on 20 February 2012
I read what I thought was Robinson Crusoe as a child (and loved it) but that first version left out half the story (which turns out wasn't a bad thing). The story isn't really about a man being marooned on an island (though of course he is marooned for decades). It's really about one man's internal journey and how his view of life and himself change because he's forced by his solitary state to think about his past actions and the consequences of them. To me the interesting story starts about page 60 and ends soon after 200 while he's still alone on the island, before Friday the rather annoying saved cannibal-servant appears on the scene or the fantastical rescue.
After reading about the real man who inspired the story, Alexander Selkirk, I can't help wishing that Defoe had interviewed the man and then wrote the man's real story. It would have been equally bizarre, but more believable (particularly the real man's inability to settle back into Society - he lived in a cave for a while, married twice, but could only bear the married state for a very short time before running off...eventually back to sea where he died probably hoping to return to the island where he was happy with his goats and cats).
If you enjoy the history of words or getting into the head of an early 18th century man this can be an interesting book. If you like a story that flows smoothly and makes sense and has a sensible ending...you might want to watch a movie version.
on 19 December 2012
I expected Robinson Crusoe to be mostly the long philosophical reflections of an isolated man and was very surprised by how much happens. There are pirates, cannibals, plantations and bears. Robinson spends only around half the book on his famous island and even then we read about his adventures at farming, hunting, pottery etc.
The book is not simply an adventure story however and Robinson's thoughts on life and the divine are dotted throughout. I found these musings to be succinct and interesting giving the book weight.
Perhaps the thing that surprised me most is how clear and readable the language is. I understand that it might be the first English novel but I found it to be more modern than many books written later.
I only read it a couple of months ago and I am eager to read it again already.
on 12 December 2013
Never read this before, so being included in the Clothbound Classics series bought it. And what an amazing book it is as well! If you can get over the confused punctuation, strange spelling and no chapters, give it a go. To me, all that only added to the charm and uniqueness of this fascinating book; as well as the structure and use of language from the early eighteenth century. The author biography and analysis of the novel was also very informative: what an interesting life he led!
These Clothbound Classic novels are a real book lovers treat. The design on the cover of this one is particularly striking and apt. Another worthwhile inclusion in the series, are facsimiles of the title page of the first editions. My only gripe, and a minor one, is the foil stamped in to the design has a tendency to wear off where you hold it, spoiling the look. All things being equal though, they are a wholly welcome addition to the Penguin Pantheon.
on 25 February 2011
A REVIEW OF `ROBINSON CRUSOE' BY DANIEL DEFOE
Almost three centuries have passed since `Robinson Crusoe' was first published in 1719. In that time, the novel has arguably become a victim of its own success. So many times has the tale been told and re-told, that we all seem to assume that we know the story* and therefore neglect the original novel itself. In short, `Robinson Crusoe' has become immortalised by being condensed into a simplistic plot summary: "The book about the man who gets stranded on a desert island." This over-simplification has been intensified by the countless other `classic' novels which have been heavily influenced by `Robinson Crusoe'. These include, Johan Weiss's `Swiss Family Robinson' (1812), R. M. Ballantyne's `The Coral Island' (1857), Jules Verne's `The Mysterious Island' (1874), and R. L. Stevenson's `Treasure Island' (1883) to name but a few. In more recent years, the film `Castaway' and television's `LOST' have dealt with the book's central theme. Even the great Laurel & Hardy got in on the act in 1951 with their final film, `Atoll K', which was released under various titles including 'Robinson Crusoe Land'. In fact, so familiar have we become with the premise of `Robinson Crusoe', that we risk losing sight of what a truly great and relevant book it is.
* For the purposes of this review, I have deliberately avoided telling the story where possible.
In his 2011 BBC Television series devoted to seminal fictional characters, Sebastian Faulks chose to begin with none other than RC. Perhaps the greatest appeal of the character is his humility (The story is narrated in the first-person and Crusoe's tone throughout is highly self-critical.) and resourcefulness. During his remarkable 28 years on the island, Crusoe drags himself from the depths of despair and self-pity to create a surprisingly convincing solitary way of life, which reveals real ingenuity and creativity in terms of setting up his home(s) and sustainable lifestyle. Many of the novel's key themes still resonate today. Crusoe's existence in many ways smacks of `The Good Life' and raises the question, "How much does man really need to be happy?" As the novel progresses, our hero's discovery of a solitary footprint in the sand leads to wild speculation about its owner, leading him to swing from optimistic highs to pessimistic lows. The dizzying analysis echoes the media-frenzies of the 21st century which inevitably follow any `major' event which shakes the status-quo.
