In Association with

Choose another writer in this calendar:

by name:

by birthday from the calendar.

Credits and feedback

for Books and Writers
by Bamber Gascoigne

Daniel Defoe - Born toward the of the summer of 1660, died on April 24, 1731- original surname Foe, Defoe altered it in 1703


English novelist, pamphleteer, and journalist, 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 2 000 short essays in periodical publications, several of which he also edited.

"It happen'd one Day about Noon going towards my Boat, I was exceedingly surpriz'd with the Print of a Man's naked Foot on the Shore, which was very plain to be seen in the Sand : I stood like one Thunder-struck, or as if I had seen an Apparation ; I listen'd, look'd round me, I could hear nothing, nor see any Thing ; I went up to a rising Ground to look farther ; I went up the Shore and down the Shore, but it was all one, I could see no other Impression but that one, I went to it againg to see if there were any more, and to observe if it might not be my Fancy ; but there was no Room for that, for there was exactly the very Print of a Foot, Toes, Heel, and every Part of a Foot; how it came thither, I knew not, nor clould in the least imagine." (from Robinson Crusoe, edited after the original editions with a biographical introduction by Henry Kingsley, MacMillan and Co., 1868, pp. 155-156)

Daniel Defoe was born in London, 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 The Foes were Dissenters, Protestants who did not belong to the Anglican Church – 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 wrote about mercantile projects, but his business ventures failed and left him with large debts, 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. I have suffered deeply for cleaving to principles." (The Life of Daniel Defoe by Thomas Wright, Cassell and Company, 1894, p. 163)

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. A wanted poster for his arrest described him as "A middle-sized spare man . . . of a brown complexion and dark brown-coloured hair, but wears a wig; a hooked nose, a sharp chin, grey eyes and a large mole near his mouth." (Private Lives: Curious Facs about the Famous and Infamous by Mark Bryant, 1996, p. 86) 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.

In 1702 Defoe wrote his famous pamphlet The Shortest-Way with the Dissenters. Himself a Dissenter he mimicked the bloodthirsty rhetoric of High Anglican Tories and pretended to argue for the extermination of all Dissenters. Nobody was amused, Defoe was arrested in May 1703, but released in return for services as a pamphleteer and intelligence agent to Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford, and the Tories. While in prison Defoe wrote a mock ode, Hymn to the Pillory (1703): "Actions receive their tincture from the times, / And as they change are virtues made or crimes." The poem was sold in the streets, the audience drank to his health while he stood in the pillory and read aloud his verses.

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. Often he was misunderstood. The True-Born Englisman (1701), an attack on nationalist pride, has been viewed both as a republican tract during the American Revolution and as a Jacobite tract in the second half of the eighteenth century. William Minto suggested in Daniel Defoe: A Biography (1879) that he might have been "the greatest liar that ever lived." Defoe's most remarkable achievement during Queen Anne's reign was the periodical A Review of the Affairs of France, and of All Europe (1704-1713). It was published weekly, later three times a week and resembled a modern newspapers. From 1716 to 1720 Defoe edited Mercurius Politicus, then the Manufacturer (1720), and the Director (1720-21). He was contributor from 1715 to periodicals published by Nathaniel Mist.

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, a travelogue, 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. No author's name was given. Although Defoe wrote it in the first person, his narrative voice is not overwhelmingly subjective. Throughout his life, Defoe himself was also traveler, whose voyages included visits to France, Spain, the Low Countries, Italy, and Germany.

