Day 515: Robinson Crusoe

Cover for Robinson Crusoe Here I am with my third review for the Classics Club. Robinson Crusoe is a difficult novel for the modern reader. It is one of the earliest novels and as such lacks some of the characteristics we associate with the form. It has no chapters—just a few breaks here and there—little dialogue, minimal characterization, and a primitive plot structure. If you think of the novel as a children’s story, you are wrong (although when I was looking for a cover for this article, I saw that it is marketed as such).

In fact, the story that has made several exciting movies is related in a mundane manner with little notion of building suspense and would probably bore most kids silly. Instead, Crusoe’s novel is an expression of the importance of self-reliance and an assertion of Defoe’s religious faith.

The story is familiar, although I was surprised by just how much happens before the famous shipwreck and after the rescue. As a young man, Robinson Crusoe is in a position where he could live a good life at home. His father urges him to be content, but he determines to be a sailor. He makes several voyages, ending in Brazil, where he accumulates property and an estate. But he is not satisfied to stay at home. He takes on an errand from neighbors to travel back to Europe for business, and that is when he is shipwrecked.

The rest of the novel is about his efforts to survive and make himself a home, his religious musings, and (after years of being alone) his encounters with other people. As I mentioned before, none of the characters are fully realized. In fact, aside from Crusoe, only Friday even has a name. Everyone else is just called by his station. (I say “his,” because there are no female characters.)

Modern readers may also have problems with such issues as racism or sexism in the novel (sexism only in the sense that Defoe ignores women—he mentions a few, but they are clearly unimportant). I don’t think that works should be judged outside the standards of their time, though. By the standards of his own time, Crusoe probably treats Friday pretty well.

The only other novel I have read by Defoe is Moll Flanders, which has the advantage of being bawdy. I think the way to approach this novel is not as an adventure story but as an example of an early novel and as a story about self-reliance.

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10 thoughts on “Day 515: Robinson Crusoe

  1. Naomi May 5, 2014 / 12:01 pm

    I have always wanted to read this book. I love survival stories, and I think of this one as being the original. Now, when I read it, I will take what you said about it into account. Despite its form, how did you like it?

    • whatmeread May 5, 2014 / 12:10 pm

      I thought it a bit boring, frankly. The writing style leaves a lot to be desired. It wasn’t awful or anything, and I was able to finish it. I think it would be disappointing to a kid to try to read it as an adventure story. The introduction to my version said it was much more exciting when told to people than when read.

  2. Alina (literaryvittles) May 5, 2014 / 2:31 pm

    haha this sentence made me laugh: “the story that has made several exciting movies is related in a mundane manner with little notion of building suspense and would probably bore most kids silly.”

    Frankly, I never got the appeal of Robinson Crusoe. Actually, I think I tried to read it once but didn’t make it past the first few pages. I was a kid, and yes, I found the writing tremendously boring. I suspect I would appreciate it more now. But we’ll see. There are a substantial number of worthier novels, in my opinion, that I should devote attention to first.

    • whatmeread May 5, 2014 / 2:34 pm

      I agree, but it’s such a classic. It was on my classics list, because I realized I had never read it. Well, now I have, and I don’t have to ever again!

      I’m so happy my review made you laugh. Sometimes I worry I’m being too mean.

      • Alina (literaryvittles) May 5, 2014 / 2:37 pm

        Not at all. I’m really glad that you’re critical! I hate it when people read a book, yet seem to have not read it at all–or worse, they have no opinion on it. (As for me, I’ll make vitriolic statements about “Brave New World” any day).

      • whatmeread May 5, 2014 / 2:38 pm

        Sometimes when it sounds like I don’t have much of an opinion it’s because I’m on the fence. I hate worse when people rave about horrible, horrible books!

      • Alina (literaryvittles) May 5, 2014 / 2:46 pm

        Right, I totally get that. I was on the fence about “Cry, the Beloved Country” which is part of the reason why I just did a quick review with bullet points.

        But yeah, horrible books that get unwarranted attention (e.g., 50 Shades of Grey) drive me crazy!

      • whatmeread May 5, 2014 / 2:47 pm

        Everything I hear about 50 Shades gives me the creeps! I don’t like the sounds of the subject matter, and I hear it’s badly written, too!

  3. Cecilia May 6, 2014 / 7:57 pm

    I’m so glad to read your review. Last year we were at a library sale and this man recommended Robinson Crusoe to my son, who took the book and asked me to buy it. For some reason I have this faint memory of having enjoyed it (maybe I got it confused with Gulliver’s Travels??) and I also thought it was a children’s book. When I read the first couple of pages after getting home I began to think twice if my son (then just 9) would enjoy it.

    • whatmeread May 7, 2014 / 7:28 am

      The introduction recommended just telling the story to kids. Try Treasure Island or Kidnapped instead is my advice.

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