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He was not a "literary novelist", and would not have understood the term, but his classic novel is English literature at its finest, and he hit the jackpot with Robinson Crusoe.

This harmonious mix of tone puts the reader deep into the mind of the castaway and his predicament.

His adventures become our adventures and we experience them inside out, viscerally, for ourselves. The pioneer novelist understood the importance of attaching memorably concrete images to his narrative and its characters.

Readers often become especially entranced by Crusoe's great journal, the central passage of his enforced sequestration. He comes up with a tale, often said to be modelled on the story of the castaway Alexander Selkirk, that, like Bunyan's, follows an almost biblical pattern of trangression (youthful rebellion), retribution (successive shipwrecks), repentance (the painful lessons of isolation) and finally redemption (Crusoe's return home). Friday and his famous footstep in the sand, one of the four great moments in English fiction, according to Robert Louis Stevenson; Crusoe with his parrot and his umbrella: these have become part of English myth.

Defoe, like Cervantes, also opts to give his protagonist a sidekick.

Friday is to Crusoe what Sancho Panza is to Quixote.

Doubles in English literature will regularly recur in this list: Jekyll and Hyde, Holmes and Watson, Jeeves and Wooster.

Which brings me to Defoe's final quality as a writer. Throughout his life, he produced pamphlets, squibs, narrative verse and ghosted ephemera (he is said to have used almost 200 pen names).

He was a man who liked to be paid for what he wrote, lived well and was almost always in debt.

Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe comes second in our list of the best novels written in English.

Robert Mc Crum explains the genius of this complex, irresistible novel Robert Mc Crum introduces the series English fiction began with The Pilgrim's Progress, but nearly 50 turbulent years, including the Glorious Revolution, passed before it made its great leap forward.

The author of this literary milestone is a strangely appealing literary hustler of nearly 60 years old originally named Daniel Foe (he added "De" to improve his social standing), a one-time journalist, pamphleteer, jack of all trades and spy.