Daniel Defoe's : Contribution to Prose

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      His Life : Much of Daniel Defoe's life (1659-1731) is still undetermined. He was born in London, became a soldier, and then took to journalism. He is one of the earliest, and in some ways the greatest, of the Grub Street hacks. He worked for both the Whigs and the Tories, by whom he was frequently employed in obscure and questionable work. He died in London.

This is achieved by Defoe's grasp of details and his unerring sense of their supreme literary value, a swift and resolute narrative method, and a plain and matter-of-fact style that inevitably lays incredulity asleep. To the development of the novel Defoe's contribution is priceless.
Daniel Defoe

      His Prose : This is of amazing bulk and variety, and for convenience can be divided into two groups.

(a) Political Writings: Like most of the other writers of his time Defoe turned out a mass of political tracts and pamphlets. Many of them appeared in his own journal, The Review, which, issued in 1704, is in several ways the forerunner of The Tatler and The Spectator. His The Shortest Way with the Dissenters (1702) brought upon him official Wrath, and caused him to be fined, imprisoned, and pilloried. He wrote one or two of his political tracts in rough verses which are more remarkable for their vigour than for their elegance. The best known of this class is The True-born Englishman (1701). In all his propaganda Defoe is vigorous and acute, and he has a fair command of irony and invective.

(b) His Fiction: His works in fiction were all produced in the latter part of his life, at almost incredible speed. First came Robinson Crusoe (1719); then Duncan Campbell, Memoirs of a Cavalier, and Captain Singleton, all three books in 1720; in 1722 appeared Moll Flanders, A Journal of the Plague Year, and Colonel Jacque; then Roxana (1724) and A New Voyage round the World (1725).

      This great body of fiction has grave defects, largely due to the immense speed with which it was produced. The general plan of the novel in each case is loose and unequal; as, for example, in Robinson Crusoe, where the incomparable effect of the story of the island is marred by long and sometimes tedious narratives of other lands. Then the style is unpolished, but has a vigorous, homely richness and a colloquial vocabulary which make it ideal for his purpose. At its best, as in the finest parts of Robinson Crusoe, his writing has a realism that is rarely approached by the most ardent of modern realists. This is achieved by Defoe's grasp of details and his unerring sense of their supreme literary value, a swift and resolute narrative method, and a plain and matter-of-fact style that inevitably lays incredulity asleep. To the development of the novel Defoe's contribution is priceless.

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