Sunday April 25, 2021’s Smile of the Day: Robinson Crusoe
On this Day:
In 1719, Daniel Defoe published “Robinson Crusoe”, which is generally regarded as the 1st English novel.
Robinson Crusoe is a novel by Daniel Defoe, first published on 25 April 1719. The first edition credited the work’s protagonist Robinson Crusoe as its author, leading many readers to believe he was a real person and the book a travelogue of true incidents.
Epistolary, confessional, and didactic in form, the book is presented as an autobiography of the title character (whose birth name is Robinson Kreutznaer) – a castaway who spends 28 years on a remote tropical desert island near the coasts of Venezuela and Trinidad, encountering cannibals, captives, and mutineers, before ultimately being rescued. The story has been thought to be based on the life of Alexander Selkirk, a Scottish castaway who lived for four years on a Pacific island called “Más a Tierra”, now part of Chile, which was renamed Robinson Crusoe Island in 1966.
Despite its simple narrative style, Robinson Crusoe was well received in the literary world and is often credited as marking the beginning of realistic fiction as a literary genre. It is generally seen as a contender for the first English novel. Before the end of 1719, the book had already run through four editions, and it has gone on to become one of the most widely published books in history, spawning so many imitations, not only in literature but also in film, television, and radio, that its name is used to define a genre, the Robinsonade.
Crusoe (the family name corrupted from the German name “Kreutznaer”) set sail from Kingston upon Hull on a sea voyage in August 1651, against the wishes of his parents, who wanted him to pursue a career in law. After a tumultuous journey where his ship is wrecked in a storm, his desire for the sea remains so strong that he sets out to sea again. This journey, too, ends in disaster, as the ship is taken over by Salé pirates (the Salé Rovers) and Crusoe is enslaved by a Moor. Two years later, he escapes in a boat with a boy named Xury; a captain of a Portuguese ship off the west coast of Africa rescues him. The ship is en route to Brazil. Crusoe sells Xury to the captain. With the captain’s help, Crusoe procures a plantation.
Years later, Crusoe joins an expedition to bring slaves from Africa, but he is shipwrecked in a storm about forty miles out to sea on an island near the Venezuelan coast (which he calls the Island of Despair) near the mouth of the Orinoco river on 30 September 1659. He observes the latitude as 9 degrees and 22 minutes north. He sees penguins and seals on his island. As for his arrival there, only he and three animals, the captain’s dog and two cats, survive the shipwreck. Overcoming his despair, he fetches arms, tools and other supplies from the ship before it breaks apart and sinks. He builds a fenced-in habitat near a cave which he excavates. By making marks in a wooden cross, he creates a calendar. By using tools salvaged from the ship, and some which he makes himself, he hunts, grows barley and rice, dries grapes to make raisins, learns to make pottery and raises goats. He also adopts a small parrot. He reads the Bible and becomes religious, thanking God for his fate in which nothing is missing but human society.
More years pass and Crusoe discovers native cannibals, who occasionally visit the island to kill and eat prisoners. At first he plans to kill them for committing an abomination but later realizes he has no right to do so, as the cannibals do not knowingly commit a crime. He dreams of obtaining one or two servants by freeing some prisoners; when a prisoner escapes, Crusoe helps him, naming his new companion “Friday” after the day of the week he appeared. Crusoe then teaches him English and converts him to Christianity.
After more natives arrive to partake in a cannibal feast, Crusoe and Friday kill most of the natives and save two prisoners. One is Friday’s father and the other is a Spaniard, who informs Crusoe about other Spaniards shipwrecked on the mainland. A plan was devised wherein the Spaniard would return to the mainland with Friday’s father and bring back the others, build a ship, and sail to a Spanish port.
Before the Spaniards return, an English ship appears; mutineers have commandeered the vessel and intend to maroon their captain on the island. Crusoe and the ship’s captain strike a deal in which Crusoe helps the captain and the loyal sailors retake the ship. With their ringleader executed by the captain, the mutineers take up Crusoe’s offer to be marooned on the island rather than being returned to England as prisoners to be hanged. Before embarking for England, Crusoe shows the mutineers how he survived on the island and states that there will be more men coming.
Crusoe leaves the island 19 December 1686 and arrives in England on 11 June 1687. He learns that his family believed him dead; as a result, he was left nothing in his father’s will. Crusoe departs for Lisbon to reclaim the profits of his estate in Brazil, which has granted him much wealth. In conclusion, he transports his wealth overland to England from Portugal to avoid traveling by sea. Friday accompanies him and, en route, they endure one last adventure together as they fight off famished wolves while crossing the Pyrenees.
The book was published on 25 April 1719. Before the end of the year, this first volume had run through four editions.
By the end of the nineteenth century, no book in the history of Western literature had more editions, spin-offs, and translations (even into languages such as Inuktitut, Coptic, and Maltese) than Robinson Crusoe, with more than 700 such alternative versions, including children’s versions with pictures and no text.
Defoe went on to write a lesser-known sequel, The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1719). It was intended to be the last part of his stories, according to the original title page of the sequel’s first edition, but a third book was published (1720) Serious Reflections During the Life and Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe: With his Vision of the Angelick World.
Robinson Crusoe marked the beginning of realistic fiction as a literary genre. Its success led to many imitators, and castaway novels, written by Ambrose Evans, Penelope Aubin, and others, became quite popular in Europe in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Most of these have fallen into obscurity, but some became established, including The Swiss Family Robinson, which borrowed Crusoe’s first name for its title.
Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, published seven years after Robinson Crusoe, may be read as a systematic rebuttal of Defoe’s optimistic account of human capability. In The Unthinkable Swift: The Spontaneous Philosophy of a Church of England Man, Warren Montag argues that Swift was concerned about refuting the notion that the individual precedes society, as Defoe’s novel seems to suggest. In Treasure Island, author Robert Louis Stevenson parodies Crusoe with the character of Ben Gunn, a friendly castaway who was marooned for many years, has a wild appearance, dresses entirely in goat skin, and constantly talks about providence.
In Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s treatise on education, Emile, or on Education, the one book the protagonist is allowed to read before the age of twelve is Robinson Crusoe. Rousseau wants Emile to identify himself as Crusoe so he can rely upon himself for all of his needs. In Rousseau’s view, Emile needs to imitate Crusoe’s experience, allowing necessity to determine what is to be learned and accomplished. This is one of the main themes of Rousseau’s educational model.
In The Tale of Little Pig Robinson, Beatrix Potter directs the reader to Robinson Crusoe for a detailed description of the island (the land of the Bong tree) to which her eponymous hero moves. In Wilkie Collins’ most popular novel, The Moonstone, one of the chief characters and narrators, Gabriel Betteredge, has faith in all that Robinson Crusoe says and uses the book for a sort of divination. He considers The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe the finest book ever written, reads it over and over again, and considers a man but poorly read if he had happened not to read the book.
French novelist Michel Tournier published Friday, or, The Other Island (French Vendredi ou les Limbes du Pacifique) in 1967. His novel explores themes including civilization versus nature, the psychology of solitude, as well as death and sexuality in a retelling of Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe story. Tournier’s Robinson chooses to remain on the island, rejecting civilization when offered the chance to escape 28 years after being shipwrecked. Likewise, in 1963, J. M. G. Le Clézio, winner of the 2008 Nobel Prize in Literature, published the novel Le Proces-Verbal. The book’s epigraph is a quote from Robinson Crusoe, and like Crusoe, the novel’s protagonist Adam Pollo suffers long periods of loneliness.
“Crusoe in England”, a 183 line poem by Elizabeth Bishop, imagines Crusoe near the end of his life, recalling his time of exile with a mixture of bemusement and regret.
J. M. Coetzee’s 1986 novel Foe recounts the tale of Robinson Crusoe from the perspective of a woman named Susan Barton.
J. G. Ballard’s 2001 novel Concrete Island is a modern rewriting of Robinson Crusoe (per Wikipedia).
First, a Story:
Who is the only person in the world who gets all his work done by Friday? Robinson Crusoe…
Second, a Song:
Al Jolson (born Asa Yoelson; c. 1885 – October 23, 1950) was a Russian-American singer, comedian, actor, and vaudevillian. Jolson was dubbed “The World’s Greatest Entertainer” at the peak of his career and has been referred to by modern critics as “the racist king of blackface performers”. His performing style was brash and extroverted, and he popularized many songs that benefited from his “shamelessly sentimental, melodramatic approach.” In the 1920s, Jolson was America’s most famous and highest-paid entertainer.
Although best remembered today as the star of the first talking picture, The Jazz Singer (1927), he starred in a series of successful musical films during the 1930s. After the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, he was the first star to entertain troops overseas during World War II. After a period of inactivity, his stardom returned with The Jolson Story (1946), for which Larry Parks played Jolson, with the singer dubbing for Parks. The formula was repeated in a sequel, Jolson Sings Again (1949). In 1950, he again became the first star to entertain GIs on active service in the Korean War, performing 42 shows in 16 days. He died weeks after returning to the U.S., partly owing to the physical exhaustion from the performance schedule. Defense Secretary George Marshall posthumously awarded him the Medal for Merit.
According to music historian Larry Stempel, “No one had heard anything quite like it before on Broadway.” Stephen Banfield wrote that Jolson’s style was “arguably the single most important factor in defining the modern musical”.
With his dynamic style of singing jazz and blues, he became widely successful by extracting traditionally African-American music and popularizing it for white American audiences who were otherwise not receptive to the originators. Despite his promotion and perpetuation of black stereotypes, his work was often well-regarded by black publications and he has been credited for fighting against black discrimination on Broadway as early as 1911. In an essay written in 2000, music critic Ted Gioia remarked, “If blackface has its shameful poster boy, it is Al Jolson”, showcasing Jolson’s complex legacy in American society. (per Wikipedia).
Here is the “World’s Greatest Entertainer” Al Jolson singing “Where did Robinson Crusoe Go with Friday on Saturday Night” Composed by Lewis, Young, & Meyers. Jolson first performed this song In the 1916 Musical “Robinson Crusoe Jr.” The Record is a 10″ Columbia 78rpm from 1916. The Gramophone is Victor Type II with Black & Brass Horn from about 1907 (per YouTube.com). I hope you enjoy this.
Thought for the Day:
“I don’t know where my romanticism comes from. My mom and dad would read to me a lot. ‘Treasure Island,’ ‘Robinson Crusoe,’ tales of chivalry and knights, things like that. Those are the stories I loved growing up.” – Daniel Radcliffe
Have a great day!
Dave & Colleen
© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky