Robinson Crusoe, Enlightenment Man

Rufus F.

Rufus is an American curmudgeon in Canada. He has a PhD in History, sings in a garage rock band, and does many things. He is the author of the forthcoming book "The Paris Bureau" from Dio Press (early 2021).

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15 Responses

  1. David Ryan says:

    A dear friend gave me Alexander Selkirk book. It would have been lost in our boat fire, save I was too busy/slothful to get it back aboard and on the ship’s library shelf where it belonged.

    I have not read it yet, but this post might be the kick in the pants I need.Report

    • Rufus F. in reply to David Ryan says:

      I haven’t read it either, but man I’d love to when I get a chance. I’m thinking about designing a course on exploration and voyage literature so that I can have an excuse to read books like that one that have been on my own shelf for too long!Report

      • Will H. in reply to Rufus F. says:

        I haven’t read the Selkirk book; but I’ve read Two Years before the Mast, and I found it to be quite entertaining, and particularly his descriptions of California.Report

  2. tarylcabot says:

    It does endure, but Moll Flanders was the superior novel (vastly more entertaining). After Crusoe gets shipped wrecked for a third time, i lost interest in his adventures. By contrast Moll kept me captivated both in the print form & the mini-series with Alex Kingston.Report

    • Rufus F. in reply to tarylcabot says:

      I actually found Crusoe to be pretty entertaining. But, yes, I definitely would agree that Moll Flanders is a much better novel. I haven’t seen the miniseries, but I would also imagine it’s better than Pierce Brosnan as Robinson Crusoe.Report

  3. When I was about 12 I read Robinson Crusoe, Swiss Family Robinson and Island of the Blue Dolphins in close proximity to each other.

    No child has ever wanted to be shipwrecked on an island more than I did.Report

  4. Jaybird says:

    I read this book when I was a kid and it was only a straightforward adventure story.

    I went back and re-read it when I was on a Clay Jenkinson kick and HOLY CRAP THE ENTIRE BOOK HAD CHANGED!!!

    It was no longer an adventure story but a story about how if you took your average Enlightenment White Guy and dropped him on a tropical island, he’d be running the place in less than a year.Report

  5. I read this book as a kid, too, so it’s interesting to read this commentary now.

    1. “Robinson Crusoe is supposed to teach us about piety. Crusoe is such an interesting character partly because he is so deeply flawed. We’re to understand that his original sin was a boundless curiosity about the world. Sea travel was dangerous in the era and the novel exploits that danger. As one Defoe scholar puts it, “In the simplest terms… travel on land corresponds to accepting one’s station, while ventures by sea, in contrast, demonstrate dangerous personal willfulness”. Crusoe’s willfulness and curiosity lead him, quite literally, to his downfall. The story parallels the Biblical Fall in that Robinson Crusoe’s curiosity is rebellion against patriarchal authority (both his own father and God) that goes punished, and for which he repents and is redeemed. Every event reveals Providence to our narrator; one wonders if he could stub his toe without seeing it as divine punishment.”

    One wonders if this wasn’t a universal theme of shipwreck narratives of the era. How would this compare with the treatment of the subject in the Tempest or the way shipwreck was treated by the Romans (Julius’s Caesar’s personal legend comes to mind, but there are lots of examples of shipwreck in classical myth and literature.) or even modern iterations like Lost or Flight of the Phoenix?

    2. Also interesting is the alliance of Reason and God – Is there nothing resembling the current antagonism in the period, in the text, or in both?.

    3. “It is perhaps unfair to note that the novel was one of Hitler’s prized possessions, but not meaningless.”

    Could you explain why this connection is not meaningless? Hitler also owned shirts. Guess who’s wearing a shirt right now?Report

      • Rufus F. in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        I thought I had suggested why I don’t find it meaningless- because the book seems, in a fairly Hobbesian sort of way, to treat domination and submission as inherent to the civilized order. The founding of the island society is Friday declaring himself subordinate and Crusoe declaring himself the master, which Defoe treats as an instinctual sort of relationship. You don’t see that as at least a bit more interesting in terms of Hitler than the fact that he also wore shirts?Report

        • Mike Schilling in reply to Rufus F. says:

          Are they brown shirts?Report

        • I think domination and submission is inherent to the civilized order, even though I don’t necessarily like those things. I think it comes with the territory of being social animals. I like Hobbes and think he was generally right, too. But Hitler is an entirely different animal.

          To expand, I’m not calling Godwin’s Law here, because I think the fact that Robinson Crusoe was one of Hitler’s most prized possessions is interesting and significant. I’m actually just hoping you’d expand on that species of analysis, because I think establishing belief in the naturalness of hierarchy isn’t enough to make the connection.Report