Perhaps the greatest misconception about `Robinson Crusoe' is that it is a children's book. This view owes much to its simplistic retellings. However, the story deals with a range of `big' issues, including religious faith, colonialism and cannibalism. In fact, within its pages, there is some pretty strong violence (albeit described with 18th century reserve).
Of course, not everything about a 300-year-old novel still rings true. To the reader used to 21st century prose, Defoe's written style takes a little getting used to. Similarly, the actual action set-pieces of the story are rather top and bottom heavy, coming thick-and-fast at the story's beginning and end. Indeed, it does rather stretch credibility to accept that for almost two decades not a soul should appear on Crusoe's island, given that, by the novel's conclusion, it (almost) resembles Southampton docks with all of its comings and goings! However, perhaps the most unbelievable aspect of the tale if the hero's lack of concern about any human company for such a protracted period of time, especially that of the opposite sex.
Nevertheless, despite some inevitably creaky joints, `Robinson Crusoe' deserves to be dusted of and read as a novel in its own right. Among its surprises, `Robinson Crusoe' saves the biggest until last. The story ends with our hero stating that he will recount more of his experiences at a later date, which explains the publication in 1720 of Defoe's `Further Adventures of Robinson Crusoe'. Now how many of us who think that they know the book knew of this sequel?
Yes, by virtue of its own appeal, the essential premise of `Robinson Crusoe' has been regurgitated countless times over the years. However, for those who enjoy the `classics' or for those who like to genuinely escape into a book, `Robinson Crusoe' still has much to make the modern reader want to cut all ties with the modern world and drift away...
Barty's Score: 8.5/10
What a wonderfully entertaining story. And so refreshingly politically incorrect. We all know the gist of the story - some poor fellow marooned on an uninhabited island - but until just now I'd never read the original work. I didn't know how Crusoe came to be there or how he was eventually "delivered" and what became of him. I loved it.
Admittedly there were tiresome interludes - so many of them - when Crusoe turns to God, prays to God, questions God, loses faith, regains faith and preaches to the reader, but even these were quite profound in a self-help manual kind of way. Then there was Crusoe's post-Friday obnoxious, imperious behaviour. I almost laughed out loud when the first words Crusoe taught Friday were to call him "Master". Having said this he does learn to love Friday, albeit as a man loves his dog. He always called him a "savage" too. Also his famous slave-trading, kitten-drowning and bear-baiting escapades hardly endear him to the reader. What a guy! But I shouldn't really judge him (and he's fictional, though based on a Mr Selkirk) by today's standards.
A few points of interest I noted: I thought it very strange how lenient Crusoe was to the mutineers who landed on his shore with their prisoner, their deposed captain, whose name, incidentally, we never learn. He not only taught them all he had learnt as regards how to survive, but gave them supplies from the captain's ship and promised to send a ship to relieve them later! This he later did, bringing more slaves (presumably) and supplies. He also left them all his money. He also left the Spaniards on the mainland in the lurch and to the mercy of the now gun-toting mutineers. Why didn't he wait a while? Oh, and he hardly mentions God again as soon as he's safely away from the island.
The introduction - which the reader is advised to peruse after having read the book - didn't really interest me that much. It went a little over my head. One small quibble I have is that the text wasn't broken up into chapters in this edition, which was a little unusual and not a little awkward.
Isn't it funny, also, to think of all the people who have read this book since it was first published in 1719? It's worth reading if not only for its historical place in English literature and as the progenitor to a whole genre.
on 18 March 2014
I first heard about Robinson Crusoe through elementary economics textbooks - it was used as a byword for an economic model of autarchy. That was many many years ago. Picked up the book about a year ago, read the first 30 pages and abandoned it. Then I read Spurgeon's sermon entitled Real Prayer. Its opening went like this: "One book charmed me when I was a boy. Robinson Crusoe was a wealth of wonders to me. I could have read it twenty times and never grown tired of it. I am not ashamed to confess that I can read it even now with ever fresh delight." On this recommendation, I got curious, so I picked up the book again. This time I was determined to finish it, and I did. But the journey that I was led through was very different from what I thought I was setting out on!
Reading Robinson Crusoe gives one a very different feel from most novels, in which we usually have loads of relationships to work out, and actions and interactions to follow. But with Robinson Crusoe, for most of the story, it was only one man. It took some skill of the author to sustain interest and kept the story moving when in reality, nothing much happened in the story, time seemed to stand still, years passed as natural as a river trickling down its course.
But what we have got in our hands is the first ever English novel, which has entertained us for 300 years! It is no mean feat. It has no chapters. The story just goes on and on for roughly 250 pages! It is like a soliloquy, but not quite, as the monologue is aimed for a listener - you and me.
