"One day, about noon, going towards my boat, I was exceedingly surprised with the print of a man's naked foot on the shore, which was very plain to be seen on the sand."
(From Robinson Crusoe)
English novelist and author of ROBINSON CRUSOE (1719), a story of a man shipwrecked alone on an island. Along with Samuel Richardson, Defoe is considered the founder of the English novel. Before his time stories were usually written as long poems or dramas. He produced some 200 works of nonfiction prose in addition to close 2000 short essays in periodical publications.
Daniel Defoe was born as the son of Alice and James Foe. His father was a City tradesman and member of the Butchers’ Company. James Foe's stubborn puritanism – the Foes were Protestants who did not belong to the Anglican Church - come occasionally comes through Defoe's writing. He studied at Charles Morton's Academy, London. Although his Nonconformist father intended him for the ministry, Defoe plunged into politics and trade, travelling extensively in Europe. Throughout his life, Defoe also wrote about mercantile projects, but his business ventures failed and left him with large debt amounting over seventeen thousand pounds. This burden shadowed the remainder of his life, which he once summoned:
"In the School of Affliction I have learnt more Philosophy than at the Academy, and more Divinity than from the Pulpit: In Prison I have learnt to know that Liberty does not consist in open Doors, and the free Egress and Regress of Locomotion. I have seen the rough side of the World as well as the smooth, and have in less than half a Year tasted the difference between the Closet of a King, and the Dungeon of Newgate."
In the early 1680s Defoe was a commission merchant in Cornhill but went bankrupt in 1691. In 1684 he married Mary Tuffley; they had two sons and five daughters. Defoe was involved in Monmouth rebellion in 1685 against James II. While hiding as a fugitive in a churchyard after the rebellion was put down, he noticed the name Robinson Crusoe carved on a stone, and later gave it to his famous hero. Defoe became a supporter of William, joining his army in 1688, and gaining a mercenary reputation because change of allegiance. From 1695 to 1699 he was an accountant to the commissioners of the glass duty and then associated with a brick and tile works in Tilbury. The business failed in 1703.
When the Tories fell from power, Defoe continued to carry out intelligence work for the Whig government. In his own days Defoe was regarded as an unscrupulous, diabolical journalist. Defoe used a number of pen names, including Eye Witness, T.Taylor, and Andrew Morton, Merchant. His most unusual pen name was 'Heliostrapolis, secretary to the Emperor of the Moon,' used on his political satire The Consolidator, or Memoirs of Sundry Transactions from the World in the Moon (1705). His political writings were widely read and made him powerful enemies. His most remarkable achievement during Queen Anne's reign was the periodical A Review of the Affairs of France, and of All Europe (1704-1713).
Defoe was one of the first to write stories about believable characters in realistic situations using simple prose. He achieved literary immortality when in April 1719 he published Robinson Crusoe, which was based partly on the memoirs of voyagers and castaways, such as Alexander Selkirk, who spent on his island four years and four months. The first edition was printed in London by a publisher of a popular books, W. Taylor. The account of a shipwrecked sailor was a comment both on the human need for society and the equally powerful impulse for solitude. But it also offered a dream of building a private kingdom, a self-made Utopia and being complete self-sufficient. By giving a vivid reality to a theme with large mythic implications, the story has since fascinated generations of readers. His last great work of fiction, ROXANA, appeared in 1724. Defoe's choice of a female protagonist in Moll Flanders reflected his interest in the female experience. He also produced several historical works, a guide book A TOUR THROUGH THE WHOLE ISLAND OF GREAT BRITAIN (1724-27, 3 vols.), THE GREAT LAW OF SUBORDINATION CONSIDERED (1724), an examination of the treatment of servants, and THE COMPLETE ENGLISH TRADESMAN. He died on 26 April, 1731, at his lodgings in Ropemaker's Alley, Moorfields.