Anthony DiRenzo

Anthony DiRenzo

Professor, Department of Writing
Faculty, School of Humanities and Sciences

Complete English Tradesman

Daniel Defoe, one of the pioneers of the English novel, primarily earned his living as a journalist, pamphleteer, proposal writer, and freelance business consultant. A born entrepreneur, Defoe's many projects included promoting and marketing the first practical diving bell, designing commercial fisheries and improving London’s sewer system, producing a series of popular self-help manuals, and founding and editing the first English technical writing journal, The Projector. These were the products of Defoe's indefatigable pen, and the utilitarian simplicity of his business and technical writing has strongly influenced English prose ever since. This paper will examine two major pieces of Defoe’s professional writing: An Essay of Projects (1698), a portfolio of his best proposals, and the landmark The Complete English Tradesman (1725), the first English business writing manual. These and similar texts would form the loam of Defoe’s great novels, Robinson Crusoe (1719), Moll Flanders (1721), and A Journal of a Plague Year (1722). While Defoe's professional writing shaped his creative writing, his gifts as a novelist—his plain, demotic style, his knack for concise narrative and analytical summary, his ability to create convincing personas through textual documentation—shaped his business writing. Both forms of writing made him the premier spokesperson of a new social and economic order. 

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