The many baffling, colorful facets of Daniel Defoe's person and career come into striking focus in this new biography by Richard West. Here is Defoe the tradesman, soldier, and spy, the journalist, novelist, satirist, newsman, and pamphleteer. Consistent only in his failure as a businessman, Defoe would never manage to provide adequately for his ...
The many baffling, colorful facets of Daniel Defoe's person and career come into striking focus in this new biography by Richard West. Here is Defoe the tradesman, soldier, and spy, the journalist, novelist, satirist, newsman, and pamphleteer. Consistent only in his failure as a businessman, Defoe would never manage to provide adequately for his wife and their six children, neither in commerce nor by his undeniably prolific pen - a pen that in the year following Defoe's imprisonment, by West's estimate, wrote a half million words. That same year Defoe also founded a newspaper, The Review, for which he created such features as the lead story, the obituary, foreign news analysis, the gossip column, and the advice column. With a finesse and independence of spirit not unlike his subject's own, West unfolds his story of a maverick Defoe, a Puritan but no prude, a Dissenter without a constituency, a hack who never failed to pursue the truth and by the way also produced "Moll Flanders," " "Roxana," "A Journal of the Plague Year," and "Robinson Crusoe."
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Publishers Weekly, 1998-07-13 It's not surprising that West, an Englishman and the veteran author of numerous books on history and travel, is an admirer of "the fertility of Defoe's brain as well as the physical strength of his writing hand." West's life of the prolific if unconventional journalist who invented so much of his nonfiction that he moved easily into the novel, begins rather stiffly but becomes livelier as Defoe (1660-1731) grows up, writes more and gets into more trouble. West concedes at the start that he has not written "a definitive, academic, or even scholarly analysis of Defoe's writing." Nor has he produced a biography, he confesses, to replace Paula Backschneider's far more substantial Daniel Defoe (1989). Rather, inspired by Defoe's semifictional three-volume A Tour of the Whole Island of Great Britain (to West the writer's masterpiece), he turns to Defoe's neglected, often imaginative travel books and the author's equally slighted run of lively and pioneering news-and-gossip papers of 1704-13. West's life, then, is for readers who want to know more about the compulsive writer, royal secret agent and bankrupt London merchant than the author of Robinson Crusoe, Moll Flanders and his pseudo-histories and pseudo-memoirs. Defoe's method, West contends, was "the exercise of imaginationęquite a different thing from invention or lying." Much more than a political pamphleteer and political spy, or the tireless hack penning bogus autobiographies, Defoe emerges in West's colorful (if sourceless) biography as an adventurer whose authentic life might have made his best book. 16 pages of b&w illustrations. (Sept.)
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