English press: then & now

In "The Review" (1704 -1713)
D. Defoe wrote articles about home and foreign policy, trade,
religion and manners. The Review paved the way to
later more famous periodicals.

 

Daniel Defoe (1660? - 1731)

Class 4B

The "father" of all the English novelists was, till the age of fifty-nine,
also a journalist
and founded
"
The Review"
in 1704

Daniel Defoe

The spokeman of the
middle class

(National Gallery Portrait)

  The one who is considered the 'father' of all the novelists is Daniel Defoe, whose figure sums up all the qualities
and defects of the new writer.
         First of all, he was not, and he did not consider himself, a great scholar. He was born in London into a
family of Dissenters (the Protestant Dissenters refused to conform to the Church of England). He studied in one of the best Dissenting Academies and then became a merchant dealing in various products such as wine and tobacco. He joined William of Orange's army and was an enthusiastic supporter of the Whig party. He went bankrupt and to solve his financial problem turned to journalism. When Queen Anne ascended the throne his political fortune changed. He was arrested and tried because of his position in defence of the Dissenters, sentenced to three days in the pillory and then spent some months in prison. To be released he denied his Whig ideas and became a secret agent of the government, supporting either Tories or Whigs according to what minister was in power. In 1705 he wrote and published his journal, 'The Review'. In 1719, at the age of fifty-nine he turned to prose fiction, certainly not for literary or artistic purposes, but considering it a kind of business activity which now paid better than many others.
          That is something that must be kept in mind: writing novels was not seen as something 'serious', as something 'artistic'. The novelists did nor consider themselves artists which were producing a long-standing work of art. 'Art' and 'literature' were elsewhere, written and produced by poets or recognized artists. Novel writers wrote to amuse and to entertain, having perhaps a didactic purpose but they were well aware that what they wrote was not considered first-class literature, in spite of the enormous success they enjoyed.

     This is to show that Daniel Defoe was the father of the modern novel, the true representative of a new kind of intellectuals who for the first time earned their living by writing prose and the champion of the middle-class that, through his characters, saw clearly depicted their values, opinions and way of life.

As an example of the style of writing and of Robinson's way of thinking, read the following passages:
'…the best state in the world, the most suited to human happiness, not exposed to the miseries and hardships, the labour and sufferings of the mechanic part of mankind, and not embarassed with the pride, luxury, ambition and envy of the upper part of mankind…'
.
 
  Main novels and works  

Original edition
  • 1719 - The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of ROBINSON CRUSOE, of York, Mariner
  • 1722 - The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous MOLL FLANDERS
  • 1722 - A Journal of the Plague Year
  • 1724 - Roxana

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