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Books in Brief

The Shortest Way With Defoe—Robinson Crusoe, Deism, and the Novel, by Michael B. Prince (University of Virginia Press; 350 pp., $69.50). Daniel Defoe’s 1722 novel A Journal of the Plague Year has been much-read recently, for obvious reasons. But of course we remember him chiefly for 1719’s Robinson Crusoe, which was immediately popular for its new, realistic style, and because its hero was an idealization of English resourcefulness abroad during a period of overseas expansion. Boston University’s Michael Prince proves there is yet more to this formative work. His literary sleuthing shows how Defoe used Crusoe to perpetuate a long-running private, political grudge, and to convey a then-dangerous deism.

Defoe was born Daniel Foe circa 1660 to a nonconformist London family. He became at different times one of the Duke of Monmouth’s rebels, a soldier for William III, a Whig and a Tory journalist, a brilliant satirist, and a government spy. He was called “a Scandalous Pen, a foul-Mouthed Mongrel,” pilloried for seditious libel by one government, and convicted of treasonable publication by another. He wrote on anything from the supernatural to trade, poetry to topography, morals to foreign policy, and he published over 500 works during his lifetime. Privately, he was plagued by bankruptcy, debt, and the deaths of six children. 

Defoe...

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