Dan Sandman

32: Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

In Adventure, Books, Fiction on 08/08/2014 at 12:00 pm

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel DefoeThe eighteenth century saw the first important developments in the English novel. Several significant writers of this time wrote popular fiction that would be enjoyed for centuries to come, Daniel Defoe was one such writer. He wrote stories for a mass audience, delivering exciting adventures with a moral tone. Defoe was a journalist with a clean and factual writing style. Rather than creating a fantastical or magical deserted island adventure, such as Shakespeare had in The Tempest, Defoe created a relatively realistic setting with a practical and moral character who works hard to better himself. Neither did Defoe use his island story as an obvious vehicle for satire as his contemporary Jonathan Swift did in Gulliver’s Travels. Indeed, this is a book that is celebrated for its non-psychological portrayal of isolation and loneliness.

Robinson Crusoe would have been considered a modern man, travelling against his father’s wishes to seek his fortune. Instead of taking up service with a great lord, he attempts to gain wealth through trade. After he becomes stranded, he resourcefully makes the most of his environment by building, farming and salvaging from the wrecked ship. The time he spends alone on his island gives Robinson Crusoe much scope for moral and religious reflection. His thoughts and meditations offer a refreshing perspective to balance against the exciting adventures and swashbuckling. The overall effect is both descriptively entertaining and intellectually stimulating.

I think this book is underestimated as a mere adventure story for children and young adults. Reading it from an eighteenth century perspective has allowed me to highlight its place within history. It is an early novel of ideas, ideas such as the noble savage and religion as redemption. These concepts are not necessarily as relevant in the twenty-first century, but when they are seen from the perspective of Defoe’s Britain – an island nation forging the largest empire in history, a religious society looking to non-biblical stories for answers – things begin to fall into place. From a child’s point of view Robinson Crusoe is a cartoon character going on adventures and fighting savages. However, once the story is seen in context, it becomes a helpful device for opening up a wide range of discursive discussions.

A true classic.

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