William Selkirk was the son of a Scottish tanner, who became the master of the Cinque Ports Galley, a privateering ship. Selkirk went to sea in 1704 under William Dampier and was put ashore at his own request (or according to some sources as a punishment of insubordination) on the island of Juan Fernandez in the Pacific, hundreds of miles off the coast of Chile. The island was uninhabited, and he survived there until his rescue in 1709 by Captain Woodes Rogers. Selkirk claimed later positively that the experience had made him a "better Christian". As a journalist Defoe must have heard his story and possibly interviewed him. Selkirk never did go back to the Pacific island, as Defoe had Crusoe do in two sequels. Selkirk became known as a eccentric. It is said the taught alley cats how to do strange dances. Robinson Crusoe is a mariner – actually an arrogant slave trader – who runs away to the sea at the age of 19 despite parental warnings. He suffers a number of misfortunes at the hands of Barbary pirates and the elements. Finally Crusoe is shipwrecked off South America. With salvaging needful things from the ship, including the Bible, Crusoe manages to survive in the island. "The Country appear'd so fresh," he writes in his journal, "so green, so flourishing, every thing being in a constant Verdure, or Flourish of Spring, that it looked like a planted garden." He stays in the island 28 years, two months and nineteen days. Aided with his enterprising behavior, Crusoe adapts himself into his alien environment and makes it his own Paradise. After several lone years he sees a strange footprint in the sand; savages have arrived for a cannibal feast. One of their prisoners manages to escape. Crusoe meets later the frightened native and christens him Man Friday and teaches him English. (No hint of a romance between the two is given.) Later an English ship arrives. Crusoe rescues the captain and crew from the hands of mutineers and returns to England. Robinson marries and promises before end of the novel to describe his adventures in Africa and China.
Sequels to the story, The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1719), in which Crusoe revisits the island and loses Friday in an attack by savages, and The Serious Reflections . . . of Robinson Crusoe (1729), did not gain wide recognition.
In Luis Buñuel's film version from 1952 the director sees Crusoe as a tortured soul, "haunted by the ghost of his overbearing father (the hallucinatory sequences are pure Bunuel), anguished at the failure of his religion to console him (his despair is mocked when his recitation out loud of the 23rd Psalm returns in a hollow echo), and frustrated in his sexual repressions (cleverly conveyed by a scene where his drying garments are blown by the wind into a suggestive female form). Bunuel even suggests that the equality that is eventually established between Crusoe and Friday is only temporary when he depicts them arriving back in England, Crusoe clad in a captain's uniform and Friday in common seaman's clothes." (from The Encyclopedia of Novels into Film by John C. Tibbets and James M. Welsh, second edition, Checkmark Books, 2005, p. 247) Instead of adhering to Defoe's triumphand picture of Crusoe's mastering his circumstances with reason, Buñuel's Crusoe goes mad. Moreover, Friday's questions undermine his religious beliefs. Initially the role of Crusoe was offered to Michael Redgrave, who was already committed to act in Anthony Asquith's screen version of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest. Orson Welles was the second choice. After watching him in Macbeth, Buñuel considered him inappropriate, but found Dan O'Herlihy, playing Macduff in the same film, perfect for the role. Hugo Butler, a member of the the Communist party, wrote the first draft adaptation of the novel. He went by the name of Philip Ansell Roll in the film's credits. 

At first Defoe had troubles in finding a publisher for the book and eventually received £10 for the manuscript. Employing a first-person narrator and apparently genuine journal entries, Defoe created a realistic frame for the novel, which distinguished it from its predecessors. The account of a shipwrecked sailor was a comment both on the human need for civilized society and the equally powerful necessity for individual freedom. But it also offered a dream of building a private kingdom, a self-made Utopia, and being completely self-sufficient, without any political, social or religious constraints. By giving a vivid reality to a theme with large mythic implications, the story have since fascinated generations of readers as well as authors like Joachim Heinrich Campen, Jules Verne, R.L. Stevenson, Johann Wyss (Der schweizerische Robinson), Michel Tournier (Vendredi ou les limbes du Pacifique), J.M. Coetzee (Foe), and other creators of Robinsonade stories. Coetzee read an abridged version of book when he was eight or nine years old. He was puzzled that The Children's Encyclopaedia referred to Defoe as the author of the story, "but this made no sense, because it said on the very first page of Robinson Crusoe that Robinson Crusoe told the story himself." ('Elizabeth Costello (2003)' by James Meffan, in A Companion to the Works of J.M. Coetzee, edited by Tim Mehigan, 2011, p. 176)

During the remaining years, Defoe concentrated on books rather than pamphlets. At the age of 62 he published Moll Flanders, which reflected his interest in female experience, A Journal of the Plague Year (1722), not a faithful record of historical fact, and Colonel Jack. His last great work of fiction, Roxana, came out in 1724.  ". . . in ninety per cent of his writings outside Moll Flanders Defoe is an unsufferable bore." (The March of Literature: From Confucius' Day to Our Own by Ford Madox Ford, Dalkey Archive Press, 1998, p. 565) Moll – a female picaroon – is born in Newgate, where her mother is under sentence of death for theft. Her sentence is commuted to transportation to Virginia. The abandoned child is educated by a gentlewoman. Moll suffers romantic disillusionment, when she is ruined at the hands of a cynical male seducer. She becomes a whore and a thief, but finally she gains the status of a gentlewoman through the spoils of a successful colonial plantation.

