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Author Biography

Learn more about Daniel Defoe's life and the personal experiences that inspired his novel Robinson Crusoe in Course Hero's video study guide.

Daniel Defoe | Biography

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Daniel Defoe was born in London on September 13, 1660. As a young man he studied to become a Presbyterian minister, but he abandoned the clergy in favor of making his fortune as a merchant. The business allowed Defoe to travel widely and he enjoyed some success initially, although it was never consistent. By 1692 the business faltered badly, and he declared bankruptcy.

Fortunately, along with his interest in business, Defoe had a lifelong interest in politics and religion. This interest led him to become a political writer, journalist, and pamphleteer. He published his first political pamphlet in 1683, and his output over his lifetime was prodigious. Politics and religion were closely connected topics during Defoe's heyday, and he tackled these subjects fearlessly. On more than one occasion his writing caused sufficient controversy to land him in jail. The bulk of his political writing appeared in his journal, the Review, which he single-handedly wrote and published from 1704 to 1713. The Review started its life as a weekly, but eventually Defoe published the periodical three times a week.

Defoe's interests in religion, politics, and trade come together seamlessly in Robinson Crusoe (1719). The novel explores these themes in implicit and explicit ways. Defoe is considered the father of the English novel because Robinson Crusoe was the first novel written in English to use the prose narrative form throughout—a fact that explains the episodic, recursive structure of the novel, as well as the odd gaps and omissions at the end. The boundaries between nonfiction and fiction were blurry during this period, and Defoe draws on the conventions of travel literature, memoirs, and conversion narratives. Defoe and his contemporaries would have been shocked, for example, at the controversy surrounding James Frey's heavily fictionalized memoir A Million Little Pieces because such narrative liberties were routinely used in purportedly "true" accounts. Defoe's choice to move back and forth between a straightforward narration of events and Crusoe's journal entries (some of which go backward to cover episodes he has already narrated) is another marker of how genre conventions for the novel had not yet solidified. Nonetheless, the novel earned him immediate and international fame. He published two sequels to Robinson Crusoe, but neither achieved the popularity of his first novel. Other works that cemented his reputation as a novelist are Moll Flanders and A Journal of the Plague Year, both published in 1722.

Defoe married Mary Tuffley in 1684, and the couple had eight children, two of whom died before adulthood. They remained married until Defoe's death in London on April 24, 1731.

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