Thursday, 6 May 2010

Robinson Crusoe

Title: Robinson Crusoe

Author: Daniel Defoe

Number of pages: 252

Started: 29 April 2010

Finished: 6 May 2010

Opening words:

I was born in the year 1632, in the city of York, of a good family, though not of that country, my father being a foreigner of Bremen, who settled first at Hull. He got a good estate by merchandise, and leaving off his trade, lived afterwards at York, from whence he had married my mother, whose relations were named Robinson, a very good family in that country, and from whom I was called Robinson Kreutznaer; but, by the usual corruption of words in England, we are now called - nay we call ourselves and write our name - Crusoe; and so my companions always called me.

I had two elder brothers, one of whom was lieutenant-colonel to an English regiment of foot in Flanders, formerly commanded by the famous Colonel Lockhart, and was killed at the battle near Dunkirk against the Spaniards. What became of my second brother I never knew, any more than my father or mother knew what became of me.

Being the third son of the family and not bred to any trade, my head began to be filled very early with rambling thoughts. My father, who was very ancient, had given me a competent share of learning, as far as house-education and a country free school generally go, and designed me for the law; but I would be satisfied with nothing but going to sea; and my inclination to this led me so strongly against the will, nay, the commands of my father, and against all the entreaties and persuasions of my mother and other friends, that there seemed to be something fatal in that propensity of nature, tending directly to the life of misery which was to befall me.

Plot summary:

The sole survivor of a shipwreck, Robinson Crusoe is washed up on a desert island. In his journal he chronicles his daily battle to stay alive, as he conquers isolation, fashions shelter and clothes, first encounters another human being and fights off cannibals and mutineers. With Robinson Crusoe, Defoe wrote what is regarded as the first English novel, and created one of the most popular and enduring myths in literature. Written in an age of exploration and enterprise, it has been variously interpreted as an embodiment of British imperialist values, as a portrayal of ‘natural man’, or as a moral fable. But above all it is a brilliant narrative, depicting Crusoe’s transformation from terrified survivor to self-sufficient master of his island.

What I thought:

This was a strange, but enjoyable, book. It was not the most straightforward read and one that took a bit of time to get used to some of the language, but once I did I found that I enjoyed the tale. At times it went into more detail than was perhaps necessary to describe some of Crusoe’s life on his desert island, but the story warmed up as the tale unfolded.

It was an interesting take on the castaway story, and presumably one of the first, and strangely it did not ever really focus on the sense of being alone and how that affected Crusoe. It did bring in his reflections on life and God and other such things, which might not sit entirely well with some modern readers, including the rather imperialist role that he takes on ruling over all those he comes into contact with. But it’s a good read and given that it is thought to be one of the first novels, one that I am glad I have read.

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