First edition of Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, 1719

Description

This is the first edition of the famous castaway tale, The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1719). It was written by Daniel Defoe (1660?‒1731), but his name does not appear anywhere in this version. Instead, it is presented as the genuine autobiography of a ‘Mariner’ who ‘lived Eight and Twenty years, all alone in an un-inhabited Island’. The preface continues the pretence that the story is ‘a just History of Fact’ with no ‘Appearance of Fiction in it’.

The iconic frontispiece shows Crusoe in his goatskin jacket and cap, with guns slung over his shoulders.

Why is Robinson Crusoe so popular?

Robinson Crusoe is often described as the first English novel. It was a runaway success, and Defoe quickly wrote two sequels, The Farther Adventures (1719) and Serious Reflections … of Robinson Crusoe (1720).

The book blends many different genres. It is the escapist adventure of a young man who braves shipwrecks, pirates and cannibals. But it also prompts us to ask ourselves how we would cope – alone ‒ in Crusoe’s place. The preface presents the story as a religious ‘Example’ of how man survives through hard work and God’s ‘Providence’ (sig. A4v). Economists also explore what it says about capitalism, individualism and trade. However, some have criticised Crusoe’s imperialistic treatment of the Native American, Friday, whom he encounters after living for 24 years alone.

Which pages are digitised here?

Crusoe’s comforts and miseries

Crusoe lists the pros and cons of isolation on the island, weighing up what is ‘Evil’ against what is ‘Good’. Although he has ‘no Soul to speak to’, he recognises his luck in being ‘singl’d out’ by God to be ‘spared from Death’ on the ship (pp. 76‒77; or pp. 57–58 in the Oxford World’s Classics edition, 2007).

Friday

Crusoe’s first description of Friday may seem complimentary, but it objectifies him in racist terms: ‘He was a comely handsome Fellow’ with the ‘Softness of an European’. ‘The Colour of his Skin was … not of an ugly yellow nauseous tawny’ like the ‘natives of America’ (p. 243; or p. 173 in the Oxford World Classics edition, 2007).

Full title:
The Life and Strange Suprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner: who lived eight and twenty years, all alone in an un-inhabited island on the coast of America … Written by himself.
Published:
1719, London
Format:
Book / Octavo / Engraving / Illustration / Image
Creator:
Anonymous - believed to be Daniel Defoe
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library
Shelfmark:
C.30.f.6.

Full catalogue details

Related articles

An introduction to Robinson Crusoe

Article by:
Stephen Sharkey
Themes:
Travel, colonialism and slavery, Rise of the novel

Playwright Stephen Sharkey describes his own first encounter with Robinson Crusoe and examines how the novel was shaped by Daniel Defoe's religious dissent, imperialist beliefs and fascination with money.

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John Mullan explains how the novel took shape in the 18th century with the works of Daniel Defoe, Samuel Richardson, Henry Fielding and Laurence Sterne, and the ways in which the book industry both shaped and responded to the new genre.

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Jonathan Swift initially did his best to conceal the fact that he was the author of Gulliver's Travels. John Mullan explores how Swift constructed the work to operate as an elaborate game, parodying travel literature, pretending to be an autobiography and containing obviously false facts presented by a deeply unreliable narrator.

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