Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe

I read a children's edition of Robinson Crusoe many years ago, so I thought I knew what to expect. It must have been heavily edited to make it palatable for young readers.

Robinson Crusoe
was originally published in 1717, when the Americas were a wild continent. I'm not sure whether it's an adventure story disguised as a reformation tale or the other way around. Robinson Crusoe does get cast away on a desert island for 28 years, true. But the story starts when, as a rebellious youngster, he disobeys his father's orders not to go to sea, and all his subsequent misfortunes are cast in the light of this 'original sin'. He comes to believe that God is trying to guide his soul to righteousness by leaving him on his island, and that all the storms, kidnappings, etc. were warnings that he should return to the fold. I suspect that the heavy lacing of religiousity and the underlying message to obey one's parents are operative in moving this to the realm of classics considered appropriate for the young.

If the older Robinson Crusoe been more sympathetic than the younger I would have considered it a more successful effort! The young Crusoe is an imprudent scoundrel, but the older self is not any better. Young Crusoe is captured by Muslim pirates on his second sea voyage and kept as a slave. After 2 years of slavery, he escapes in a small boat and sails down the coast of Africa with a young boy, Xury, who was a fellow slave. Eventually they are rescued by a Portuguese ship. What does he do? He sells Xury to the captain of the boat. But only after the captain promises to set him free after ten years if he becomes Christian. That makes it OK.

He does regret this once - when he owns a plantation and could use some free labor.

Once stranded, Crusoe goes through various stages of frustration and remorse for his past behavior, eventually arriving at resignation to his fate and religious faith. He builds himself a kingdom, cultivates plants and breeds goats. He saves Friday from being eaten by cannibals from the mainland, gaining himself a servant, and eventually ends up rescuing some ship's officers from a mutineering crew and goes back to England on the recaptured vessel.

He leaves behind on the island 2 mutineers - and abandons on the mainland 16 spaniards whom he planned to escape back to civilization with. Later he helps them establish a permanent colony.

The plantation he left behind has become exceedingly successful - and he is very rich, dispenses largesse, and is generally a prosperous and responsible person. Defoe describes a battle against a horde of hungry wolves and further adventures are hinted at which appeared in two sequels.

I know this is a classic, and one of the first novels, and it's an excellent character and cultural portrait. But Crusoe made me so angry that I could barely enjoy the tale.

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