Open Eye: Book Review - Enigma of a Writer `Second Only to Shakespeare'
MacDonald, Sheila, The Independent (London, England)
MOST PEOPLE would associate Daniel Defoe with novels such as Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders but these only came to fruition after many years spent as a journalist, pamphleteer and political commentator. Now Pickering and Chatto are publishing 44 volumes entitled The Works of Daniel Defoe, edited by two Open University academics: Bob Owens, head of literature and Nick Furbank, emeritus professor of literature.
Defoe was a committed Whig and staunch defender of Protestantism and William of Orange. He was a controversial and colourful figure who often got himself into trouble with his outspoken views and satirical approach to his "opposition".
His works cover a vast range of topics. In his poem The True- Born Englishman he takes a pop at William of Orange's enemies stating that, in essence, there can be no such thing as a true-born Englishman. "Defoe believed that immigration was a good thing," says Dr Owens. "He believed that immigrants brought skills into the country and that more people meant more trade and wealth."
Defoe also wrote a bestseller on how to raise children, as well as The Political History of the Devil - much admired by Charles Dickens - which pooh-poohs established superstitions. His writings on trade and bank- ruptcy were particularly well informed as he spent time in debtors' prison, having lost considerable sums after investing heavily in marine insurance before war broke out with France.
Defoe, whom Dr Owens describes as "England's foremost writer, second only to Shakespeare" has proved a fascinating, if at times elusive, subject for the pair, whose collaboration on his work and life has spanned a period of more than 20 years.
Much of his writing was anonymous or published under pseudonyms. …