazette
§3. Roger L’Estrange
§4. His activity as a
pamphleteer before and after the Restoration
§5. The Observator
§6. L’Estrange’s late
troubles and literary work
§7. Henry Care
§8. John Dunton
§9. The Flying Post
and The Post Boy
§11. Defoe’s early and
§12. An Essay upon Projects
§13. The True-Born
§14. The Shortest Way with
§15. Defoe in the Pillory
§16. The Review
§17. Defoe and Harley
§18. Mercator and
§19. The Secret History of
the White Staff and An Appeal to Honour and Justice
§20. Discreditable Later Tracts
§21. Defoe’s evolution as a
§22. Robinson Crusoe
and its sequel
§23. Miscellaneous later
§24. Defoe's last years
§25. His posthumous reputation
"The Literature of Dissent, 1660-1760" (Chapter XVI,
§3. The Literature of Dissent
from Defoe to Watts
"Education" (Chapter XV, Volume 9)
§13. Cavils of Swift and Defoe
and the Origins of the English Novel
The first paragraph is about Crusoe.
Defoe: Robinson Crusoe
E-text of the novel.
Crusoe: An Evolution of Political Religion
A student essay on Crusoe's relgious conversion and
its political meanings.
Crusoe. Summary of plot, historical context, main characaters,
points to ponder, a few did-you-know facts, and e-text of the novel.
the movie Robinson Crusoe on Mars.
on Robinson Crusoe, Ian Johnson.
| Day 1 (W, Sept. 4)
|Day 2 (M, Sept. 9)
||Defoe, Robinson Crusoe,
Preface - "I Build My Fortress"
Overview of Daniel Defoe
Overview of Robinson Crusoe
The Sources of Robinson Crusoe
|Day 3 (W, Sept. 11)
|| Defoe, Robinson Crusoe, "The
Journal" - "I Am Very Seldom Idle"
Increase Mather, Remarkable
|Day 4 (T, Sept. 17)
Defoe, Robinson Crusoe, "I Make Myself a
Canoe" - "I See the Wreck..."
|Day 5 (W, Sept. 18)
Defoe, Robinson Crusoe, pp. "I Hear the
First Sound..." - "We Quell..."
Religion in Robinson
Web paper due
|Day 6 (M, Sept. 23)
Defoe, Robinson Crusoe, "We Seize the
Ship" - "I Revisit My Island"
Robinson Crusoe as Economic