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The Shortest Way with Defoe

Robinson Crusoe, Deism, and the Novel
Michael B. Prince

BUY Cloth · 350 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813943640 · $69.50 · Apr 2020
BUY Ebook · 350 pp. · ISBN 9780813943664 · $69.50 · Apr 2020
BUY Paper · 350 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813943657 · $35.00 · Apr 2020

Walker Cowen Memorial Prize, University of Virginia (2019)

A scholarly and imaginative reconstruction of the voyage Daniel Defoe took from the pillory to literary immortality, The Shortest Way with Defoe contends that Robinson Crusoe contains a secret satire, written against one person, that has gone undetected for 300 years. By locating Defoe's nemesis and discovering what he represented and how Defoe fought him, Michael Prince's book opens the way to a new account of Defoe's emergence as a novelist.

The book begins with Defoe’s conviction for seditious libel for penning a pamphlet called The Shortest Way with the Dissenters (1702). A question of biography segues into questions of theology and intellectual history and of formal analysis; these questions in turn require close attention to the early reception of Defoe's works, especially by those who hated or suspected him. Prince aims to recover the way of reading Defoe that his enemies considered accurate. Thus, the book rethinks the positions represented in Defoe's ambiguous alternation and mimicking of narrative and editorial voices in his tracts, proto-novels, and novels.

By examining Defoe's early publications alongside Robinson Crusoe, Prince shows that Defoe traveled through nonrealist, nonhistorical genres on the way to discovering the form of prose fiction we now call the novel. Moreover, a climate (or figure) of extreme religious intolerance and political persecution required Defoe always to seek refuge in literary disguise. And, religious convictions aside, Defoe's practice as a writer found him inhabiting forms known for their covert deism.


[The Shortest Way with Defoe] frames the questions about Defoe and his fictions with great skill. I found it enlightening and exciting to read. I particularly liked the Quaker-Deist-Defoe connection. Like everything else in the book it opens exciting possibilities.

Maximillian E. Novak, UCLA, author of Transformations in Robinson Crusoe and Defoe’s Other Narratives: Finding the Thing Itself

The Shortest Way with Defoe is an extraordinary book that should shake up Defoe criticism and scholarship. Its immersion in Defoe’s life and times, in the complicated theological context of that life and his times, is impressive, daunting, and authoritative. It is wonderfully thought-provoking and... completely, sometimes startlingly, original.

—John Richetti, University of Pennsylvania, author of The Life of Daniel Defoe: A Critical Biography

This book is an original and substantial contribution to the study of Daniel Defoe, seventeenth- and eighteenth-century literary history, the nature of intellectual thought and polemic attack in the period, and the history and theory of the novel form itself. Prince’s implicit idea—a new and truly formative analysis of the nondoctrinal narrative mind—is really pathbreaking.

—Michael Seidel, Columbia University, author of Robinson Crusoe: Island Myths and the Novel

The Shortest Way with Defoe​ is fascinating, interesting, compelling, and written with verve, brio--I couldn't put it down. Changed the way I look at Defoe.

Adam Potkay, William and Mary · Wordsworth's Ethics

About the Author(s): 

Michael B. Prince is Associate Professor of English at Boston University and the author of Philosophical Dialogue in the British Enlightenment: Theology, Aesthetics, and the Novel.

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