Daniel Defoe was born in London in 1660 to a family of Dissenters, separated from the Church of England, and his father was a typical man from lower class. He didn’t attend university but he received a good education and he set up as a merchant, so he began to travel and became an excellent economic theorist. But in 1692 he went bankrupt, and he expressed his views on politics in numerous pamphlets, in which he invocated an harder persecution against Puritans, thus showing the absurdity of intolerance. Then Defoe was arrested, fined and condemned to pillory, he couldn’t pay the fine but was soon released.c He wrote “the review”, the main government organ; he also didn’t support the Hanoverian succession as a dissenter, with some pamphlets. He didn’t write only on politics, but also on religion and on various subjects, and he was considered to be the father of the modern journalism. In 1719 he wrote “Robinson Crusoe”, that became very popular. In 1722 he also wrote three masterpieces: Moll Flanders, which is the autobiography of a prostitute who used her beauty as a commodity to exchange for money, which was the only value recognises in her life, coming from the middle class; then A Journal of the Plage Year, which dealt with the terrible disease; and Colonel Jack. His last novel was Roxana; then he died in 1731.
Defoe was the product of the emerging middle class; he wrote the novels in the first person, bringing the readers close to the narrator; besides the wealth of details and the documentary style helped to this aim. The characters are normal men from Defoe’s own class, so readers could identify themselves; he was the personification of the middle class man: practical-minded, resourceful and religious, this hero had a great utilitarian spirit but was not imaginative, he never showed emotion for the beautiful environment. Also the colonising spirit of the 18th century finds voice in the novel, for example he estabilished supremacy over the natives making Friday his servant and getting him used to his language and religion. Also Friday himself finds it natural to behave as a slave, kneeling down before the white man. It is important to know that in this period Britain’s empire overseas was growing, and they were sure of the superiority of white civilisation.