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.
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.
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).
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).