The Characteristics of the Neoclassical Period of Literature in Daniel Defoe's Writings

Categories: Literature

The Neoclassical period, which lasted between the years of 1660 and 1800, marked the beginning of the attempt to forgo the events of the Interregnum and English Civil Wars (“Neoclassical Period”). By doing so, the Ancient Roman and Greek past were glorified and valued to a great extent in an effort to provide an emphasis on a classical past (“Neoclassical Period”). Focusing on these two ancient cultures resulted in the themes of democracy and human reason becoming evident in literature during the neoclassical period (“Neoclassical Period”).

Along with this came the idea of human nature which authors believed remained the same in everyone. Man was thought to contain a limited amount of power. This contributed to the concept of remaining humble with the amount of information you knew as there was certainly more you were not familiar with. This theme made its way into many essays and satires (“Neoclassicism”). Individuals gained a sense of self awareness during this period often questioning their role in society.

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Around this time in Britain, the Middle Class made a prominent appearance with available time for leisure that was to be filled with reading (“Neoclassicism”). This popularized the newspaper, periodical, and introduced the concept of novels.

The most popular of the forms literature was presented in were essays (“Neoclassicism”). They were written in both prose and verse. In all forms of literature the common element of drama remained absent (“Neoclassical Poetry”). Authors neglected the element of tragedy and focused on comic and satiric principles (“Neoclassicism”). Polished dialect and verbal usage was required in literature to be read by virtually anyone who owned money regardless of whether they were part of the middle class or nobility.

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The neoclassical period has been further divided into three distinct ages: the Restoration age, the Augustan Age, and the Age of Johnson (“Neoclassical Period”). During the Restoration Age, taking place between the years 1660 and 1700, heroic couplets and the Odes which were categorized into the division of comedy of manners were valued and popularized (“Neoclassicism”). The Augustan age, ranging from the years of 1700 to 1750, glorified the principles of journalism evolving to take the shape of fictional writings (“Neoclassicism”). The Age of Johnson followed from 1750 to 1798 returning to the category of comedy of manners. Along with this, ballads and sentimental poetry became highly publicized (“Neoclassicism”).

One of the most critical authors of the neoclassical period, Daniel Defoe, was among the founders of the English novel (“Daniel Defoe”). This marked the beginning of the Augustan period drifting away from the Restoration Age. His fictional writing of Robinson Crusoe with the element of voyagers resonated well with the public as even though the piece did not exist in real life, the overall novel contained aspects everyone could relate to (“Defoe, Daniel, 1661?-1731.”). His following novels placed an emphasis on what many authors valued during the neoclassical period of literature, human nature. Novels such as Moll Flanders, A Journal of the Plague Year, and Colonel Jack, correlates directly with the work of neoclassical authors as readers were able to connect with the characters in the book (“Defoe, Daniel, 1661?-1731.”). This is was a direct consequence of having human characters despite a complicated and not relatable general plot.

Defoe expressed his views on the economical, religious, and political issues by utilizing essays, pamphlets, and journals which were commonly found during the neoclassical era (“Neoclassicism”). Defoe strongly opposed Catholicism which led up to him writing his pamphlet entitled Reflections upon the Great Revolution in support of King William. Defoe also focused on maintaining his journals which was a main presentation form for literature during the Augustan period (“Defoe, Daniel, 1661?-1731.”). The journal, A Review of The Affairs of France, which was run between the years of 1704 and 1713 provided answers to political and religious questions. This journal’s approach to providing answers to direct questions aligns with the analytical aspect of neoclassical literature (“Neoclassicism”). This analytical perspective continued with Defoe’s publication of his poem named Caledonia (“Defoe, Daniel, 1661? 1731.”).

In this poem Defoe took the stance of validating the Scottish economy and national values (“Defoe, Daniel, 1661?-1731.”). Defoe went on to oppose the vision of Dr. Henry Sacheverell to kill all of the Nonconformists by writing a satirical essay called The Shortest Way with the Dissenter that he published anonymously. In this essay, Defoe mocked the idea of the mass murder of Nonconformists by supporting the decision in order to exaggerate how ridiculous it sounded. Sacheverell failed to see the how absurd his claims were and began to support these now exaggerated claims about the murder of Nonconformists (“Daniel Defoe”). This essay reflected neoclassical ideology because satirical pieces dominated this time period. Daniel Defoe, deemed as a ‘dissenter’, was never able to attend university like the majority of his peers (“Defoe, Daniel, 1661?-1731.”). He instead received his education from Charles Morton’s Academy. The influence of Morton’s teaching style is evident in the essays and pamphlets that Defoe published. He remained grateful of the education that he received at the academy throughout the years Defoe spent as an author.

Defoe’s career as a novelist was also influenced by the prose narrative of females such as Aphra Behn, Mary Delariviere Manley, and Jane Barker (“The Augustan Age”). These prose narratives were shorter than novels as they paved the way for longer works of fiction to be accepted (“Prose”). Daniel Defoe may have created one of the first series of novels, but he may have never attempted to do so without the work of these women. They created an audience that favored fictional pieces for Defoe’s work to be accepted (“The Augustan Age”).

As a consequence of Defoe being a Dissenter, society considered him to be an outsider. Despite the fact that his introduction of novels paved the way for many novelists to come, Defoe himself was not valued as a novelist. Alexander Pope stated, “The first part of Robinson Crusoe is very good-De Foe wrote a vast many things, and none bad, though none excellent, except this” (1742)”(“Daniel Foe”). Jonathan Swift went on to completely disregard the advancements made by Defoe to literature by stating that he could not be endured in society)” (“Daniel Foe”).

This rejection by society was anticipated yet can be regarded as an injustice committed against Defoe. Without his introduction of one of the first ever novels, future authors would have never have gained the courage to publish their own. Daniel Defoe was arguably one of the most critical authors of the neoclassical time period because of his creation of the novel. He used satirical essays to inflict his views on society. This included his desire to divert paths from Catholicism in support of the Church of England (“Defoe, Daniel, 1661?-1731.”). Defoe also focused on creating essays, poems, and pamphlets which emphasizes the neoclassical period.

Works Cited

  1. “Defoe, Daniel, 1661?-1731.”, Proquest Learning Literature, Web. 31 October 2017.
  2. “Daniel Defoe.” Daniel Defoe n.p.n.d., Web 31 October 2017
  3. Moore, John Robert. “Daniel Defoe.” NNDB, n.p. Web. 31 October 2017
  4. “Neoclassicism.” Literary Movements for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context, and Criticism on Criticism on Literary Movements,, Web 31 October 2017
  5. “Neoclassical Poetry- Definition of Literary Term.” Neoclassical Poetry – Definition of Literary Term Web 31 October 2017
  6. Period (1660?1785).”, Proquest Learning Literature Web. 31 October 2017
  7. “Prose – Examples and Definition of Prose.” Literary Devices, 30 Oct. 2015, Web 31 October 2017
  8. “The Augustan Age.” The Augustan Age n.p., n.d., Web 31 October 2017

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The Characteristics of the Neoclassical Period of Literature in Daniel Defoe's Writings. (2021, Sep 21). Retrieved from

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