"Wherever God erects a house of prayer,
The Devil always builds a chapel there ;
And 'twill be found upon examination,
The latter has the largest congregation :
For, ever since he first debauched the mind,
He made a påerfect conquest of mankind."
(from The True-Born Englishman: A Satire by Daniel Defoe, London: Re-Printed by M. Wilson, 1835, p. 3)

After being close to the Whigs, Defoe moved back to the Tories. In the 1720s Defoe had ceased to be politically controversial in his writings, and he 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 (1726).

Defoe's father had stayed with his older brother Henry in London during the Plague Year of 1665, and their experiences possibly provided material for A Journal of the Plague Year, basically a literary hoax – people did not take it as fiction but "a genuine piece of history." The title refers to the Great Plague of 1664-5. Defoe himself was about five years old at the time. The narrator has the same initials, H.F., as Henry Foe. For his account, Defoe also used printed records.

"It was about the beginning of September, 1664, that I, among the rest of my neighbours, heard, in ordinary discourse, that the plague was returned again in Holland ; for it had been very violent there, and particularly at Amsterdam and Rotterdam, in the year 1663, whither they say, it was brought, some said from Italy, others from the Levant, among some goods which were brought home by their Turkey fleet ; others said it was brought from Candia; others from Cyprus. . . . But it seems that the government had a true account of it, and several counsels were held about ways to prevent its coming over, but all was kept very private." (Daniel Defoe's Journal of the Plague Year, edited with notes and an introduction by George Rice Carpenter, Longmans, Green, and Co., 1896, pp. 3-4) The Journal doesn't have a plot in the traditional sense. The social experiences and moral choices of individuals during the crisis are lifted to the forefront. Defoe's book arguably influenced Albert Camus's La Peste (1947, The Plague), in which a fictional epidemic breaks out in the Algerian town of Oran in the 1940s.

Phenomenally industrious, Defoe produced in his last years also works involving the supernatural, The Political History of the Devil (1726) and An Essay on the History and Reality of Apparations (1727). One of the most complete bibliographies of Defoe's works lists almost 400 titles, ranging from pamphlets to books on the occult and novels. However, he was not a wealthy man at his death, but was deeply in debts and had to hide from a creditor. Defoe died of a lethargy on 26 April, 1731, at his lodgings in Ropemaker's Alley, Moorfields, and was buried in Tindall's burying-ground (now Bunhill Fields) under the name "Mr. Dubow, Cripplegate"– the entry in the register of Tindall's had been written by an ignoramus who had misspelled his name.

For further reading: Daniel Defoe in Context, edited by Albert J. Rivero and George Justice (2023); The Oxford Handbook of Daniel Defoe by Nicholas Seager, J. A. Downie (2023); Robinson Crusoe after 300 Years, edited by Andreas K.E. Mueller & Glynis Ridley (2021); Before Crusoe: Defoe, Voice, and the Ministry by Penny Pritchard (2019); The Shortest Way with Defoe: Robinson Crusoe, Deism, and the Novel by Michael B. Prince (2019); Transformations, Ideology, and the Real in Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and Other Narratives by Maximillian E. Novak (2015); Daniel Defoe: Contrarian by Robert James Merrett (2013); Jälkiä ajan hiekassa: kontekstuaalinen tutkimus Daniel Defoen Robinson Crusoen suomenkielisten adaptaatioiden aatteellisista ja kirjallisista traditioista sekä subjektikäsityksistä by Merja Sagulin (2010); The Cambridge Companion to Daniel Defoe, edited by John Richetti (2008); Selkirk's Island: The True and Strange Adventures of the Real Robinson Crusoe by Diana Souhami (2002); Daniel Defoe-Master of Fictions: His Life and Ideas by Maximillian E. Novak (2001); Daniel Defoe: The Life and Strange, Surprising Adventures by Richard West (1998); Defoe: Writer as Agent by Katherine Armstrong (1996); Defoe's Politics: Parliament, Power, Kingship. and Robinson Crusoe by Manuel Schonhorn (1991); "Robinson Crusoe:" Island Myths and the Novel by Michael Seidel (1991); Daniel Defoe: His Life by Paula R. Backscheider (1989); Daniel Defoe by John J, Richetti (1987); The Canoniation of Defoe by P.N. Furbank and WR. Owens (1988); Daniel Defoe: Ambition and Innovation by Paula R. Backscheider (1986); Realism, Myth, and History in Defoe's Fiction by E. Maximillian Novak (1983); Robinson Crusoe by Pat Rogers (1979); A Checklist of the Writings of Daniel Defoe by J.R. Moore (1971); The Rise of Novel: Studies in Defoe, Rchardson, and Fielding by Ian Watt (1957); Defoe by David Sutherland (1937); Memoirs of the Life and Times of Daniel De Foe by Walter Wilson (1830) - See also: Jonathan Swift

