Title: Robinson Crusoe
Author: Daniel Defoe
Publication Date: April 25, 1719 (book), 2008 (audio)
Publisher: Tantor Audio
Narrated By: Simon Vance
Recording time: 10 hours, 10 minutes
Robinson Crusoe (the family name corrupted from the German name “Kreutznaer”) sets 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 in Brazil.
In the Years later, Crusoe joins an expedition to purchase 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.: Chapter 23 He observes the latitude as 9 degrees and 22 minutes north. He sees penguins and seals on this island. Only he, 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 cannibals, who occasionally visit the island to kill and eat prisoners. 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 teaches Friday English and converts him to Christianity.
After more cannibals arrive to partake in a feast, Crusoe and Friday kill most of them 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 is 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.
Robinson Crusoe is considered by some to be the first English novel. Not surprisingly, then, it is among the most influential books in all of literature, leading to numerous imitation castaway novels and stories across the English-speaking world for the two hundred years after its initial publication. The Swiss Family Robinson even borrows Crusoe’s first name.
The original story has endured for three hundred years because it is well-written, entertaining, and thematically timeless. Robinson, the young protagonist, is reckless and adventure-seeking. His comeuppance for his early life choices is to be alone on a deserted island for twenty-eight years, and his day to day efforts just to survive and adapt are well-told and gripping. We get to see him wrestle with his own past, his views on society, violence, and religion, and his thoughts feel relatable. Later, we see him re-learn how to exist within a human community.
Older fiction novels are often not page-turners or bingers. However, after getting through the first few chapters, I found the novel to be so engaging that I finished the audiobook in a day and a half.
The novel is written as a travelogue, though one written in hindsight rather than in the moment. It was among the first realistic fiction novels in the English language, and as a result, many people initially believed the novel to be a true account.
In many respects, the novel is thematically the story of a Christian life. We meet Crusoe prior to his true conversion, his time on the island leads to true repentance over his choices, a diligent study of the Bible, and a genuine gratitude and peacefulness over his salvation.
We later see the born again Crusoe struggle with how his faith should impact his choices once he confronts human beings again. He wrestles with the idea of committing violence against local cannibals and he struggles with his choices after Christianizing one of those natives, Friday, after saving him from death by cannibalism.
I enjoyed all of this as he is never portrayed in an unrealistic way. His conversion feels genuine and his struggles, cultural biases, and personality traits and flaws remain in place while he also grows spiritually.
The biggest takeaway, in my opinion, from Defoe’s depiction of Crusoe’s Christianity is that repentance must be first and foremost a part of one’s life, followed closely thereafter by gratefulness. When the protagonist is able to be both repentant and grateful, he finds himself content in his circumstances. When he is not able, he is racked with anxiety and doubts.
Assertion of Dominion:
Robison Crusoe has several skills when he lands on the island, marksmanship in particular, however, he does not possess mastery of most of the skills that he will need to survive for as long as he does. As a result, the novel becomes a depiction of how man learns, adapts, and becomes satisfied with notions of “good enough.” We see this last bit expressed by Crusoe quite often. He describes how long it takes him to develop basic skills in several areas, and he explains also that many of the things he makes are not well done even if they are functional. Nevertheless, as new obstacles come to light, Crusoe continues – with time – to grow in confidence in his ability overcome them. He asserts mastery over his surroundings.
The novel then in its latter chapters contrasts this fumbled but ultimately improved mastery of the island to his relationships with people. Crusoe saves a native from death by cannibalism, he names the man Friday, but he also instinctively declares that the other man is his servant, even teaching Friday to call him “Master.” However, as their story goes along, he begins to treat Friday as an equal. They consult with each other in making decisions. Crusoe gives the other man firearms and teaches him to use them. When he and Friday discuss Christianizing Friday’s tribe, Crusoe admits that he is no better able to do this than Friday himself. Nonetheless though, we never read Crusoe musing over Friday as an equal, per se, though he often expresses admiration and affection for him. As the novel ends on something of setup for sequels, we do not read here whether Crusoe continues to evolve his views.
My Favorite Scene:
My favorite section of the novel is Crusoe’s first discovery of another human footprint, on the beach, and the subsequent total obsession it causes in him. This might be the most relatable sequence in the story. After many years completely alone, how would it really feel to see another human being’s footprint? Crusoe cannot decide whether to be hopeful or frightened, though he ultimately decides on the latter. He spends months, after sighting one footprintin the sand, constructing defenses and all the while chastising himself for how one small thing seems to have stolen his contentment. He muses over how his greatest desire, seeing other people, has become his greatest fear.
It’s a truly great piece of writing.
“It is never too late to be wise.”
“Thus fear of danger is ten thousand times more terrifying than danger itself when apparent to the eyes ; and we find the burden of anxiety greater, by much, than the evil which we are anxious about”
“All our discontents about what we want appeared to me to spring from the want of thankfulness for what we have.”
“This grieved me heartily ; and now I saw, though too late, the folly of beginning a work before we count the cost, and before we judge rightly of our own strength to go through with it.”
“And I add this part here, to hint to whoever shall read it, that whenever they come to a true Sense of things, they will find Deliverance from Sin a much greater Blessing than Deliverance from Affliction.”
Robinson Crusoe is a great book and I encourage everyone to read it. It is a story filled with adventure, danger, self-reliance, and self-examination. It holds up well despite its age and I particularly enjoyed the audiobook performance of Simon Vance who brought all of this to life for me.