1st Edition

Daniel Defoe and the Representation of Personal Identity

By Christopher Borsing Copyright 2017
    202 Pages
    by Routledge

    210 Pages
    by Routledge

    The concept of a personal identity was a contentious issue in the early eighteenth century. John Locke’s philosophical discussion of personal identity in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding fostered a public debate upon the status of an immortal Christian soul. This book argues that Defoe, like many of this age, had religious difficulties with Locke’s empiricist analysis of human identity. In particular, it examines how Defoe explores competitive individualism as a social threat while also demonstrating the literary and psychological fiction of any concept of a separated, lone identity. This foreshadows Michel Foucault’s assertion that the idea of man is ‘a recent invention, a figure not yet two centuries old, a new wrinkle in our knowledge’. The monograph’s engagement with Defoe’s destabilization of any definition or image of personal identity across a wide range of genres – including satire, political propaganda, history, conduct literature, travel narrative, spiritual autobiography, piracy and history, economic and scientific literature, rogue biography, scandalous and secret history, dystopian documentary, science fiction and apparition narrative - is an important and original contribution to the literary and cultural understanding of the early eighteenth century as it interrogates and challenges modern presumptions of individual identity.


    1. ‘The True-Born Englishman’: The Construction of a Persona

    2. The Family Instructor: One-sided dialogue

    3. Robinson Crusoe: Spoken by an Other

    4. Captain Singleton: Incommensurable Exchanges

    5. Questionable Identities: Moll Flanders and Roxana

    6. Not Imaginary but Fictitious: Defoe and the Apparitions of Fiction


    Christopher Borsing teaches in the School of English, TCD and in the Open Education Unit, Dublin City University, Ireland. After a varied career as building labourer, kitchen porter, itinerant fruit picker, Tarot card reader, jobbing gardener and professional salesman of educational resources, he entered higher education in 2003 as a mature student at Trinity College Dublin where he was elected a Scholar, awarded a first-class degree in English Studies and conferred with his PhD.