Daniel Defoe



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DANIEL DEFOE (1660-1731)
Structure of the novels In patterns they are fictional autobiographies and they pretend always to be true stories,because of the biographical details and memories. They are preceded by a preface by the author which stresses their authenticity. This kinds of novel are a product of the tradition of diaries and journals.
The structure: characterized by a series of episodes and adventures of a single hero. Defoe didn’t plan and didn’t revise his works,so they have incoherent plot. His main aim was to produce a large and effective output. Two different narrative methods: full scenic presentation where,at a definite time and place,what the characters do is reported; and passages of less detailed summary which set the stage and provide a necessary connective framework. Method of retrospective first person narration. The author’s point of view coincides with the main character’s.
Characterisation Characters: presented from the inside and through their actions. They are isolated,phisically(Crusoe) or socially (Moll Flanders) in their struggle to earn a living or to survive.
Defoe: the father of the English novel; who represents a new social class. His narrative technique was original and became the basis for the development of the realistic novel.
Source and plot Crusoe was born in York in 1632 of a German father and an English mother. He decides to leave his home at the age of 19 and his family and the prospect of a comfortable life too. He wanted to travel around the world and make fortune. In the first voyage he goes to Guinea. In his second voyage he’s captured by pirates,then is rescued by a ship and brought to Brazil. There he becomes the owner of a plantation. He goes to Africa to get slaves. He is shipwrecked on a desert island and he will remain there for 28 years. He rebuilds the society of his country. He writes a diary. After 12 years he finds a human footprint on the shore and then he finds human bones and flesh left by cannibals. He decides to attack them: they escape leaving one captives. Crusoe call him Friday and he teaches him English. The novel ends with his return to England and the discovery that his plantation has made him very rich.
The new middle-class hero Middle class: the most suited to human happiness. Robinson has in common with the classical heroes of travel literature his restlessness,the search for his own identity in contrast to the model provided by his father. The story begins with an act of transgression →separation and then isolation of Crusoe.
The island The setting is functional to its ideological meaning. Island is the ideal place to prove his qualities,to demonstrate that he deserved to be saved by God’s Providence,the God of the puritans who wants his chosen people to do their best. Robinson organizes a primitive empire(the prototype of the English colonizer). His stay on the island: not a return to Nature, but a chance to exploit and dominate Nature.
The individual and society Issue of the relationship between “private” and “public” spheres. The society Robinson creates can be read as an exaltation of 18th century England and its ideals of mobility and individualism. The individual can mould his destiny,overcome doubt and modify reality through action and work and through the interpretation of his achievements in the light of the Bible. The Puritan element is not simply present in Robinson’s relationship with God,but also in his pragmatic and individualistic outlook. He always starts by observing the situation,then he makes a list of all possible solutions,he considers the pros and cons and he chooses the best alternative (like Galileo and Bacon).
The style Objective approach to the events through clear details. Description concentrated on the primary qualities of object(solidity,extension,number). Language: simple,matter-of-fact,concrete. First person narration(reinforce the impression of reality).
It was vain to sit still / A Footprint →genre: Fiction. Map: Racism; The journey.
MOLL FLANDERS (1722) Defoe →genre: Fiction. Map: women. (give me no poverty lest I steal)
Plot She was born in Newgate prison. Daughter of a thief. She is brought up in the house of the Mayor of Colchester. She’s pretty and clever. At the age of 14 she is sent into the service of a rich family. She goes through 5 marriages,has children,becomes a prostitute and a thief in order to survive. She’s imprisoned and deported to Virginia, where she works very hard and becomes a rich plantation owner. She goes back to England and she leads a respectable life.
Main features of the novel Describes urban society. Setting in London,Defoe gives information about the customs of his time. Includes documents in order to increase the illusion of verifiable fact. Objective,realistic representation. What is important is the counting,measuring,evaluating and pricing of the things according to the wealth they represent and the social status they imply for the possessor. Moll is Crusoe’s female counterpart: her reflections have an economic basis and are carried on in strict logical sequences. She has many of the traits that are usually regarded as middle class. She’s obsessed with gentility,she’s characterized by restless individualism. She thinks that poverty is a sin. She prefers theft to being poor.Her main aims are self-assertion and material benefit.
Style First person narration. Characterization stresses the adventurous experiences of the heroine in a simple and direct style aimed at creating a strong sense of identification and sympathy in the reader. Defoe with this work inaugurated a new tradition that was to become a dominant feature of the English novel. The novel starts when she’s a child and follows her as she grows older.
What happens to Moll as a mature woman, depends on the conditions of her birth,childhood and youth.
Moll become a thief →genre: Fiction. Map: women.