J. Paul Hunter


Daniel Defoe--we keep saying, generation after generation-is not the man we took him for. People said it in his lifetime, as his activities and career unfolded in loose and unpredicted ways, and, over the centuries since, new Defoes keep emerging as readers find faces and minds that earlier readings and commentators had not prepared them for. Friends say it, or former friends, or those who believed they shared views and values with him, and so do foes or those who have been pushed to confront his restless and ambitious mind and pursue it in new and unexpected directions. The process of redefining Defoe--of trying to find some unpeeled self at the core of a project or text--has been vexed over the years by many things: the canon wars, the redefinition of what counts as literary, the reconfiguring of disciplinarities, and the foibles of intellectual and moral fashion. Trying to find the "real" Daniel Defoe has been a lot like the process of trying to trace a stable idea of selfhood itself in Western thought: we have not always known when we have found a new development or a genuinely changed perspective, and we have not always known exactly what it was we were looking for.