Daniel DeFoe and Robinson Crusoe

Essay by Lotsis March 2005

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Daniel DeFoe and Robinson Crusoe

Daniel Foe was born towards the end of the summer 1660 to a tradesman-family. His Nonconformist father wanted him to make a career in the ministry, Daniel was more interested in politics and trade. Throughout his life he had many business ideas, but they all failed leaving him with large debts. These debts followed him for the rest of his life.

He was a skilful writer and wrote many pamphlets, poems and short stories. Himself a Dissenter and not belonging to the Church, he took part in numerous rebellions. Not a surprise to anyone, he got arrested in 1703 but was soon released in return for services as a pamphleteer and an agent. Daniel didn't take his situation too seriously; in prison he wrote a mock ode, Hymn to the Pillory. The poem was sold in the streets, the audience enjoyed themselves while he stood in the pillory and read aloud his verses:

"Actions receive their tincture from the times,

And as they change are virtues made of crimes."

(from Hymn to the Pillory)

Daniel altered his last name from Foe to DeFoe in 1703 to emphasize his burgher-background. His backgrounds affected his writings, life and ways of seeing things a lot.

DeFoe was one of the first to write stories about credible characters in realistic situations using simple prose. He published his first longer piece of work, the novel Robinson Crusoe, in 1791. It was based partly on the stories of travellers and castaways. The most important influence was Alexander Selkirk, who shipwrecked on a tropical island and spent there four years before he was rescued.

Robinson Crusoe is in a way an illustrated bibliography of Daniel DeFoe. Like Robinson, DeFoe wanted different things than what his father and in the end...