What Robinson Crusoe Did Before The Shipwreck

You may have guessed this if you’ve been following me for any length of time, but I read a lot. As well as stuff I pick up because it looks interesting, I’ve also got a ‘100 books you should have read’ list that I’m very slowly working my way through when I’m not distracted by anything else. I’ve been working on it for a while (pretty sure it was sent to me as a round robin email before the existence of Facebook!) and am struggling to find it online except here, which is a blog from 2007 where someone’s already filled in their reads. So far I’ve got 68 out of 106 (which are not the same as the ones in that blog), if anyone else wants to play along.

The last couple of things I read were quite full on, so I thought I’d look through the list for something different. Step in Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe. Pretty sure I read a version when I was a kid, full of adventure and derring do, right? Possibly the first English novel so that should be interesting, right? I appreciate it was written in the early eighteen century and am not expecting, for example, strong female characters, but it’ll be a quick, fun read – let’s do this!

But I wasn’t expecting the slave trading. In the first couple of chapters, Rob himself gets forced into slavery and escapes with the help of Xury (whose ethnicity is never really specified beyond the fact that he is not white). Then he sells Xury to the first European he meets:

He [the captain of the ship] offered me also sixty pieces of eight more for my boy Xury, which I was loth to take; not that I was unwilling to let the captain have him, but I was very loth to sell the poor boy’s liberty, who had assisted me so faithfully in procuring my own. However, when I let him know my reason, he owned it to be just, and offered me this medium, that he would give the boy an obligation to set him free in ten years, if he turned Christian

Like that makes it okay. Then Rob goes to South America, buys a plantation and gets a couple of slaves. One’s given to him as a present, which he thinks is really nice and appropriate.

He ends up shipwrecked because he tries to go to Africa to acquire some more slaves, because buying them is so expensive.

He’s shipwrecked now. I know he’s the hero protagonist but I’m really not on his side. He’s not met Man Friday yet but I really can’t see this going well. I’m sure they were just friends in the kiddie version.

This was not the easy read that I expected.

Am I just hopelessly naΓ―ve? Did you folk know about this? I know it was written over 300 years ago and reflects attitudes of the time, but surely we should be honest about that and not make out that it’s an unproblematic children’s story.

Have you read this as an adult and, if so, what did you think?

(Unless otherwise stated, I get a small commission if you buy through one of these links)

40 thoughts on “What Robinson Crusoe Did Before The Shipwreck

  1. The attitude to slavery in Crusoe is shocking, but the way I described it in my review is that Crusoe just accepts it as part of the way the world is – bad things happen to some people, but there’s nothing he can do about it. We accept things in the same way – eg people starving to death in the developing world – and maybe one day people will look back and wonder why on earth we didn’t rage against the injustice of that.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I was assigned to read Robinson Crusoe in a college class titled “British Literature in the West Indies.” I hadn’t noticed it before I took the course, but a fair number of English novels take place in or have some connection to the Caribbean/slave trade. Mrs. Rochester from Jane Eyre was the daughter of a wealthy Creole family living in Jamaica. In Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, the Bertrams’ fortunes are built on the slave trade and a plantation on Antigua.

    I think Defoe’s novel was the second novel on our reading list; like you, i thought it would be an easy read. I first read it in the fourth grade! I watched the movie with Pierce Brosnan in the title role! (The movie, incidentally, was worse than the book in that it makes no mention of Crusoe’s involvement in the slave trade, none that I can remember, anyway.) The professor however added a lot of supplemental reading while we went over the text, so we learned a lot about the British slave trade and the economy built around it. It was also then that I realized how closely Crusoe is tied to slavery. Interestingly, Defoe seemed to take his protagonist’s profession in stride, as if what he was doing was no worse than trading in livestock or any other commodity. One might argue that slavery in Defoe’s time was an accepted practice, along with indentured servitude and women’s lack of property rights; the abolition movement in Great Britain didn’t really start until the late 18th century, and slavery wasn’t made illegal by the British government until 1807. And yet, as my professor pointed out, that doesn’t give modern readers an excuse to ignore the moral implications of Crusoe’s trade and how it shaped his response to the “cannibals” or his servant, the indigenous man Friday. Defoe ironically was politically progressive for his time, advocating for the education of women and the rights of immigrants in England. One could also argue that the novel is just a fictional story, not reflective of the author’s own views.

    The problem, I think, is that it remains in the canon of “Great Books of English Literature,” and is especially regarded as a children’s book. It probably shouldn’t be regarded as either. As an adult, I found Robinson Crusoe dull and lacking in any great insight or style. His ability to survive on a desert island for years makes for a good adventure story, but given current events in the US and elsewhere, its essentially colonialist views have dated it badly.

    There was a good essay in The Guardian a few years ago stating this more eloquently than I can. It’s worth a read if one is interested in how Robinson Crusoe should be read in the 21st century.

    https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/apr/19/robinson-crusoe-at-300-its-time-to-let-go-of-this-toxic-colonial-fairytale

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s an interesting article, thanks for the link. I found your thoughts more interesting though! You make some good points, so thanks for sharing.

