Defoe’s Masterful Characterization in the Secret History Pamphlets

Elizabeth Blomstedt


In previous centuries, many fiction authors wrote in genres outside of fiction, but few did so as masterfully as Daniel Defoe. His political works were vast and influential, incorporating his strengths as a fiction author to achieve a specific political goal. In the anonymous pamphlets The Secret History of the White Staff and The Secret History of the Secret History of the White Staff, Defoe defends Robert Harley's actions as Lord Treasurer with the aid of carefully developed characters. Defoe presents an alternate history of Harley's time in office from the perspective of an anonymous insider in the first secret history, and then presents an alternate history of the writing of the first secret history from the perspective of another anonymous author in the second secret history. Through these complex pieces, Defoe demonstrates his masterful ability to develop characters, as he creates two separate narrators, a Quaker, and alternate portrayals of numerous political figures in order to successfully clear Harley of guilt. His skill as a fiction writer shines in these highly political texts.




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