What are the book's charms? I will attempt to answer it:
1. It is soulful. Because it was written in first person, it goes deep into the character's heart and soul. It probes deep into all the philosophical questions about existence and purpose of life. His initial struggle to survive in the immediate aftermath of the shipwreck might be down to human instinct. Thereafter when his situation sank in, he had a choice. As the famous line from the movie "12 Years of Slave" says, "I don't want to survive; I want to live." What is this fine line between survival and living? Although our life is a far cry from Robinson's, his questions, being so generic, still ring resonance with us. Of course, he found his answer in God from very early on in his solitary life on the island. That had a profound impact on his approach to life thereafter. He was one man but he was not alone! His everyday life was to discover the discourse with God. That was beautiful.
2. It is therapeutic. Our modern day life is jam packed with events and actions, based on a complex social network linked up with all media, which we may have difficulty in tracing all the relationships! We have less and less time to face ourselves in solitude without anything to distract our minds. Our novels reflect that too, so many of which are full of sex, violence, depraved acts in graphically vivid descriptions. Even when we are reading, we may expect to be bombarded with events and actions or emotional highs and lows. But Robinson Crusoe has one pace, which is slow! We need a lot of patience to go through all the details of how he set up his life on the island, and details they were!! It took some imagination of the author to conjure up all these believable details of survival. One reality we should take away from this account is that living is hard work! A market economy has made life so easy for us that we won't believe it! It is hard labour just to maintain subsistence. Before economy gets sophisticated, the labour required to survive took up MOST of our time. In this context, our modern need to "kill time" is preposterous. The explosion of free time we have is a modern-day phenomenon, in turn the leisure industry too. With this privilege in hand, how have we chosen to spend our free time?
3. It is uplifting. This book is in contrast to Lord of the Flies, for example, when the human nature so exposed by the story is disturbing. Similar situations - stranded in a deserted island - but with very different reactions and outcomes. Robinson Crusoe gives us hope, perhaps not in ourselves but in that our weaknesses can be turned into opportunities to meet God and know God and His blessings. He is the rein in our wickedness, and He is the only source of goodness. He defines what goodness is and without Him or knowing Him, we would not have known what goodness means and in turn we won't have our hearts' longing in the right place, nor the resolve to uphold any goodness. Robinson Crusoe, being on his own in the island, was free to do anything his heart so desired, as there was no one watching and no one would have known. In that kind of situation, he revealed what kind of person he truly was! I am glad that he turned out to be a respectable, honourable, wise, kind, loving, principled person with integrity. This is comforting, is it not?
4. It is a guide to God. This is the surprise for me. Before I read the book, I expected an adventure. Now I have read the book, it is an adventure all right but a spiritual one. If you ever wonder what it is like or how it is to become a Christian, this journey is mapped out in this book: being a rebel and repeatedly turning away from God, conviction of sins with a contrite heart, humbly submitting to God and seeking His forgiveness through Christ, growing in our knowledge of Him, being more in tune with Him and then seeing His Providence everywhere, and finally mature enough to be used as an instrument to bring others to Him. I particularly like how some of the doctrines are cleverly illustrated by Robinson's encounters. There are too many of them for me to quote any here. But one theme - that of Providence - is prominent throughout this book. At the end of the story, when Robinson returned to his previous life and reclaimed all his possessions, he had to decide where to settle. Before the shipwreck, he set himself up in Brazil with plantations which had been run very profitably. When contemplating the option of going back to Brazil, Robinson had this reflection: "for as I had entertained some doubts about the Roman religion, even while I was abroad, especially in my state of solitude; so I knew there was no going to the Brazils for me, much less going to settle there, unless I resolved to embrace the Roman Catholic religion without any reserve; unless on the other hand I resolved to be a sacrifice to my principles, be a martyr for religion, and die in the Inquisition; so I resolved to stay at home, and if I could find means for it, to dispose of my plantation." p. 243 So there you are, Robinson Crusoe is a Christian through and through, and Catholicism is not the same thing, by his definition, and he is not prepared to compromise. I mean, it is difficult not to warm to him.
So this is my recommendation to you - if you would like to take a break from our hectic modern life and be refreshed in our despair of where the human race as a whole is heading. Daniel Defoe was a great writer and this story has been enriched by his colourful and wide-ranging life experiences.
I have been meaning to read this book for years, fascinated as I have been with the various film versions. I got this copy, the language of which has been updated (which I regret as I think it loses some of its flavor), and greatly enjoyed it.
On the surface, it is an adventure story of survival: marooned, he must figure out how to get food, fight off animal threats, and eventually fight off cannibals and mutineers. This is very fun and realistic, though by the end I was a bit tired of it, esp. when Friday fights off a bear in the Pyrenees mountains. Before that, he was also a slave of a Turkish pirate for 2 years.
