Almost as soon as it was published, Robinson Crusoe became an international phenomenon. The first four English editions were printed in 1719, and by the end of 1720 the book had been translated into French, Dutch and German.
The myth of Robinson Crusoe ‒ the lone castaway on an island ‒ quickly escaped and transcended the words set down by Daniel Defoe. Crusoe has now been printed in more languages than any text except the Bible, reshaped into video games and science fiction films, and abridged thousands of times. The genre of Crusoe adaptations even has its own name, the ‘Robinsonade’.
Robinson Crusoe in French
This is the first French edition, and the first to include a full set of engraved illustrations. The images present Crusoe’s story as a spiritual journey from rebellion to redemption and from youth to maturity. They start with his row with his father, his punishment by shipwreck and the ‘terrible Dream’ which prompts Crusoe to pray to God (p. 75). There are two violent clashes with ‘savages’, in which Crusoe saves Friday and the Spaniard, and the last picture shows his triumphant departure from the island.
The book was printed in Amsterdam and translated by the Dutch journalist Justus van Effen (1684‒1735), who made his name bringing English works to Continental Europe. Van Effen was assisted by the French satirical writer Hyacinthe Cordonnier (known as Thémiseul de Sainte-Hyacinthe, 1684‒1746).
The map of Crusoe’s voyage and frontispiece portraying Crusoe
The frontispiece by Bernard Picart (1673‒1733) shows Crusoe with a long moustache and ‘great clumsy ugly Goat-Skin Umbrella’ (p. 127).
The French text also includes a map of Crusoe’s voyage, designed by the great cartographer Herman Moll. This originally appeared in the fourth English edition (1719) and is translated into French here.