Saturday 31 August 2013

Defoe, Daniel "Robinson Crusoe"

Defoe, Daniel "Robinson Crusoe" - 1719

"Robinson Crusoe" "is often credited as marking the beginning of realistic fiction as a literary genre" and "one of the most widely published books in history".

Classic novels are always interesting. We can "visit" a time long past and see what someone who lived at the time thought about his contemporaries, the political, economical, or social situation.

"Robinson Crusoe", okay, said to be one of the first or maybe even the first fictional novel that could be called "realistic". Possible, I have read a few older novels but they did not ring the same tone.

"One of the most widely published books in history". Well, if they say so, I am sure they are right.

I can imagine why this book is still read three hundred years after its first publication. It is an interesting story. Even today, we cannot imagine how it would be to spend a year on an uninhabited island, let alone twenty-eight. That's longer than most people get for a life-sentence in prison.

Apparently, the author based the story loosely on the life of Alexander Selkirk, a Scottish sailor who was cast on an island in the Caribbean where he had to spend four years in the early 1700s, so just a few years before Daniel Defoe wrote his famous story.

The novel gives us a lot of insights into the politics and economics of the time. But most of all, it poses a lot of moral issues. "When confronted with the cannibals, Crusoe wrestles with the problem of cultural relativism. Despite his disgust, he feels unjustified in holding the natives morally responsible for a practice so deeply ingrained in their culture." Nothing has changed. We still live in a time where we have discussions about how much of our culture and moral understanding to impose of people with another background. As such, Robinson Crusoe is a great opportunity to think about this problem in a different setting and maybe get an idea on how to solve those problems nowadays.

I have no idea on how many school curricula we can still find this novel but I think it should be there. Just for the reason I gave right now.

There is probably another reason why this book is still passed on to new readers. The language is pretty simple, the story is told in chronological order, it is a pretty easy read. Tedious at times, especially if you read a lot but it offers a captivating story as well as understandable English at the same time, that must be a bonus for many people.

This was discussed in our online book club in March 2019.

From the back cover:

"Robinson Crusoe has captured the imagination of countless readers with its vivid evocation of one man's survival on a remote island, far from the civilization he knows.

Thought to be one of the first English novels,
Robinson Crusoe is the timeless story of a merchant's trading voyages and adventures at sea, his shipwreck and subsequent life marooned alone. Based on the life of Alexander Selkirk, it is fascinating in its descriptions of Crusoe's ingenuity and inventiveness, his ability to make and use tools, his discovery of man Friday and his treatment of him.

In addition to this,
Robinson Crusoe is also an exploration of the ways in which a man who had made his fortune in trade is able to survive in reasonable comfort, thanks to his resourcefulness, when goods and money can no longer be of any value to him."

We discussed this book in our international online book club in March 2019.


  1. I just finished reading The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann Wyss which is similar but more for kids - I read it aloud to my 2 youngest; the original book was in German but ours was a translation into English. Thoughtful review Marianne.

  2. Thank you, Carol, I probably should put that on my wishlist. I've been thinking about it before. Always good to hear from someone who read it.