Daniel Defoe Essay, Research Paper
Thesis Statement: Daniel Defoe perfected the art of giving his fiction the appearance of
truth, thus making his works come alive and appear to be a matter of
II. Early years
B. Early ambitions
III. Middle Years
A. Robinson Crusoe
B. Moll Flanders
C. A Journal of the Plague Year
IV. Later years
A Realistic Liar
Daniel Defoe is the founder of the English novel. ? [Defoe]?was one of the germinal minds in political and economical thought, a defender of religious toleration, and an opponent of the evils of human slavery?? (Moore, 7). Defoe reflects his diverse experiences in many countries and in many lifestyles. Besides being a brilliant journalist and novelist, Defoe was a prolific author, producing more than 500 books, pamphlets, and tracts. Defoe was a religious man who stood up for the Christian code of ethics. He spent a great deal of his life trying to get men to act more morally, to abandon prejudices, and to right injustices. Defoe?s most effective writing style was to give as much precise detail so that the reader could not decipher whether the event actually took place, or was just all made up by a brilliant mind. He would incorporate details into his writing that would seem true only because the detail was so great the reader figured it to be the real thing. ??there is a quality in Defoe?s style that keeps them obstinately alive. It is mainly a matter of spiritual energy, a natural alertness and liveliness that kept him at a high pitch of intensity? (Sutherland, 6). Daniel Defoe perfected the art of giving his fiction the appearance of truth, thus making his works come alive and appear to be a matter of personal recollection.
Daniel Defoe was born in the year 1660 to Alice and James Foe. There is some controversy over the date because the date was never actually written down. The births of his two older sisters, Mary, on November 13, 1657, and Elizabeth, on June 19, 1659 were
inscribed in St. Giles parish records, but not his. It is assumed that Daniel was born in the fall of 1660. ?Probably we shall never know the exact date of his birth? (Moore, 1). Daniel was the first to be born in London. James, Daniel?s father, started an apprenticeship under John Levitt in 1644. James Foe, upon completing his apprenticeship became a tallow chandler in 1654. ?The work of tallow chandlers required the skill of craftsmen as well as strength and stamina? (Backscheider, 27).
Daniel grew up in some of the toughest times for England. Charles II was invited to assume the English throne. The ?Restoration? raised new hopes of change to come. The first effect on Daniel?s childhood was the great plague, which killed more than 69,000 in 1665. During the plague, all of the shops were closed and no one was out on the streets. The plague was due mainly to the poor sanitation. There were dead bodies lying around out on the streets. John Reresby reported that it was, ?usual for people to drop down in the streets? (7). Another influence on Daniel was the fire in London. The Great Fire hit on September 2, 1666. ??nearly 229 houses in Cornhill burnt to the ground, and the official survey report gave 13,200 as the number of houses destroyed ?ninety percent of the city?s living accommodations burned? (Backscheider, 4).The fire was started in a bakehouse (or bakery) and was spread quickly by the breeze (Freeman, 43). During the four-day fire, eighty-nine churches burned. Property loss totaling ten million pounds. It is said about Defoe that, ?His family probably took what they could to his uncle?s in St. Botolphs? (Backschieder, 6). The aftermath of the fire was horrendous. Ash and fallen houses blocked entire streets. Blocks of houses were completely burned to the ground.
Their post office, government buildings, exchange houses, courthouses, and jails all lost to the fire. Even if you had money, there was no place to buy anything. Moreover, with the jail burned to the ground, all of the criminals were free to haunt the streets. King Charles worked extensively to get the businesses back in London. He built new government buildings, post offices, and tried to get the economic system flowing again. Although the rebuilding had begun, the city would be in shambles for the next thirty years. The people of London were taxed horribly for the rebuilding of their homes.
Daniel?s main influence as a child was most likely his parent?s choice of religion. They decided that they did not want to conform to the Church of England, and thus they became outcasts. They were Nonconformists, or protestant ?Dissenters.? Samuel Annesley was the pastor of this new religion. Annesley and eighteen hundred clergymen were cast out of the church by the Act of Uniformity. Because of the Defoe?s choice of religion, Daniel was alienated from attending college. In addition, he was barred from military service. The second part of the Act of Uniformity required anyone that was teaching the word of God, to swear an oath stating that they forbade to take arms against the king. Annesley was a strong man and would help his people out any way he could. Daniel witnessed first-hand the cost of choice through Annesley?s persecution. If you were caught practicing, you were fined. Approximately 15,000 families went bankrupt because of these fines. ?Defoe remembered trapdoors in pulpits, secret passages from one house to another, and hidden rooms with doors disguised as cupboards.? (Backshieder, 10). Persecution was the worst in 1662-1664, 1670, and in 1681 through 1685. The first
twenty years of Defoe?s life were extremely influential. They taught him the price it takes to be different.
