Daniel Defoe (1661-1731)

Daniel Defoe (Foe, he added “De” 40 years later) called himself fortunate in his education as well as in his family. He was the eldest son of an intelligent London chandler James Foe. His father expected him to become a Minister, but as Defoe later said of his desire to write about economics rather than politics, “trade was the thing I really desired to have taken up with”. In 1680 when he was 21 he became a commission merchant, dealing manufacture and acting as a jobber for wine, tobacco, woollens and other goods. He travelled a lot and knew several languages. Defoe wrote several comparative notes on manners and customs of different nations in the countries of Europe.

By 1684 Defoe was a well-to-do businessman, and he could marry an attractive young girl of 20 brought up in a rather more important commercial family than his own. Defoe was too energetic. That’s why when his business began to bore him he looked for more thrilling speculations. As a result, in 1692 Defoe was forced into bankruptcy. But he wasn’t upset. He was an optimist. He decided to publish his first real book “An Essay Upon Projects” in 1698. He wrote down the suggestions how to improve roads.

Twenty years later in 1719, his masterpiece “Robinson Crusoe” appeared. Then he retired to the comfortable country house that he shared with his wife and two unmarried daughters.

In 1722 Defoe published his novel “The Adventures of Colonel Jack”, in 1724 his well-known book “Roxana” appeared.

Despite his several bankruptcies, Defoe wrote with enthusiasm about the trade. In 1726 his “History of the History” was published, in 1727 his “Essay on the History” and in 1728 his “Plan of the English Commerce” appeared. Defoe died in 1731 in London.

Robinson Crusoe” is Defoe’s best novel. The full title of that novel sounds like that: “The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York. Mariner Who lived Eight and Twenty years, all alone in an uninhabited Island on the Coast of the Great River of Oroonaque, Having been Cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself. With an account how he was at last strangely deliver’d by Pirates, written by Himself”. The story is based on a real event. Alexander Selkirk, a sailor who quarrelled with his captain, was put on the island of Juan Fernandez, near Chile, and lived there alone for four years. The story follows the popular tradition of personal travel books about the adventures of their heroes. “Robinson Crusoe” praises human labour which saves him from despair. Defoe portrays his hero with warmth and sympathy. He shows the development of Robinson Crusoe. Therefore the charm of the novel lies in Robinson as a person.

At the beginning of the story we get acquainted with an unexperienced young creature who later becomes a strong-willed and hard-working man, and at the end of the book we see a philosopher able to withstand all the misfortunes and hardships of his extraordinary destiny.

Robinson Crusoe doesn’t lose his courage, He tries to be reasonable. His motto is: “Never say “die”. Sometimes panic over­takes him, but never for long. He always hopes for the best. Robinson becomes an enthusias­tic worker, he is appeared to be skilful and talented. Crusoe keeps his diary as soon as he has something to write with.

Defoe proves the fact that Man can live by himself even in such a situation, on an uninhabited island. Defoe is a writer of the Age of Enlightenment, that’s why he teaches people how to live and what to do in order to live better. Defoe’s Crusoe, like Defoe himself, is typically bourgeois. He is very practical and straightforward. He is extremely interested only in himself and his property. He wants to be the master of the island. He is glad and proud of his self-confidence. As soon as a coloured man appears on the island Robinson Crusoe makes him his servant, because slavery seems natural to Defoe. Crusoe takes it for granted. “Master” is the first word he teaches Friday to pronounce.

Friday is the other main character of the book. The author sympathizes with him, appreciates his willingness to help, his obedience to his “master”. The author reveals his characters superstitious. Both are very religious. Crusoe believes in God and in Providence.

The novel is a glorification of labour and energy. But these qualities are exaggerated. According to Defoe it follows that man can live by himself comfortably and make all the things he needs with no other hands to assist him. This individualism is characteristic of Defoe. Defoe fails to see that Robinson Crusoe succeeds in making things only thanks to some tools he has found on the ship. Besides, he uses the experience of the previous generations and civilizations. Nevertheless, Daniel Defoe is a master of realistic details. His novel “Robinson Crusoe” is not only a work of fiction and an educational pamphlet. It is a study of man in. relation to nature and civilization as well as in relation to labour and private property. The author emphasizes the triumph of man over nature.

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