Book Review: "Robinson Crusoe" by Daniel Defoe

October 6, 2008

Robinson Crusoe (Barnes & Noble Classics) by Daniel DefoeThis pillar of Western literature, considered by many to be the first English novel, left me ambivalent and uncomfortable. Its antiquated mores clash with modern perspective, but not just because of quaint antiquity: Defoe’s Puritanical self-assuredness and cultural ignorance (resulting in subjugation) seem ominous in light of present-day conflicts.

Is it a fun read? Sure, most of the time. Defoe’s meticulous discussions of castaway lifestyle are captivating, if telescoped (a few paragraphs often represent years of island isolation for Crusoe). But because this is a masterful work, and does carry with it a serious message, thus passages about literal survival are interrupted by multi-page religious epiphanies as Crusoe faces his eternal survival.

Crusoe’s is a colonial white man’s world. There is not a single real female character in the entire story. Anyone not European is a savage, meant for enslavement. Defoe’s proud intolerance is not uncommon for the time, but paralleled with his relatively unsmiling Puritan tenets, it can feel downright grim. What is left unanswered for me is whether Defoe was aware of this hubris, whether it’s a trick on the reader that Crusoe is so blithely superior, that I’m the fool for not understanding that he was winking the whole time.


LibraryThing Tags:

classic, 18th century, england, novel, fiction, shipwreck, 2008readinglist, english, british, colonial, read, readin2008

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