Selected works:

  • A Letter to a Dissenter from His Friend at the Hague, 1688
  • The Advantages of the Present Settlement and the Great Danger of a Relapse, 1689
  • Reflections upon the Late Great Revolution, 1689
  • A New Discovery of an Old Intreague, 1691
  • A Voyage to the World of Cartesius: Written Originally in French, 1694 (2nd ed., translated into English by T. Taylor, M.A., of Magdalen College in Oxford)
  • An Essay Upon Projects, 1697
  • The True-Born Englishman: A Satyr, 1701
  • Considerations upon Corrupt Elections of Members to Serve in Parliament, 1701
  • The Mock Mourners. A Satyr, 1702
  • The Shortest-Way with the Dissenters, 1702
  • The Spanish Descent. A Poem, 1702
  • A Hymn to the Pillory, 1703
  • The Storm; or, A Collection of the Most Remarkable Casualties and Disasters which Happen’d in the Late Dreadful Tempest, both by Sea and Land, 1704
  • The Consolidator, or, Memoirs of Sundry Transactions from the World in the Moon, 1705
  • A True Relation of the Apparition of Mrs. Veal, the Next Day After Her Death, to Mrs. Bargrave, at Canterbury, the Eighth of September, 1705, 1705
  • The secret history of the White-Staff, being an account of affairs under the conduct of some late ministers, and of what might probably have happened if Her Majesty had not died, 1714
  • Caledonia, a Poem in Honour of Scotland, and the Scots Nation, 1707
  • The Family Instructor, 1715
  • The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner: Who Lived Eight and Twenty Years, All Alone in an Un-inhabited Island on the Coast of America, Near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having Been Cast on Shore by Shipwreck, Wherein All the Men Perished but Himself, 1719
    - Robinpoika Kruusen ihmeelliset elämänvaiheet (suom. O. T., 1847) / Oikean Robinson Crusoen elämästä ja onnen-vaiheista sekä miten hän kahdeksankolmatta vuotta oleskeli autiossa saaressa (suom. T. H. ja J. A. H., 1875) / Robinpoika (suom. Aatto S., 1894) / Robinson Crusoe’n elämä ja kummalliset seikkailut (suom. Samuli S., 1905) / Robinson crusoen elämä ja kummalliset seikkailut: hänen oman kertomansa mukaan (suom. V. Hämeen-Anttila, 1911) / Robinson Crusoe (suom. Risto Jussila, 1945; Tauno Karilas, 1953; Mirja Nippala, 1976; Juhani Lindholm, 2000)
    - several screen adaptations: Les Aventures de Robinson Crusoé (1902), dir. Georges Méliès; Robinson Crusoe (1913), dir. Otis Turner; Robinson Crusoe (1916), dir. George F. Marion; Les Aventures de Robinson Crusoë (1921), dir. Mario Gargiulo, Gaston Leprieur; The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1922), dir. Robert F. Hill; Robinson Crusoe (1927), dir. M.A. Wetherell; Mr. Robinson Crusoe (1932), dir. by Edward Sutherland; Robinzon Kruzo (1946), dir. Aleksandr Andriyevsky; Robinson Crusoeland (1950), dir. by Leo Joannon (with Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy - their last fim, a dispiriting mess); The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1952; bilingual production), dir. by Luis Buñuel; Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964), dir. by Byron Haskin; Zhizn i udivitelnye priklyucheniya Robinzona Kruzo (1972), dir. Stanislav Govorukhin; Robinson Crusoe and the Tiger (1969); Man Friday (1975), dir. by Jack Gold; Dobrodruzství Robinsona Crusoe, námorníka z Yorku (1982), dir. Stanislav Látal; Crusoe (1989), dir. by Caleb Deschanel; Robinson Crusoe (1996), dir. by George Miller and Rod Hardy, starring Pierce Brosnan, William Takaku, Ian Hart (Brosnan later played James Bond); Robinson Crusoe (2003, TV film), dir. Thierry Chabert; Crusoe (2008-2009, TV series), starring Sam Neil, Philip Winchester, Tongayi Chirisa
  • The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, 1719
  • The King of Pirates, 1719
  • Memoirs of a Cavalier, 1720
  • The Life, Adventures and Piracies of the Famous Captain Singleton, 1720
