Daniel Defoe’s life is full of gaps and mysteries, of contradictions and dramatic turns. As a journalist, he excelled in the writing of the political pamphlet, and his criticism of the system made him highly controversial, and even landed him in prison. In time, his journalistic career in time gave birth to a literary career.
Defoe was sixty in 1719 when he wrote Robinson Crusoe, and during the following five years he was to write most of his fiction, thus becoming one of the most prolific writers. Defoe’s journalistic experience influenced both his style and his choice of characters. His heroes belong to the lower and middle class (Moll Flanders is a London prostitute, Robinson is the son of a lawyer); his novels tell their adventures and account for the way their experiences shape their characters. Defoe’s language is simple, plain, and expressive, again owing to the clarity required by journalistic writing. At the same time, his narrative strategies owe a lot to the popular writings of the day, to the Elizabethan romances, to the picaresque stories created either in England or on the continent, but also with other popular narratives, such as the lives of criminals, or contributory forms like the essay and biography.
Despite the popularity of some of his other writings, such as Moll Flanders (1722), the story of a London prostitute and of her progress towards middle-class respectability, undoubtedly the work by which posterity remembers Daniel Defoe remains Robinson Crusoe (1719). In literary history, the book is regarded not only as a classic travel and adventure story, but also as the prototype of the novel, because of its focus on the daily, external and internal activities of ordinary people, in its exploration of both the internal and of the external aspects of their existence. Inspired by the real story of the survival of Alexander Selkirk, a sailor who had survived a five years of solitary existence on a desert... [continues]
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