In 1681, at the age of twenty-one, Defoe was in London writing Meditations and in the throes of a deciding course for his life. He had completed four of the five years expected of ministerial candidates at Morton?s Newington Green Academy. James Foe was now a leader of the Butchers? Company. During his term as Renter Warden, he made major changes in bookkeeping procedures. Meanwhile, Defoe was trying to figure out whether he wanted to become a minister or to get into his father?s line of work. By the end of 1681, Defoe decided he would become a wholesale hosier. The stocking knitting trade had become an enormous occupation. ?The merchant who had the variety of sizes, lengths, textures, and patterns made with different kinds of raw wool, yarns, dyes, and decorations could expect to prosper? (Backshieder, 30). Defoe sold to towns all over London.
Defoe met Mary Tuffey, the seventeen-year old daughter of a wealthy businessman. In 1682, Daniel wrote Historical Collections ??containing passages exerpted from several authors and prepared for the press? (Moore, 254). In it, Defoe complimented Mary?s knowledge and sense of dedication. On January 1, 1684, Daniel and Mary got married. ??Defoe always recommended that a man establish himself before he married? (Backscheider, 33). Altogether, she bore him two sons and six daughters (two of whom died in infancy). ?During the next two or three years arrived his three eldest children,
Hannah, probably the first-born; Mary, who died a child; and Daniel, born probably in 1685? (Wright, 17).
In June of 1685, Daniel left his family and his business to join the Duke of Monmouth?s rebellion. Facing new religious persecution and the prospect of a lifetime barred from public office, Defoe joined the rebellion. On July 6, the rebellion tried to attack forces at Sedgemoor. ?A single shot, as Defoe said, ?by accident, or treachery,? alerted the king?s troops; the pace had to be accelerated, and Monmouth?s regiments were never well organized after that? (Backshieder, 38). After Monmouth was defeated, those who were alive tried to flee back to London. ?Perhaps he [Defoe] found temporary refuge with a relative? he excelled at disguising himself and mingling in a hostile crowd, and he was a fine horseman? (Moore, 54). The hunt was on to find the Dissenters. A five-shilling reward was given to those who turned in a Dissenter. They were starting to obtain search warrants to find the Dissenters. ?That Defoe had remained uncaptured was simply amazing, at best a one-in-fifteen chance? (Backshieder, 40).
After the Monmouth rebellion failed, Defoe and others decided to create an anti-violence solution. The gathered together to create political pamphlets. These pamphlets were an early form of propaganda. ?Defoe?s generation saw its potential as shapers of opinion, and Defoe would write more of such pamphlets than anyone else? (Backshieder, 44). Daniel wrote hundreds of pamphlets. One was entitled, A Letter to a Dissenter from His Friend at the Hague, concerning the Penal Laws and the Test. The pamphlet was put out to warn Dissenters of the motives behind King James? Declaration of Indulgence.
In 1688, he was in serious financial trouble. He owed Joseph Braban ?396 in unpaid bills for goods he sold on commission. When Defoe did not pay off the full sum, Braban took him to court for the money owed. In November of that year, Defoe agreed to pay the balance but only without the penal sum. To help raise money, Defoe sold the part of the ship he owned to Robert Harrison. Harrison relinquished to pay and sailed off on Defoe?s
ship before the deal was final. Defoe?s next couple of years were financially heart breaking. He began to borrow heavily for overseas trade. When his shipments did not come in he had no way of repaying those intended. Defoe declared bankruptcy in September of 1692. Defoe was taken to Fleet Prison in October of 1692. He owed over a whopping ?17,000. Backshieder states, ??it might have been more had he not been committed to the Fleet Prison? (58).
Once out of prison, with his credit in shambles, Defoe wrote An Essay upon Products in 1697. He continued to write pamphlets for what he believed in. As a political writer under William, Defoe eventually achieved fame in 1701 with his brilliant satire, The True Born Englishman. ?Rising above its immediate purpose of defending William?s character and his policies, this poem became the most famous of all attacks on the myth of racial superiority? (Moore, 233). Later in 1701, he daringly presented to the speaker of the House of Commons his Legion?s Memorial, in which he threatened Parliament with the wrath of the people for failing to heed their will.
