Who is Daniel Defoe? Why are his works important?
Daniel Defoe was an English writer, he is considered the first author of realistic novels. The realistic novel is a peculiar type of modern novel, which is a narrative genre that developed through the 16th century. When talking about novel, we refer to a written production that is relatively long, entirely in prose, and that represents characters and situations belonging to the ordinary life.
This is because through the 1700s the audience was made of middle class readers, living in cities, who worked as merchants and artisans, therefore they were not interested in themes such as the traditional mythology, but rather wanted to read about characters and topics similar to their personal experience.
For these reasons, the novel began to be more realistic, in terms of what was presented and how it was achieved.
Generally speaking, situations that are set in precise times and places, sometimes we are told in which day, month and year the action takes place, or in which city and street.
The same level of detail is applied to the descriptions of objects, for which colours, shapes and dimensions are specified. The characters have names, surnames and a specific social status.
The protagonists are not the heroes from the tradition anymore, they are instead new types of characters: self-made individuals, practical and with common sense, who need to rely on their personal abilities and who are responsible for their own actions.
Daniel Defoe was born in London in 1660. Through his life he ventured into many activities, including being a merchant and a journalist. He is mainly remembered for his works of prose fiction, that he started writing when he was about sixty. He was a very prolific writer, in fact, after his death, he was credited with about 400 works, beside his journalist activity.
His most famous novel is Robinson Crusoe, published in 1719. The events presented can be divided in three sections. In the first, the protagonist leaves his home and goes away to sea to make a fortune. He ends up in Brazil, where he becomes a planter. Then, during an expedition to Africa to buy slaves, he is shipwrecked on a remote island.
This is where the second section begins. It is the longest part and it is the diary-like description of the daily life of the protagonist, who lives on the island for 28 years, 2 months and 19 days. The novel finishes with the third section, where Robinson is saved and brought back to Europe and he finds out that the plantation has made him rich.
In addition to Robinson Crusoe, it is also useful to mention Moll Flanders, published in 1722, and Roxana, written in 1724.
These three novels have some common features:
- They are written in first person, in the form of the diary or the autobiography;
- The plot is made of the sequence of events that occur to the protagonists, reported in chronological order;
- The characters change their exterior condition through the story, but they don’t have much psychological development;
- The plot revolves around one main character, who faces a series of misfortunes and overcomes them, thanks to his personal abilities. Even though the characters live many tragic situations, there is no room for desperation;
- The characters usually stand alone, both physically and socially. In fact, we have Robinson Crusoe, who is on a desert island, but also Roxana and Moll Flanders, who are two women struggling in a male-dominated society;
- At the end of the story, the protagonist repents for his wrong behaviour, introducing a moral lesson.
This was Daniel Defoe! 😉
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