    - Kapteeni Singletonin seikkailut (suom. V. Hämeen-Anttila, 1910) / Seikkailu Afrikassa (suom. Pekka Suova, 1945) / Kapteeni Singleton (suom. Jukka Kemppinen, 1971)
  • Serious Reflections During the Life and Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe: With His Vision of the Angelick World, 1720
  • The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders, 1722
    - Moll Flanders (suom. Kristiina Kivivuori, 1957)
    - films: The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders (1965), dir. Terence Young, starring Kim Novak; Mill Flanders (1975, TV drama), dir. Donald McWhinnie, starring Julia Foster; Molly (1977), dir. Mac Ahlberg, starring Marie Forså; Moll Flanders (1996), dir. Pen Densham, script by Pen Densham; The Fortunes and Misfortunes of Moll Flanders (1996), dir. David Attwood, starring Alex Kingston
  • A Journal of the Plague Year, 1722
    - Ruttovuosi (suom. Seppo Loponen, 1997)
    - film: The Periwig-Maker (1999, short), prod. Ideal Standard Film, dir. Steffen Schäffler, starring Kenneth Branagh, Daren C. Evans, Alice Fairhall, Roger Law
  • Colonel Jack, 1722
  • Roxana, 1724
    - Roxana: Onnekas rakastajatar (suom. Kaarina Jaatinen, 1969)
  • A Tour Thro' the Whole Island of Great Britain, 1724-26
  • The Complete English Tradesman, 1725-27 (two-volume edition in 1738)
    - Täydellinen englantilainen kauppias 1-2 (suom. suom. Liisa Olanne, Sirkku Palosuo, 1962-63)
  • The Political History of the Devil, 1726
  • An Essay upon Literature: or, an Enquiry into the Antiquity and Original of Letters, 1726
  • An Essay on the History and Reality of Apparitions, 1727
  • A Compleat System of Magick: or, The History of the Black-Art, 1729
  • The Secrets of the Invisible World Disclos’d, or, An Universal History of Apparitions, Sacred and Prophane, under All Denominations, 1729
  • The Novels and Miscellaneous Works of Daniel De Foe, 1887-99 (7 vols., with prefaces and notes, including those attributed to Sir Walter Scott)
  • The Earlier Life and the Chief Earlier Works of Daniel Defoe, 1889 (edited by Henry Morley)
  • The Works of Daniel Defoe, 1903-04 (16 vols., with the author’s preface, and an introduction by G. H. Maynadier)
  • The Shortest Way with Dissenters and Other Pamplets, 1927
  • A Review of the Affairs of France, and of All Europe, 1938 (22 vols., edited by Arthur Wellesley Secord)
  • Selected Poetry and Prose, 1968 (edited by Michael F. Shugrue)
  • Selected Writings of Daniel Defoe, 1975 (edited by James T. Boulton)
  • The Manufacturer (1719-1721), Together with Related Issues of The British Merchant and the Weaver, 1978 (reproductions with an introd. by Robert N. Gosselink)
  • The Versatile Defoe: An Anthology of Uncollected Writings, 1979 (edited and introduced by Laura Ann Curtis)
  • The True-Born Englishman and Other Writings, 1997 (edited by P.N. Furbank and W.R. Owens)
  • Writings on Travel, Discovery, and History, 2001-2002 (8 vols., general editors, W.R. Owens and P.N. Furbank)
  • The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner, 2020 (edited by Maximillian E. Novak, Irving N. Rothman, Manuel Schonhorn)
  • Serious Reflections during the Life and Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe with his Vision of the Angelick World, 2022 (with an introduction and notes by Maximillian E Novak, Irving N. Rothman, and Manuel Schonhorn)
  • The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, 2022 (The Stoke Newington edition; edited by Maximillian E. Novak, Irving N. Rothman, and Manuel Schonhorn)

In Association with

Some rights reserved Petri Liukkonen (author) & Ari Pesonen. 2008-2024.

Creative Commons License
Authors' Calendar jonka tekijä on Petri Liukkonen on lisensoitu Creative Commons Nimeä-Epäkaupallinen-Ei muutettuja teoksia 1.0 Suomi (Finland) lisenssillä.
May be used for non-commercial purposes. The author must be mentioned. The text may not be altered in any way (e.g. by translation). Click on the logo above for information.