Daniel Defoe and the Whig Ideal of Selfhood

  • Rachel Carnell


Considered mainly a political writer or a partisan “scribbler” in his own time, Daniel Defoe (1660–1731) was not included in histories of the novel until the early nineteenth century and not considered a significant contributor to the novel’s evolution until the middle of the twentieth.1 Since Watt’s Rise of the Novel, scholars have usually acknowledged Defoe’s contributions to “formal realism,” but remain uncertain as to whether the “realistic” formulae of his narratives are what make them truly “great.”2 As Homer Obed Brown observes, over the past two centuries scholars have rarely agreed on exactly what formal innovation Defoe contributed to the novel: there is little consensus as to whether or not his characters are drawn with emotional depth or whether the “plotlessness” of his novels makes his texts more or less “novelistic.”3 Interestingly, the problem of defining Defoe’s precise contribution to the formal evolution of the novel mirrors the difficulties critics have had in pinning down his political position.


Social Contract Formal Realism Marriage Contract Political Writing Domestic Household 
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  1. 5.
    Manuel Schonhorn, Defoe’s Politics: Parliament, Power, Kinship, and Robinson Crusoe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991).Google Scholar
  2. 13.
    See Paula Backscheider, Daniel Defoe: His Life (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989) for details of Defoe’s political principles, which she describes as “Lockean” (160–79). See Ashcraft and Goldsmith’s “Locke, Revolution Principles, and the Formation of Whig Ideology” for their theory of Defoe’s authorship of the three distillations of Locke.Google Scholar
  3. 14.
    There is simply no mention of these writings in P. N. Furbank and W. R. Owens’s A Critical Bibliography of Daniel Defoe (London: Pickering & Chatto, 1998). Manual Schonhorn refers to the “anonymous Lockean author of Political Aphorisms” (Defoe’s Politics, 81), but insists that this author agrees with Locke in precisely the way that Defoe disagrees with him—over the fact that for Locke, property (land) does not give one man authority over another, whereas for Defoe “Dominion is founded in property” (80). David Wootton argues that Ashcraft exaggerates Locke’s radicalism in terms of class relations, which would make him closer to a more conservative Defoe. See Political Writings of John Locke, ed. David Wootton (New York: Penguin Books, 1993), 41–119.Google Scholar
  4. 15.
    Daniel Defoe, The True-Born Englishman: A Satyr in The Shortest Way with the Dissenters and Other Pamphlets By Daniel Defoe.The Shakespeare Head Edition of the Novels & Selected Writings of Daniel Defoe, 14 vols. (Oxford: Basil Blackwell and New York and Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1928), 13:57.Google Scholar
  5. 41.
    C. B. Macpherson, The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism: Hobbes to Locke (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1962), 248.Google Scholar
  6. 42.
    See Paul Kléber Monod, Jacobitism and the English People, 47 (see note 46 to chapter 1). Rather than representing truly popular sentiment, such songs were devised and distributed for broad publish consumption by artisans and laborers by “small number of extremely productive Jacobite printers” (47). By 1716, the Mayor of London had proclaimed against the “epidemic of Jacobite ballad-hawking” (47). For a discussion of the “lost lover” motif, see Jacobitism and the English People, 62–69.Google Scholar
  7. 49.
    David Blewett offers compelling evidence to support the claim that the time period described by Roxana, ostensibly taking place during the reign of George I, echoes the corruption and moral decay of the reign of Charles II, in “The Double Time-Scheme of Roxana: Further Evidence,” SECC 13 (1984): 19–28.Google Scholar

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© Rachel Carnell 2006

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  • Rachel Carnell

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