Dan Sandman

15: Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

In Adventure, Books, Fiction on 08/04/2016 at 12:00 pm

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel DefoeI am reading Robinson Crusoe (1719) again for my masters course. We are studying how the Crusoe myth has been adapted over the centuries. The focus is on how this colonial sea adventure story is interpreted from a postcolonial perspective. For example, we are comparing Defoe’s novel to J.M Coetzee’s Foe (1986) and Derek Walcott’s Pantomime (1978). Alongside our Crusoe inspired readings, we are also studying the myths of the San people. The aim is to critically investigate how these stories are transmitted and circulated in differing contexts.

We all know at least a small part of the Crusoe myth. A man leaves England to go on a sea adventure, against the advise of his father. After profiting from his colonial expeditions in Brazil, he gets shipwrecked on a deserted island. Here, he resourcefully builds a home for himself and keeps a diary. After years of loneliness, he defends his new home against a group of so-called savages. Following an encounter with a ship of mutineers, he eventually returns to England. Upon arrival home, he discovers that his father has written him out of his will. Dismayed, the hero journeys back to Brazil with his trusty manservant Friday. In a series of sequel adventures, Crusoe continues to be heroic and swashbuckling.

Forgetting for a moment the serious implications of this colonial myth, Defoe is still one of the most entertaining writers in world literature. His prose is full of detail, imagination, craft, style, innovation, excitement – all Things that keep those pages turning. Even in moral terms, the Crusoe story still contains a powerful message concerning self-sufficiency. It is said that an Englishman’s home is his castle, and there is something very English about Crusoe’s desert island application of DIY skills. The Crusoe myth also questions the dangers of adventuring abroad, or what today might be called Wanderlust. Would it not perhaps have been more sensible for Crusoe to have taken his father’s advise? Should he have settled for the ‘Middle Station’ of life? After all, every adventurer leaves their family, friends and country behind them. This applies as much to today’s global businessperson as it did to the sailing merchants of old.

Still an absolute classic.

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