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Daniel Defoe

Daniel Defoe's primary claim to literary fame consists of his work Robinson Crusoe: a famous epistolary novel about a man who was castaway on an island for twenty-eight years. It could be classified as a novel of high adventure. Also, it was notable at the time for being one of the first major examples of a fully developed novel. Many people, however, suspected that the narrative was not fictional but rather a travelogue reporting actual events.  


Most famous for his novel Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe was a journalist, pamphleteer, trader, writer, and spy from England.  He was born in 1660 and is often remembered as being one of the earliest proponents of the novel. In fact, he is considered one of the founders of the English novel. Daniel Defoe was productive and versatile, writing over five hundred journals, pamphlets, and books. The subjects of his work varied from marriage to politics to the supernatural. A pioneer of economic journalism, he made a name for himself during his lifetime and his influence is still easily noted and widely appreciated.


Daniel Defoe’s earliest work was mostly pamphlets. His first publication of note, An Essay upon Projects, offered ideas for social and economic improvement. He used his pamphlet to support King William III and his standing army after the end of the Nine Years’ War. After various works resulted in negative attention from the government, he wrote several novels, though did not become truly famous until the publication for the books he wrote between 1719 and 1724. These novels include: A Journal of the Plague Year, Captain Singleton, Colonel Jack, Moll Flanders, Robinson Crusoe, The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, Memoirs of a Cavalier, Serious reflections during the life and surprising adventures of Robinson Crusoe: with his Vision of the angelick world, and Roxana: The Fortunate Mistress. 

Writing Style

Daniel Defoe is known for his lively and vigorous style, full of articulate lucid details and illustrations. The thing that makes the writing of Daniel Defoe stand out more so than others is that he was able to do this with simplicity. Though his words summoned the exact image in the reader’s head that he intended, his style was simple and unpresumptuous. He was able to effectively communicate exactly what he wanted to convey without overloading his work with complicated phrases and wording. His words were always direct and employ colloquial forms of speech, consistency of character, and a dedicated attention to exuberance.

Additional Information

Daniel’s original last name was Foe.  His father was a prosperous tallow chandler and was an active member of the Worshipful Company of Butchers. During 1665, seventy thousand people were killed in London by the Great Plague. The next year, the Great Fire of London burned down every house in Defoe’s neighborhood except for his and two other houses. Unexpectedly, he survived both of these incidences by only luck and chance.

Daniel Defoe was educated at the Reverend James Fisher’s boarding school on Pixham Lane in Surrey. His parents were Presbyterian dissenters, so in his youth, he attended a dissenting academy in Lewington Green, London where he was taught by Charles Morton. It is also believed that Defoe attended the Newington Green Unitarian Church, which is noteworthy because at the time, those who worshipped anywhere else but the Church of England. 

Defoe was not only a writer, but a merchant as well. Throughout his business career, he sold woolen goods, wine, and hosiery. Though he did own a country estate and a ship, he was constantly falling further into debt. In 1685, he joined the Monmouth Rebellion, but escaped with a pardon when the rebels were detained. He became a close ally of William III and he became a secret agent for the government. His government career promptly ended when he was arrested for failure to pay his debts in 1692. After being released from debtors’ prison, he traveled for a while before returned to England.


Daniel Defoe was a largely prolific writer during his time and his influence continues to be prominent in modern literature. Without him, novels as we know them might not exist. He used his work as a means of expressing his political frustrations and though it often got him into trouble, he never stopped pursuing his beliefs with energized vigour. To further analyze his work, buy a literature essay about one of Defoe's novels.

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