The death of William in 1702 and the accession of Queen Anne, a strong adherent of the High Church, wrought a dramatic change in the political life of Defoe. High Church
propagandists began to attack the Dissenters for holding positions in government. In 1702, Defoe published The Shortest Way with the Dissenters. ?Here he [Defoe] no longer attacked individual dissenters who had proved too weak to undergo oppression, but the organized power which used oppression as an instrument of national policy? (Moore, 109). The pamphlet enraged the High Church. ??they were naturally furious when they realized that they had been imposed upon by an impudent parody of their own more violent protagonists? (Sutherland, 86).An order for his arrest was issued on January 3, 1703. Captured soon after, he was sentenced on July 9, 1703, to stand three times in the pillory. Had a mob been in an angry mood, the pillory might have meant Defoe?s death. He won the mob to his side by distributing a poem from A Hymn to the Pillory, in which he proclaimed his innocence and attacked the judges. Robert Harley, one of the secretaries of state, rescued Defoe from jail. Defoe was grateful and remained a supporter of Harley for the next 15 years.
In 1704, at the age of 44, Defoe began to write the Review. It started out being published once a week, then later three times a week. The contents of the Review ?held all sorts of personal and peculiar views on all kinds of subjects? (Sutherland, 106). When Harley returned to power with the Tories in 1710, Defoe turned the viewpoint of the Review to support the new government. However, his lack of sympathy with some of the government?s policies frequently put him in a dilemma. Such conflicts made the Review useless as a vehicle for propaganda, and Defoe, in 1713, founded a new trade journal,
Mercator. Queen Anne died in 1714. ?With the death of the Queen Defoe?s tottering world suddenly fell to pieces? (Sutherland, 204).
Defoe next threw his energies into writing pamphlets defending Harley from charges of treason. At the same time, Defoe attempted to protect himself from his former Whig friends. In the first months of 1715, he published a defense of his own life, An Appeal to Honor and Justice, saying that, ??he had owed his freedom to the intervention of Harley?? (Sutherland, 148). However, on July 12, 1715, the day on which Harley was sent to the tower, Defoe was tried on a false charge of libel and found guilty. Fortunately, he managed to convince the presiding judge that he was sympathetic to the aims of the Whig ministry and that he could be useful to them. The Whigs agreed, and Defoe was hired to act as a double agent.
After 1715, Defoe turned to a variety of fictional forms, including moral dialogues, such as the Family Instructor, and the fictitious memoirs, such as The History of the Wars of Charles XII. His masterpiece, Robinson Crusoe, was published in April 1719. Robinson Crusoe originated from Alexander Selkirk?s adventures. Selkirk was a Scottish sailor who had a dispute with the captain of the ship. In 1703, Selkirk was put ashore on an island upon his own request in the Juan Fernandez Island, off the coast of Chile. He lived isolated until 1709 when the commander of an English privateer rescued him (?Selkirk, Alexander?). Defoe?s Robinson Crusoe is about a man who struggle time after time only to knocked down every time. Crusoe gets stranded on a desert island after the ship he was on sinks in a horrendous storm. The next day he realizes that the ship did not
sink at all, and that everyone would have survived if they had just stayed on board. Crusoe collects the things he needs from the ship and creates a hospitable place to live. Defoe uses his use of detail to flood you with facts that you cannot tell if it really happened. ?Defoe?s favorite method of authenticating his narrative is to overwhelm us with details so trivial, and so apparently irrelevant, that we feel the only possible reason for being given them at all must be that they are true? (Sutherland, 15). Crusoe is given in such vivid detail that it makes it hard to believe it never really happened. An example of this is the journal that Crusoe is making to keep track of the days. The day to day descriptions makes it hard to believe anything else. Defoe writes:
Dec. 10?I began now to think my cave or vault finished, when on a sudden (it seems I had made it too large) a great quantity of earth fell down from the top and one side, so much, that, in short, it frightened me, and not without reason too; for if I had been under it, I had never wanted a Grave-digger. Upon this disaster I had a great deal of work to do over again; for I had the loose earth to carry out; and, which as of more importance, I had the ceiling to prop up, so that I might be sure no more would come down (73).
Defoe uses vivid detail to give you the chance to see the problems he encounters with every step he takes. Defoe gave Crusoe limited resources to make his character actually survive. He showed that it really is not easy to live on an island with little material to work with. All of Crusoe?s tools had to be made by hand. The reader was drawn in to
follow. ??Defoe could therefore expect his readers to be interested in the very detailed descriptions of the economic life which comprise such an important and memorable part of his narrative? (Kalm, 72).
