On the evening of 26th November 1703, a cyclone from the north Atlantic hammered into southern Britain at over seventy miles an hour, claiming the lives of over 8,000 people. Eyewitnesses reported seeing cows left stranded in the branches of trees and windmills ablaze from the friction of their whirling sails. For Defoe, bankrupt and just released from prison for seditious writings, the storm struck during one of his bleakest moments.
But it also furnished him with the material for his first book, and in his powerful depiction of private suffering and individual survival played out against a backdrop of public calamity we can trace the outlines of his later masterpieces such as A Journal of the Plague Year and Robinson Crusoe.
After surviving a terrible shipwreck, Robinson Crusoe discovers he is the only human on an island far from any shipping routes or rescue. At first he is devastated, but slowly, with patience and imagination, he transforms his island into a tropical paradise. For twenty-four years he lives with no human companionship - until one fateful day, when he discovers he is not alone...
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'I walk'd about on the shore, lifting up my hands, and my whole being, as I may say, wrapt up in the contemplation of my deliverance ... reflecting upon all my comrades that were drown'd, and that there should not be one soul sav'd but my self ... ' Who has not dreamed of life on an exotic isle, far away from civilization? Here is the novel which has inspired countless imitations by lesser writers, none of which equal the power and originality of Defoe's famous book. Robinson Crusoe, set ashore on an island after a terrible storm at sea, is forced to make do with only a knife, some tobacco, and a pipe. He learns how to build a canoe, make bread, and endure endless solitude. That is, until, twenty-four years later, when he confronts another human being. First published in 1719, Robinson Crusoe has been praised by such writers as James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and Samuel Johnson as one of the greatest novels in the English language.
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Beautiful, proud Roxana is terrified of being poor. When her foolish husband leaves her penniless with five children, she must choose between being a virtuous beggar or a rich whore. Embarking on a career as a courtesan and kept woman, the glamour of her new existence soon becomes too enticing and Roxana passes from man to man in order to maintain her lavish society parties, luxurious clothes and amassed wealth. But this life comes at a cost, and she is fatally torn between the sinful prosperity she has become used to and the respectability she craves. A vivid satire on a dissolute society, Roxana (1724) is a devastating and psychologically acute evocation of the ways in which vanity and ambition can corrupt the human soul.
With Robinson Crusoe, Defoe wrote what is regarded as the first English novel, and created one of the most popular and enduring myths in literature. Written in an age of exploration and enterprise, it has been variously interpreted as an embodiment of British imperialist values, as a portrayal of 'natural man', or as a moral fable. But above all it is a brilliant narrative, depicting Crusoe's transformation from terrified survivor to self-sufficient master of an island.
In 1665 the plague swept through London, claiming over 97,000 lives. Daniel Defoe was just five at the time of the plague, but he later called on his own memories, as well as his writing experience, to create this vivid chronicle of the epidemic and its victims. 'A Journal' (1722) follows Defoe's fictional narrator as he traces the devastating progress of the plague through the streets of London. Here we see a city transformed: some of its streets suspiciously empty, some - with crosses on their doors - overwhelmingly full of the sounds and smells of human suffering. And every living citizen he meets has a horrifying story that demands to be heard.
Britain in the early eighteenth century: an introduction that is both informative and imaginative, reliable and entertaining. To the tradition of travel writing Daniel Defoe brings a lifetime's experience as a businessman, soldier, economic journalist and spy, and his Tour (1724-6) is an invaluable source of social and economic history. But this book is far more than a beautifully written guide to Britain just before the industrial revolution, for Defoe possessed a wild, inventive streak that endows his work with astonishing energy and tension, and the Tour is his deeply imaginative response to a brave new economic world. By employing his skills as a chronicler, a polemicist and a creative writer keenly sensitive to the depredations of time, Defoe more than achieves his aim of rendering 'the present state' of Britain.
Born in Newgate prison and abandoned six months later, Moll's drive to find and hold on to a secure place in society propels her through incest, adultery, bigamy, prostitution and a resourceful career as a thief ('the greatest Artist of my time') before she is apprehended and returned to Newgate.
If Moll Flanders is on one level a Puritan's tale of sin and repentance, through self-made, self-reliant Moll its rich subtext conveys all the paradoxes and amoralities of the struggle for property and power in Defoe's newly individualistic society.