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Crtd 10-08-01 Lastedit 16-02-14

Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe

Daniel Defoe

Defoe's (b. around 1660) original family name was Foe. He added the prefix to suggest French noble family relations. He was a merchant and agent in political interests both publicly and as a secret political agent, also acting as author of anonymous political pamphlets, some even defending the positions of political adversaries, with the aim of arguing such as to alienate their supporters. Debts and adverse political tides occasionally brought him in serious trouble that political friends helped him out. As a result of all undercover writing activities the listing of his writings varies, according to different opinions, from 250 to 500. The novel, like his book "Robinson Crusoe", void of party-political agenda, is only a tiny part of it. The main part consists of political pamphleteering, history, and economic journalism. Defoe's Robinson Crusoe appeared in 1719, when he was about 59 years old and probably needed the results of book sales to stuff his personal budget. It is the first of a series of novels, often claimed to be among the first novels ever written in English, written in the next five years, that are mainly designed to have entertainment value. Robinson Crusoe is about a castaway, alone on a tropical island for 25 years.

Defoe's references to the location of the island

"I first set foot upon this horrid island; when the sun, being to us in its autumnal equinox, was almost over my head; for I reckoned myself, by observation, to be in the latitude of nine degrees twenty-two minutes north of the line."
"However, though my little periagua was finished, yet the size of it was not at all answerable to the design which I had in view when I made the first; I mean of venturing over to the terra firma, where it was above forty miles broad"
"the great draft and reflux of the mighty river Orinoco, in the mouth or gulf of which river, as I found afterwards, our island lay; and that this land, which I perceived to be W. and NW., was the great island Trinidad, on the north point of the mouth of the river."
The above three quotes put the book's fictional island at the East Coast of South-America in surely less than a margin of some tens of kilometers around 9.4oN 60.1oW (Google Earth Crusoe's Island Plot.kmz). In fact there is no island there, nor is there in a much wider margin.

Crusoe's solitary period on the Island

On September 1, 1659, Crusoe reaches the island's beach by swimming in a storm, as the only survivor of a foundered transatlantic trade vessel. Aided by weaponry, tools, hardware and food retrieved from the ship he starts setting up a household to maintain himself, with an intelligence contrasting the way he arrives at believing that everything is in the hands of God, every piece of good luck is God's benevolence, that if you long for it you pray in supplication, if you get it you pray in gratitude, that however every piece of bad luck is God's punishment for your sins; that you are supposed to make your list of sins and repent them; that in the absence of good or bad luck, you have to keep praying and reading the Bible, to keep up your  bond with God, for somehow God likes this and gets stimulated to bless, forgive and avert disasters. A stark contrast indeed to how, after pages of this soporific religious flatulence he gets down to the business of organizing his solitary life. There, he leaves God little to do.
After 15 years Crusoe sees a footprint in the beach sand. He is in panic for three weeks. Even his irritating lecturing God-belief is off for a while, to the relief of the reader. He fears the visitors are cannibals from the mainland. Again another 8 years later this fear turns out to be justified: he observes "wild" people and later finds human skulls gnawed off. He spreads his domesticated goats over two hidden enclosures en also spreads items crucial to his survival. Shooting and open fire are henceforth security risks.

The last three years: company and escape

In his 25th year Crusoe saves a "wild" man and cannibal from being consumed by other cannibals who had caught him. There are no further survivors of the gunfire of this saving operation. Apart from his cannibalism we learn little about the original life style of his new company, not even his name. Crusoe decides to call him Friday, and quickly turns him into a Christian well aware of the badness of his former cannibalistic habits. Author Defoe puts a highly unreflected phantasy type of defective English in his mouth as what Crusoe managed to teach Friday to speak.
When Friday is three years on the island, they finish a boat big and strong enough to reach the mainland. But it is the wrong season for sailing. They wait, but not so the cannibals! 21 of them land on the beach. Friday and Crusoe gun down most of them and liberate two prisoners. One is Fridays father, the other a castaway Spaniard who lived in Friday's tribe with 16 others.
This prompts the plan to make, with the Spaniards coming to the island, a barque large enough to carry them all and escape to some European colony. But to accommodate for the 16 Spaniards, the island's grain and rice production needs a boost first.
Finally, after "27 years and some days" the harvest warrants Friday's father and the Spaniard to leave for deliberation with the 16 Spaniards on the nearby mainland.
Eight days later, 8 English mutineers arrive at the beach with their ship's long boat, to drop the legitimate captain they took prisoner and two of his allies. On board were another 26 crew. In a complicated game Crusoe manages to liberate the prisoners, bring 6 of the 8 mutineers back under their legitimate captain, and finally bring the entire ship back under his command.
December 19, 1686 the ship leaves for England. The leaders of the mutiny are left on the island. There is not even mention of possibly warning or picking up the Spaniards, though the men left on the island are admonished to receive them well. Wonder what God thinks of that ... Furthermore, Crusoe considers himself permanent title holder of the island.

The End

Crusoe ends rich, marries, has three children, but there is again mention of the 16 +1 "Orinoco"-Spaniards. Crusoe revisits "his" island in 1694, eight years after having left it. "to know if the poor Spaniards were in being there.". No weighing of conscience of the subject though. They are still there. He calls it "my new colony on the island", suggesting the Spaniards had decided to stay. His account seems a mere appetizer for "The Second Part of my Story" that indeed, though less well known, appeared: The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1719), featuring the death of Friday and more moves around the globe, as well as a third: Serious reflections during the life and surprising adventures of Robinson Crusoe: with his Vision of the angelick world (1720)

Postscript

In the time Robinson Crusoe got published, a Scot called Alexander Selkirk was quite well known in Britain. He had reported back in England after having himself dropped, in 1705, in the Pacific Ocean on the now Chilean island Más a Tierra. Alone. His side of the story is that he had ceased to trust the ship on which he was a crew member and did not want to die with it. His qualms turned out well taken: the ship later foundered. Selkirk lived 4 years on Más a Tierra when he, still strong as a bear, got rescued. In 1966 the Chilean government renamed Más a Tierra (Google Earth: Más a Tierra.kmz) to "Isla Robinson Crusoe", apparently considering that a famous novel attracts more tourists than a true story. On 117 km East of Más a Tierra is another little island, which got renamed to Isla Alejandro Selkirk (Google Earth: Isla Alejandro Selkirk.kmz). But Selkirk never was there. And Crusoe never was anywhere, while Defoe places his island not in the Pacific but in an area on the Atlantic where there is none, "just over 40 miles" East of the the delta of the Orinoco.

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