The "Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe", a tale of shipwreck and survival
Daniel Defoe's novel of shipwreck, marooning and survival is well-known for many reasons. Arguably, it's the first modern, English-language novel, and it's a good read still. Published in 1719, it tells of a young man who is the sole survivor of a wreck, and finds himself apparently the sole occupant of a 'desert island'. With few resources, he eventually constructs a house and boat, and begins to farm, growing plants and raising livestock (native goats). His enforced stay on the island lasts nearly 30 years, and is a tale of determination, inventiveness and faith. He based this novel on the true story of Alexander Selkirk, who marooned himself on an island for four years.
There follows a brief precis and comments on the book and its background. Its timeless quality make it a well-known and much-loved story, and it is still as relevant to us today as it was nearly three hundred years ago.
The young man Crusoe wished to travel, against the wishes of his family, and despite some naivity concerning naval life, set out to sea. His first experience of a storm left him weakened and sick, and he returned to land. The yearning soon arose again, and he joined another ship, which was captured by pirates. Crusoe escapes and sails along the African coast before being rescued and taken to Brazil Here he established a sugar plantation, but was again enticed to sea as a trader on a slave hulk. A storm wrecked the vessel, but he alone escapes and makes it to land.
With the aid of a home-made raft, he brings back raw materials and tools from the wreck (driven inshore by a storm). With meat and dairy produce from the goats, he is able to sustain himself, bited the island, and began domesticating some of them to provide himself with meat, milk, butter and cheese.
Living first in a makeshift tent, then a cave, he proceeds to build a house near the coast, and furnish it. Eager for rescue, yet concerned about coastal storms, he builds a second house inland. Following his discovery of native grapes, and other fruits and vegetables (including limes), he is able to stave off both starvation and scurvy, and plants crops from salvaged grain. He also makes cooking and storage vessels from local clay, after many failures, and makes clothes and an umbrella from animal skins.
After fifteen years, he discovers a human footprint, different from his own, and during subsequent explration, discovers human remains. Fearing that the island was inhabited, or at least visited by hostiles, he fortifies his houses with muskets. Much later, he discovers that a cannibal tribe have driven a ship onto the rocks, and are feasting on the crew. Driving them away, he rescues one of their prisoners, whom he names 'Man Friday' (from the day of his rescue). Teaching him English and attempting to convert him to Christianity, he discovers that there were survivors of another wreck on Friday's home island. A further cannibal incursion enables them to rescue two more; Friday's father and a Spaniard.
Between them, they formulate a plan to rescue the remaining captives and effect a return to the civilised world, and the Spaniard returns with Friday's father to make arrangements for the exodus. During their absence, an English ship anchors nearby, and several crew and mutinous prisoners come ashore. Killing some of them, Crusoe and Friday board the ship, Crusoe takes control and leaves behind any of the crew who wished to remain.
Crusoe leaves the island with a mixture of regret and relief, and returns to England in 1687, some thirty-five years after his leaving there. Reunited with his two sisters and his brother's children still living, he subsequently sailed to Lisbon to discover that his Brazilian holdings were intact, and that he was a wealthy man. Not wanting to profit just for himself, he gives over much of his fortune to family, friends and the needy.
He returns again to England, marries and raises a family, and continues his voyages again after his wife's death, visiting Africa, the East Indies, China, Siberia and back to England. Arriving back, he vows never to leave land behind again.
This is more than just an adventure story, more than a tale of survival. It is also in part a moral tale, Crusoe being plagued with Job-like adversity, from which he is determined always to escape. He begins to learn that he must stay and shoulder his cross, developing the quality of Christian long-suffering, and accept his lot in life. He comes to appreciate that his God-given ingenuity is a gift, not just for himself, but for others, too. The overtones of religious life are apparent, an "allegory rife with moral and religious symbolism and significance", according to one set of sleeve notes.
In addition, being drawn on the real-life adventures of Alexander Selkirk, it is based on fact, and as a result, is a valuable manual on survival. It demonstrates that man can survive, and how best to do so, using not just the physical, but spiritual resources.
Defoe wrote two sequels: The Further Adventures of Robinson Crusoe and The Serious Reflections of Robinson Crusoe, neither of which attracted as much attention as the original, which is to this day, a worthy read.