During his remaining 12 years, Defoe concentrated on books rather than on pamphlets. In 1720 came Memoirs of a Cavalier and Captain Singleton, and a collection of essays, Serious Reflections of Robinson Crusoe. At age 62, he published three of his greatest works: Moll Flanders, A Journal of a Plague Year, and Colonel Jack. Moll Flanders, like Robinson Crusoe, creates the vivid detail, which makes you believe the story is true. Moll is a woman motivated by greed. Her main objective in life is to marry a man with money. She marries a few with money and a few without, (one of whom she finds out to be her brother) but still she is unable to fulfill her need for money. She resorts to stealing anything she can. She will do anything to keep from becoming poor. Defoe uses explicit detail to tell Moll?s story. Defoe writes:
The next thing of moment was an attempt at a gentlewoman?s gold watch. It happened in a crowd, at a meetinghouse, where I was in very great danger of being taken. I had full hold of her watch, but giving a great jostle as if someone had thrust me against her, and in the juncture giving the watch a fair pull, I found it would not come, so I let it go for that moment, and cried as if I had been killed , that somebody had trod upon my foot? (222).
Defoe shows the reader how Moll actually goes about stealing a watch. Whether it be Moll or an actual thief, the point he shows is that she could be a real figure or just another
face in the crowd. ?All this happens in real, particular place? Defoe makes no attempt to describe it in detail, but the little glimpses that emerge win us over completely to its reality? (Watt, 97).
His next great production was the Journal of the Plague Year. ?Defoe may have been elaborating upon a diary kept by his uncle (Henry Foe) in the year 1665, or perhaps recollecting some of the stories of the Plague that his uncle had told him in boyhood? (Sutherland, 9). Defoe?s own credibility fades due to that fact that he was five when it happened and obviously, he could not remember that much. ?But Defoe was a great journalist; he could give a vivid picture of anything, whether he had seen it or not? (Sutherland, 6). There is a part in the book that shows Defoe?s incredible use of detail. People were so afraid to touch something that might have been in contact with someone else. Defoe writes:
In the middle of the Yard lay a small Leather Purse, with two keys hanging at it, and money in it, but no Body would meddle with it. I ask?d how long it had lain there; the Man at the Window said it had lain almost on Hour? I had no such need for Money, nor was the some so big, that I had any Inclination meddle with it, or to get the Money to the hazard it might be intended with? (59).
Defoe show the reader the trouble that could come along with the purse. The boy thinks if he really wants the money. He knows he is not it desperation for money, and he knows that the amount of the money inside is not that much. ?Like so much in Defoe, this is a
description of something happening, and he makes an immediate bid for our attention and our credulity by his careful setting of the event? (Watt, 16).
Defoe?s last great work of fiction, Roxana, appeared in 1724. ??the strange, belated flowering of Defoe?s imagination withered; and in A New Voyage Round the World, published in the following spring (1725), it may be said to have died? (Freeman, 262). Also in 1725, The Four Years Voyages of Captain George Roberts was published. The Memoirs of Captain Carleton, in 1728, and Robert Drury?s Journal, in 1729, are memoirs of actual persons with slight fictional embellishment, However, Defoe never abandoned the use of the short tale to make a social or moral point. His History of the Pyrates adds to its factual accounts the story of an archetypal fictional pirate, Captain Mission. Defoe?s volumes on the occult and his treatises on trade and economics are also replete with fictional narrative.
Defoe had been haunted by creditors almost all of his life, and finally, at the age of 70, he was forced to flee and hide from a creditor claiming payment on a bill Defoe had thought he had settled in 1704. On April 24, 1731, separated from his family, he died ??? of a Lethargy,? says the parish register,? in a lodging house in London. ?Eighteen-century diagnoses were crude and casual? (Freeman, 293).
Consequently, Daniel Defoe uses his use of extreme detail to overwhelm the reader, thus enabling him to create elaborate fantasies. Defoe crated a style unheard of at the time. He could show people how things really happen even though he was never there himself.
?When Defoe began to write fiction he took little notice of the dominant critical theory of the day, which still inclined towards the use of traditional plots; instead, he merely allowed his narrative order to flow spontaneously from his own sense of what his protagonists might plausible do next. In so doing Defoe initiated an important new tendency in fiction: his total subordination of the plot to the pattern of the autobiographical memoir is s defiant an assertion of the primacy of individual experience in the novel?? (Watt, 15).
Defoe created excellence through his works. He created his own unique which captured the minds of million. ?His [Defoe] Dissenting background engaged his sympathies with those who? were struggling to assert their rights, rather than with those whose struggle was to maintain an inherited position and traditional privileges? (Boulton, 7).
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Defoe, Daniel. Journal of the Plague year. London: Society for Promoting
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Defoe, Daniel. Moll Flanders. New York: The Modern Library, 1994.
Defoe, Daniel. The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe. London: Grant Richards, 1902.
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Moore, John R. Daniel Defoe Citizen of the Modern World. Chicago: University of
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