I think many of you are very much familiar with the novel “Robinson Crusoe” by Daniel Defoe. For some of us it was our first novel whereas some of us read it as a part of our school curriculum or many have just heard its name. This book was an immediate success in England and later its popularity spreads to rest of the world. This was Daniel Defoe’s first novel which was followed by many popular biographies such as Moll Flanders, The Fortunate Mistress, or Roxana etc. Let’s find out some fascinating facts about this popular novel, Robinson Crusoe:
FIRST ENGLISH NOVEL
Robinson Crusoe is often called the first English novel and is credited as marking the beginning of the realistic fiction as a literary genre. It was published on 25th April, 1719. It is the tale of a young man’s survival on a desert island following a shipwreck. When Robinson Crusoe was published for the first time, its original title was:
The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, Of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an un-inhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself, with An Account how he was at last as strangely deliver’d by Pyrates.
This fictional memoir became so popular and commercially successful that Defoe quickly wrote its two sequels. But very few people know them as they are not that much popular. The first sequel is The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe in 1719 and the second one is Serious Reflections During the Life and Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe in 1720.The two sequels describe Crusoe’s adventures after returning to the island following his wife’s death and his travelling stories after the death of his faithful servant Friday.
The novel became so popular that it gives birth to a new literary genre known as the “Robinsonade”. Robinson Crusoe was so well known and well received that an entire genre of deserted island survivalist fiction became popular that time. Also the character Robinson came to be recognized as a literary and cultural icon. There was even a 1964 film, Robinson Crusoe on Mars, whose title itself explains the popularity of the fiction. Though it was not the first fictional narrative to take place in a desert island but it was the most influential one.
INSPIRATION: ALEXANDER SELKIRK
This is the bronze statue of Alexander Selkirk.
The main part of Defoe’s book i.e. the adventures of Crusoe on his island were based on the experiences of a Scottish sailor, Alexander Selkirk who was the prototype of the abandoned traveler. Since Daniel Defoe loved travel stories so he must have read about the Scottish sailor who had survived five years of solitary existence on a desert island, Juan Fernandez Island near Chile. Selkirk had been left there at his own wish after his quarrel with his Captain. This survival story was a sensation and the public was easily fascinated by it. Thus Defoe used this story to write his own novel, The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe.
ROBINSON AND COLONIALISM
Several writers especially James Joyce, have criticized Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe for being a representation of British colonialism. James Joyce wrote that Robinson is the true symbol of British conquest. He casts away on a desert island with a knife and a pipe but soon becomes a knife grinder, a carpenter, an architect, a baker, a tailor and a clergyman and he feels like the King of the island. He has the traits of a British colonialist such as manly independence, unconscious cruelty, persistence, practical, well balanced and religiousness. His social relationship with Friday, the savage whom he had saved from the cannibals is regarded as the model of Western colonialism. This is because when Crusoe first encountered Friday, he immediately suppresses his language and culture and gave him a new name, Friday and taught him Western habits. He also asked him to address Robinson as “Master” and asked Friday to convert himself to Christian religion as his devoted servant. Hence, Robinson Crusoe became the prototype of the British colonialist and Friday the symbol of the subject races.