Daniel Defoe 1660–1731

  • Ian McGowan
Part of the St. Martin’s Anthologies of English Literature book series (AEL)


The son of a London butcher of dissenting views called Foe, Defoe travelled widely on the Continent before becoming a hosiery merchant. He supported the accession of William III in verse (The True-Born Englishman, 1701) but suffered in prison and the pillory for the misreading of his ironic The Shortest Way with the Dissenters (1702). After the failure of several business ventures, he travelled the country as a Tory secret agent (1703–14), and later put his observations to good use in his Tour through the Whole Island of Great Britain (1724–6). He wrote and edited many hundreds of books and pamphlets on social, religious and economic questions (The Complete English Tradesman, 1726); these show more learning and a wider range of styles than might be suspected by casual readers of the novels on which his fame depends: Robinson Crusoe (1719); Moll Flanders (1722); A Journal of the Plague Year (1722); Roxana (1724). Often regarded as the first real novelist, he presents fictional material with the appearance of authenticity through his detailed, realistic style, which creates a solid world.


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Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Nature America Inc. 1989

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  • Ian McGowan

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