Book 15: Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

Maybe you’ve seen Cast Away (2000)? Not one of my favorites (mostly because Wilson freaked me out), but it was a huge money maker, so someone liked it. It is, of course, based on The Life and Strange and Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, Mariner, Written By Himself by Daniel Defoe, published in 1719. The novel, consider the first British novel by many, has been recycled in several stories besides Cast Away, including the Swiss Family Robinson and Foe. It is Book 15 of the 1001 Books Challenge.

I have read it before, as a young teenager when I decided that to win the Nobel Peace Prize in Literature, I needed to be familiar with all of the “classics” and read a large number of books from the traditional literary canon before I began to write. (Who knew what I was thinking, right?) I still have the copy that I picked up at a yard sale that year (encouraged and funded by my Grandmother who wanted nothing more than to go to college and become a teacher but had no funds and no scholarships offered to poor women in her day). I’m not sure that I have read it since until I picked it up again for this challenge.

1001 Books gives an interesting description of the book: “The novel presents us with a fundamental scenario. The prolonged and intense solitude of Robinson, shipwrecked on a desert island, strips him of the tools that have allowed him to live, and confronts him with the essential problems of his existence. In the vast silence even words begin to desert him. He tries to keep a diary in order to stay in touch with his civilized self, but the small supply of watered-down ink that he salvages from the shipwreck gradually starts to fail and the words that he writes eventually disappear, leaving Robinson’s diary as blank as his horizon” (40). That is not the book I read as that young teenager. I read a slow, boring, long-winded, word full book in which the hero doesn’t have grand adventures (liked the Swiss family) and contemplates his life way too much.

The profoundness of his silence, of language and words, to socialization and isolation were not clear to me then and did not appeal to me as they do now. Now, that story is much more compelling. It seems much more urgent. And it is with gratitude that I read Robinson’s tale of overcoming the potential madness of his situation with words knowing that Defoe really gave us narrative, writing with self-consciousness, and that is what I can take from this reread.

The book is the story of Robinson Crusoe’s 28 years on an island near Venezuela and his encounters with American Indians, slaves, and Mutineers. Many scholars have suggested that the story is based on the real-life Alexander Selkirk, a Scottish castaway for four years (somewhere in the pacific). Crusoe, as a young man going against the wishes of his parents, sets sail in 1651 to find adventure and make his way in the world. His first journey ends shipwrecked, and the second ends with Crusoe being captured and enslaved by Moors. Rescued and dropped in Brazil, he runs a plantation. Years later he decides to go on a slave expedition to Africa, and he is again shipwrecked. There, off the coast of Venezuela, Robinson Crusoe saves what he can salvage from the ship before it sinks and builds himself a shelter near a cave. He hunts, farms, makes tools, and domesticates animals. He reads the Bible, finds god, and builds a cross.

Years pass and RC discovers American Indian cannibals on the island and contemplates the nature of their sin (is it a sin if they do not know that it is?). Crusoe helps a prisoner escape and names him Friday for the day of the week he is found. (I guess Wilson is a better sidekick than the native Friday that RC has as a friend since Wilson is not obligated to turn itself into a slave to RC–and a christian–for having saved his life.) At this point, RC encounters other cannibals, others who are shipwrecked, and mutineers. RC works with the captain to retake his ship, and as they strand the mutineers on the island, RC tries to teach them what he has learned. Crusoe returns to England to learn that having believed him dead, his father willed him nothing. He heads out to claim the wealth from his estate in Brazil and brings it back to England overland to avoid the sea. He and Friday travel together and fight off wolves as a final adventure. And, that is where the original story ended.

Before I begin any book post, I do a quick google search to see what’s out there. This time, I learned something new. I found an article by Catherine Walker Bergstrom, which writes: “What is not common knowledge is that the original work was a trilogy and that in the subsequent novels Mr. Crusoe returns to the island years later and reflects upon his adventures from a political perspective” (par. 2). I had no idea. I have not read the other two books. I may add them to my TBR list but probably not. There are too many fun books read without suffering unnecessarily. The first was worth it. I don’t know that I could justify the other two.

If you have read them, let me know what you think. Do I add them to my To Be Read list? Thanks, & Happy Reading.

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1 Comment

Filed under 1001 Books

One response to “Book 15: Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

  1. Pingback: Book 17: Moll Flanders « Professor Stacy Reads

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