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Daniel Defoe (Literary Criticism)

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Daniel Defoe used realism to enhance his novel, Robin Crusoe. Many critics agree with this statement, while some think that he should have been more accurate with his realism. Critics also found the book to be very enlightening and beneficial to read and they found that it appealed to a very wide variety of people including the rich and poor and the young and old. Last but not least, some critics found that it showed lack of ability to create characters and events.

Daniel Defoe was born to James and Mary Defoe in St. Gates, London in 1660. His family were all Dissenters, also known as Presbyterians. He had a very good education and his father hoped that he would become a minister, but he chose not to. Defoe's mother died when he was just ten years old, then his father sent him to a boarding school (Moore 1). He was then educated at the Morton Academy (Harvey 215) where "he was a very good student, and his teacher, the Reverend Me. Norton himself, would later show up as a character in some of Daniel's fiction". One year later he married Mary Tuffley and also "joined the army of the rebel Duke of Monmouth, who were attempting to take the throne from James II". The rebellion ended up a failure and as a result he and many other troops were semi-exiled from the country (Moore 1).

By 1692, Daniel had gone bankrupt and "ended up owing over 17,000 pounds, and though he paid off all but 5,000 pounds within ten years, he was never free of debt" (Moore 1). Then, writing started to become big part of him. "In 1701, he wrote poem called The True-Born Englishman which became the best-selling poem ever at that time" (Moore 1). "In 1706, he returned to Scotland and started up a newspaper in Edinburgh called the Post-Man" (Moore 2). He was known as "the father of modern journalism" (Moore 3). However, the following year "The Act of Union was made official" (Moore 2) and as a result he lost his job. In 1719, his first volume of Robinson Crusoe was published and it was a big hit, especially with the middle and lower class citizens. After his success with Robinson Crusoe, he published Moll Flanders in 1722, using "his experiences in Newgate prison to add realism". "Daniel used to go to prison cells and even the scaffold to receive manuscripts for these lives of criminals themselves". Finally, he died on April 24, 1731 in Cripplegate of lethargy (Moore 2).

His first successful novel was Robinson Crusoe, which was a very big hit. It was about a man named Robinson who, even against his dad's wishes, became a sailor. On one of his voyages he got shipwrecked on a deserted island and was the only survivor. Then, he realized that he wasn't the only one on the island. He found a bunch of cannibals and rescued one of them who, in turn, became his servant. He named him Friday and taught him the ways of Christianity. Then, twenty-eight years later, something was going on, on a ship near by. The crew on the ship kicked the captain and two others off and planned to abandon then on the island also. Crusoe and Friday come to the captains rescue and save the ship for the captain. In return for the captain's gratitude, he took them back to England. While there, Crusoe finds wealth and gets married and has a family. Last but not least, he returns to the sea. (www.sparknotes.com)

Daniel Defoe's use of real life events and accounts helps to add the feeling of actually being there and almost makes you wonder if it's even fiction. We know his goal was to pass the story off with out giving hints of fiction as the preface to the book read,

"If ever there a story of any private man's adventures in the world were north making public, and were acceptable when published, the Editor on this account thinks this will be so. The wonders of this man's life exceed all that (he thinks) is to be found extant; the life one man's being scarce capable of a greater variety. The story is told with modesty, with seriousness, and with a religious application of events to the uses to which wise men always apply them, viz., to the instruction of others by this example, and to justify and honour the wisdom of Providence in all the variety of our circumstances, let them happen how they will. The Editor believes the thing to be a just history of fact; neither is there any appearance of fiction in it; and however, thinks, because all such things are dispatched, that the improvement of it, as well to the diversion as to the instruction of the reader, will be the same. And as such, he thinks, without farther compliment to the world, he does them a great service in the publication" (Tucker 89).

This preface is basically stating Defoe's goals of making the novel seem as realistic as possible. As said by Arthur Secord,

"The fact that Defoe is attempting to have his stories pass as authentic relations means that he must give the larger features of history and of geography with fidelity......When he fabricates the journal o fan imaginary saddler who endured the rigors of the great plague, or describes fictitious exploits of Carleton in the wars of Flanders, Defoe incorporates in the narrative a large proportion of authentic happenings; not to do so would lay him open to immediate detection as a writer of fiction. Where does he get those facts? He borrows them from histories and newspapers. In the invention of action the writer of historical fiction is always limited more or less to matters in which he will not seriously conflict with the statements of history" (Tucker 47).

What Arthur Secord is saying that if Defoe is going pass his stories as being authentic, then he should have used more real life geographical and historical facts in doing so. His works are "based on a factual event" (Magill 688) that he learned about at some point in his life. What Secord meant is that Defoe should have been more accurate with historical fiction and should not have conflicted with statements of history. (Secord 47-48)

Another thing about Defoe is that he "is not among the great creators of character" (Tucker 49). "He merely antedates every event in his own life 29 years, and represents it by some adventure of Crusoe's at that time."

"Thus Defoe was born in 1661, Crusoe in 1632. Defoe left college and went out into the world in 1680, Crusoe goes out in 1651. Defoe's first political publication...was in 1687, on the eve of the Revolution. This beginning of his isolation corresponds with Crusoe's shipwreck...in 1658....Why he chose 29 as the key number is not easy to say" (Tucker 48).

George Parker is saying that Robinson

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