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 naïve? 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)