Deeper down, this is one of the first great novels of introspection, wherein Crusoe learns to look at life in a new way. While it is expressed largely through his discovery of what he sees as true Christianity, it is in fact far more subtle. He is deeply self critical, seeing himself as an impetuous loser who is maladroit with people and a disappointment to his well meaning parents, missing warning signs about the course he was on. Alone on the island, he finds solace in the Bible. However, once Friday arrives, he discovers that the "savage" asks him all manner of questions about Christianity that he can't answer, that forces him to go deeper and even to admit certain questions cannot be answered. This was a delightful surprise to me.
The novel is also interesting as a historical document, not only about the history and political economy of the period, but in the assumptions behind much of the writing. It is normal, for example, that Friday would become his servant, in effect a slave, for saving his life. He also assumes primitive men are less human, indeed that they are all cannibals. Finally, it is also an early example of a novel, when the genre was defining itself. This is a 3rd level on which this can be read.
This is a classic that genuinely lives up to its reputation. Warmly recommended.
I first read this many decades ago after watching the excellent BBC serial on children's television that I think was a French production. Coming back to it all these years later I'm struck, once again, by how, although appearing slightly `overblown' for some modern tastes, engaging the writing is and how the story of this young man's gruelling coming of age still resonates down the centuries. Thus, one understands why the book quickly attained classic status and remained a favourite for more than 300 years.
According to Colin Wilson (in A Criminal History of Mankind) Defoe based the story on the adventures of a Scottish pirate named Alexander Selkirk who, following a quarrel with his pirate captain, asked to be marooned on what was then, one of the uninhabited islands of the Juan Fernandez group about 600 km off the coast of Chile in the South Pacific. After five years Selkirk return to England and became an overnight `celebrity' and Defoe (who began life, in 1660, as Daniel Foe) went to see him in Bristol in 1713 and probably paid for his written reminiscences. The interesting point to note is that Defoe was an agent provocateur and spy, a kind of forerunner to those more recently employed by MI5, and built up a network of spies as well as spending time `inside' and in the pillory!
Why it's interesting, at least to this reader, is that this seems to indicate a certain type of person; i.e. not particularly pious, unlike his fictional creation Robinson Crusoe, who, during his long solitary sojourn on his fictional island, develops, possibly, quite understandably under the circumstances, a distinct religious sensibility and frequently and at length thanks God for providing for him so bounteously. Crusoe reflects on this many times during the book and this is just one example of a degree of repetition that a good editor would surely have remedied.
Nevertheless, this book is a classic for a good reason and provides hours of enjoyment for the patient reader in addition to a great deal of food for thought!
Robinson Crusoe is best taken at two levels, the literal adventure story of survival on an isolated island and as a metaphor for finding one's way through life. I recommend that everyone read the book who is willing to look at both of those levels. If you only want the adventure story, you may not be totally satisfied. The language, circumstances, and attitudes may put you off so that you would prefer to be reading a Western or Space-based adventure story with a more modern perspective.
Few books require anyone to rethink the availability and nature of the fundamentals of life: Water, food, shelter, clothing, and entertainment. Then having become solitary in our own minds as a reader, Defoe adds the extraordinary complication of providing a companion who is totally different from Crusoe. This provides the important opportunity to see Crusoe's civilized limitations compared to Friday's more natural ones. The comparisons will make for thought-provoking reading for those who are able to overcome the stalled thinking that the educated, civilized route is always the best.
One of the things that I specially liked about the book is the Crusoe is an ordinary person in many ways, making lots of mistakes, and having lots of setbacks. Put a modern Superhero (from either the comic books, adventure or spy novels, or the movies) into this situation, and it would all be solved in a few minutes with devices from the heel of one's shoe. Maybe I'm old fashioned, but I liked the trial-and-error explorations. They seemed just like everyday life, and made the book's many lessons come home to me in a more fundamental way.
Have a good solitary trip through this book!
on 9 August 2001
Robinson crusoe must be one of the most instantly recogniseable and well known characters ever portrayed in fiction. The basics of the story - Crusoes desertion on a desert island, battle for survival and eventual triumph over adversity, appealing to people of all ages and backgrounds. Yet the archaic writing style can detract from the classic adventure story, as can the lack of real action. Instead the book comes across as a story of human resiliance and spirit, the fact that it is apparently based on the real life experiences of a stranded sailor make the story all the more remarkable. Thought to be the first "novel" ever published it is understandable that the writing does not flow in the same way as contemporary fiction, but the overall sophistication of Defoe's ideas is pleasantly surprising in the context that he HAD no contemporaries to influence him or compare to.
It is the romance of the story line that holds him in our collective consciousness and draws new readers to this book in their droves, but to read it as an adventure story of the "Treasure Island" mould is to miss the point, and will inevitably dissappoint. However, read it as a commentary on humanity and it is immensely valuable and enjoyable.