A political biography of Daniel Defoe

Furbank, P. N. and Owens, W. R. (2006). A political biography of Daniel Defoe. Eighteenth century political biographies. London, UK: Pickering & Chatto.

URL: http://www.pickeringchatto.com/defoepolbiog.htm


A detailed biographical account of Defoe's political activities, as journalist, polemicist, political theorist and government agent, putting forward a radically new interpretation of some aspects of his tangled political career.

In this new book, Furbank and Owens attempt to disentangle the story of Daniel Defoe’s political career, as journalist, polemicist, political theorist and secret agent. They argue that this remarkable career calls for a good deal of rethinking, not least because biography and bibliography are here inextricably intertwined. The book challenges the current account of Defoe’s political career – rather drastically in some cases. It argues, for example, that Defoe’s cherished story of his intimacy with King William – a staple of all previous Defoe biographies – was most probably an (immensely bold) fiction, a view which, if correct, entails considerable revision of his personality and career. Likewise, it offers a bold new interpretation of the famous series of letters Defoe wrote in 1718 to his Government paymaster, the Whig Undersecretary of State Charles de la Faye, in which he describes how he insinuated himself into the management of a number of opposition Tory journals to restrain and ‘enervate’ them. Modern biographers have taken these extraordinary letters at face value, constructing their accounts of Defoe’s later political career around them. By contrast, Furbank and Owens argue that they represented, instead, a dazzling piece of mendacity. If Defoe was deceiving anybody it was his Whig paymasters.

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