      Like

  3. I have a battered early edition of Robinson Crusoe on my shelves that I’ve had for years. I don’t remember having read it. Perhaps you’ve prompted me get it down and dust it off. But like Derrick, I have so many books on my teetering TBR pile. I just counted the books I’ve not read on your list: 42. So many books, so little time…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Robinson Crusoe is quite a person of his time, in which it is completely ok to have slaves. But in my opinion, selling his companion Xury after a successful escape does not show a humanistic character …

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, he’s experienced slavery for himself so you would’ve thought hat would make him a bit more sympathetic, it would drive a little bit of character development. But no.

      Like

  5. πŸ’œ There ARE Recurring Themes like “Rob” EveryOne; it Bodes Well to Pay ATTENTION!!!

    …πŸ’›πŸ’šπŸ’™…

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Yes, Robinson Crusoe … it had its place but is not one of the ‘classics’ that I bothered to introduce my children to. While we need to be cautious about judging past actions by present mores, I agree that it is no longer a novel to hold up to the world. So many others have been written since then that have a rightful claim to become iconic in our modern world. As an aside, I found the list of books in your link interesting to peruse and am rather surprised to find there are 28 I haven’t read!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good point, I have to say I agree.

      And it’s quite a fun reading list to have, Robinson Crusoe is definitely the weakest on there (so far) and I’ve read some great books that I probably wouldn’t have done otherwise.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I read and believe I enjoyed the book as a child but remember little other than the basic premise. I did not introduce to my children so I never got a reset perspective. I think I will pass on revisiting it at this point.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Interesting article, I haven’t read it for years and years but I don’t remember all this. I will have to go back and take a read. I have only read about 35 books off your list. So many books, so little time!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. If someone does not love his job, he is a slave, even if he gets paid for his work.
    We have a lot more slavery today than the days of The Arabian Nights, and Robinson Crusoe.

    Forget the wage slaves, even leaders cannot dare speak against the virus narrative, or the global warming narrative or common core education.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I disagree with that. If I dislike my job, I can either find another job or find things outside work to make me happy – slaves don’t have that option. There are over 6000 million people in the world today, though, as opposed to around 600 million when Robinson Crusoe was published, so I guess it’s possible that more people today experience slavery.

      I know about the virus narrative and the global warming narrative (and subscribe to both, for the record), but I’ve not come across criticism about common core education before. It’s been interesting to research but I disagree with you on that one too.

      Like

    1. He never existed it was work of Daniel Defoe based on the life of a marooned sailor he met in a pub. The man was semi educated but asked Defoe to help him write his account of his two years survival of an island placed there by his British ship mates as a jinx. Defoe took down all this man told him and made his own story adding Man Friday and changing name of man .He was taken to court but as man who had confided in him had no money no case was brought Defore had copyright and won Defore was a news hound what do you expect

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Thank you for reading my blogs. I hope you read my tale of Robinson life. He never existed . Defoe listened to a sailors tale and robbed him of his lifes story. Defoe was a newpaper reporter .Then read my account of Six String jack ,the end of Defoe life as a con man

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Records grave yards and church book records . Catholic nation once so check Vatican records too as birth and death records of England and Continent are kept there. Bit of trouble six weeks in Rome taught me Vatican hate English for obvious reasons. We left Pope lost major part of income. Before birth records made legal it is the best place to go through records of lost papers as be in Vatican for sure.Newspaper and diarists all tell tales of time. I was University historian Degree holder and research was my trade in law for my living .laws all come under history research as well as common man .Only bad recorders follow the last one instead of saying where did they find this before believing. To research is a slow job and most writers would sooner copy from ;last accepted. Very few faults in public records if you really want to know truth of anything. Only place where records are in short supply such as so called dark ages and so much is written of that time but why it all invention. Writers that tell a tale putting words in historic mouths are poison to researchers. Any who read Jean Plaidy or such ilk will argue with historic fact even as they read it in a published account of say Mary Queen of Scots but the real Mary never said it no proof she even thought it but because some said she did and had book published as fiction and history the reader is sure Mary said this because its published as such. Now this writer of the two Bullen sisters who claims to be a historian is hard at it filling in what she thinks went in words then. It is upsetting education and misleading millions as no records exist of what was said between family members in that house from moment to moment. These writers are the cause of much nonsense in minds of people who read or watch the movies of the book. Only a real researcher can be trusted to tell the whole truth as in fact in writing blogs I am not paid a cent.I write only because i wish to pass of education and am happy so to do it. I hope this helps to sort out your lack of faith in historic facts. I can quite see how you arrived there

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I was not aware of the backstory to Rob. I guess most of us read the abridged version of that story and just the adventures side of it and not the realistic side of it. Thanks for sharing this eye opener.

    Liked by 1 person

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