Defoe and the Problem of the East India Company

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Robert Markley’s “Defoe and the Problem of the East India Company” explores the treatment of the East India Company (EIC) in Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1719) and A New Voyage Round the World (1725) in order to suggest that these novels—like the novelist’s treatises on trade—critique the Company in ways that have not yet been recognized. For Defoe, the EIC embodies the greed, authoritarianism, paranoia, and monopolistic intentions that frustrate the plans that he championed for thirty years to open the Pacific to British commercial expansion. Defoe is hardly alone in his views of the Company, and to contextualize his critique this essay looks at one of the most important contemporary histories of trade in South and Southeast Asia by the Scots merchant Alexander Hamilton. For Defoe, any effort to expand British trade in the South Seas—from Chile to the imagined southern continent of Terra Australis Incognita—depends on circumventing the authority and dodging the ships of the East India Company. Even after the South Sea Bubble in 1720, Defoe persisted in his critique of what he perceived as the two fundamental flaws of the Company’s chartered monopoly rights: first, the Company put its own interests and profits ahead of those of the nation, and second, it forestalled British ventures into the Pacific and inhibited efforts to expand commerce into the extremely lucrative markets of East Asia. The hyper-charged acquisitive urge in both Farther Adventures and New Voyage might therefore be seen as a kind of compensatory fantasy acted out in a global capitalist unconscious.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationRobinson Crusoe in Asia
EditorsSteve Clark, Yukari Yoshihara
Place of PublicationSingapore
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages23
ISBN (Electronic)9789811640513
ISBN (Print)9789811640506
StatePublished - 2021

Publication series

NamePalgrave Asia-Pacific and Literature in English


  • Daniel Defoe
  • East Indies
  • Alexander Hamilton (Scots merchant)
  • A New Voyage round the World (Defoe)
  • The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (Defoe)
  • Trade
  • Pacific Ocean
  • East India company
  • Dutch East India Company (VOC)


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