Daniel Defoe : the life and strange, surprising adventures

by Richard West

Hardcover, 1998




New York : Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc., 1998.


Presents the many facets of the writer's life, including life as a spy, rebel, journalist, prison convict, husband, and father.

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LibraryThing member john257hopper
This is a very well researched account of the life and works of the late 17th/early 18th century writer most famous today as the author of Robinson Crusoe, often described as the very first novel. Defoe was in fact very much more, a true literary polymath, being a political commentator and journalist, author of books on morals and ethics, as well as historical biography, economics, travel and satire. His activity even extended to being, in modern parlance, a political activist and spy. His period as a novelist is really confined to a five year period of his life between the ages of 59 and 64 (1719-1724). That said, the dividing line between fiction and non-fiction was much less clear-cut than it generally is now. His novels such as Robinson Crusoe, Moll Flanders and Journal of a Plague Year are written almost as though they are accounts of their lives and other events by real people who lived through them; while a non-fiction work, his magisterial A Tour Thro' the Whole Island of Great Britain, contains many colourful fictional embellishments and indeed rests on literary conceits, as he did not conduct such an organised tour and almost certainly never visited the places in Europe and elsewhere with which he frequently makes comparisons (e.g. between Snowdonia and the Alps). Defoe lived through a period of huge change. Born (probably) in 1660, the year of the Restoration of Charles II, he was a keen supporter of the Protestant William III and Mary and their "Glorious Revolution". A convinced Puritan and non-Conformist who penned many diatribes against Papists and Jacobites, he was in practice comparatively tolerant in religion by the standards of the day. A writer on good commercial practices, he was notoriously unsuccessful in his own business ventures, spending much of his life in debt, including spells in prison, and even in his late 60s being pursued by the heirs of creditors to whom he had owed money well over three decades earlier. He was a man hard to classify in many ways; politically, while definitely not a Tory, he was not really a Whig either; religiously, while a non-Conformist, his fictional narrators are often Anglicans relatively sympathetically observing non-Conformism from the outside. Richard West compares him to George Orwell in some respects. His life and works were colourful and multifaceted and this literary and personal biography covers them very well.… (more)



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