Defoe

Defoe

Defoe

Defoe

Excerpt

To the great majority of his fellow countrymen to-day Defoe is known only as the author of Robinson Crusoe. It may be, as Mrs. Woolf suggested some years ago, that there is even a reluctance to credit him with that famous book. Robinson Crusoe has always been there; it was perhaps the first book to be read to us in childhood. 'It never occurred to us that there was such a person as Defoe, and to have been told that Robinson Crusoe was the work of a man with a pen in his hand would either have disturbed us unpleasantly or meant nothing at all.' As for anything else that he may have written, his vast, vague, and cheerful public may perhaps suspect him of being the author of The Swiss Family Robinson too; but further than this few would care to go. And if little is known of his writings, still less is known of his remarkable life. In this book I have tried to deal adequately with both; but my aim has been rather to write a biography of Defoe than a volume of literary criticism. The most recent bibliography of his writings credits him with more than three hundred and fifty separate publications. To discuss those individually, even to mention them all by name, would require a much larger book than the one I intended to write. I have therefore been compelled to select ruthlessly; and I have concentrated upon those periods in Defoe's life, and upon those works, which seemed to me most important for a full understanding of his mind and motives. Thus I deal with Robinson Crusoe, and the other remarkable narratives which succeeded it, in a single chapter, and give almost as much space to The Shortest Way with the Dissenters and the circumstances attending its publication. To pretend that a knowledge of Defoe's life is in any considerable degree necessary to the enjoyment of Moll Flanders or Roxana would be mere learned hypocrisy. Yet, for that considerable body of readers who are curious to know how any man came to write what he did as he did, some knowledge of his life and character is essential, and I hope it will be found here.

The biographer of Defoe, whether he likes it or not, finds himself involved in a controversy not of his own making. It . . .

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