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Daniel Defoe’s “Robinson Crusoe”

BLOG #9, SERIES #8
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB #62
ROBINSON CRUSOE
March 1, 2017

It is long past time for us to feature one of the greatest books ever written—unthinkable to complete your life’s journey without reading it at least once.

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McLoughlin Brothers, 1890’s Edition

I spent about a year of my life researching, reading, and editing my editions of Robinson Crusoe. Initially, three centuries ago, both Part I and Part II were published as one book. But, as time passed, more and more publishers left out the second part completely. When Focus on the Family/Tyndale House published my edition of the book, it was decided to issue it in two parts: Robinson Crusoe (1997) and The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1999).

I shall now share with you some of the thoughts I expressed in my 63-page Introduction/Bio:

THE LONGEVITY OF
ROBINSON CRUSOE

How or why does one book survive, and another not? This has to be one of life’s ultimate rhetorical questions. Very few books outlive the generation they are written for—fewer still the second generation. But to live for more than three centuries, as Robinson Crusoe has done—that’s a miracle.

Strange as it seems, Robinson Crusoe’s resilience astonished even its author, Daniel Defoe. Usually, an author knows instinctively when he has written a great book. Apparently, Defoe did not. Perhaps it was because he didn’t really know what he had written—for nothing remotely like Robinson Crusoe had ever been published before.

From all indications, Defoe wrote the book, not because he had the proverbial “fire in the gut” (having to write the thing or die), but because he had a fire at his heels: His creditors were after him again. Imagine how much of our greatest literature would never have been created without that eternal struggle to survive—to keep food on one’s table and a roof over one’s head!

Initially, Defoe was simply trying to capitalize on the current mania for travel books. But he went beyond the genre by personalizing the story with the character of a shipwrecked mariner. Also, Defoe chose to pour a lot of his tormented self and his remarkable life into Robinson Crusoe—especially his growing loneliness.

Defoe could not have written this book earlier in his life. He had to first be battered by the years. Defoe remained on the cutting edge of his time because, for most of his sixty years of life, he gobbled up knowledge. He would rush to buy travel books only hours after they left the press, and he researched his ever-changing world exhaustively and unceasingly. Because of his efforts, we are able to see into the world as it was known at Crusoe’s time.

The vast continent of Africa, for example, was still “dark”: Not even Livingstone had trekked across it. Also unknown was that frozen world to the north.” (p. xi)

* * *

Defoe wrote his best, and most enduring, works in the final years of his life. It was as if God had been preparing him all those years for that moment. Through the years, he had always found a new direction out of the ashes of defeat. Thus he concluded that out of disaster,. God always points us to a better way. [In the original, Defoe wrote a moving conversion story into Part I, and another into Part II. Sadly, most modern publishers leave both out!] Defoe began to experiment as he never had before—with new points of view, different kinds of narrators, different kinds of characters and characterizations, different literary forms.

Somewhere between 1714 and 1717, Defoe began thinking about doing something that had rarely been done before: writing a story in plain English prose so that everyone could understand and enjoy it. It would be a story about life—especially about the loneliness of life. And since Bunyan had set his Pilgrim’s Progress in England, Defoe would go farther away, perhaps even travel around the world. And instead of a prison of iron bars, his character would be cast on a deserted island in the middle of the ocean. That certainly would be a prison! He’d name the protagonist after his childhood friend: Timothy Cruso. Except “Timothy” wasn’t quite right. He’d have to come up with a better first name.

Once Defoe unleashed his alter ego, Robinson Crusoe, and put himself in his place, absolutely alone on an island, something began to happen: The story became increasingly real to him. Defoe couldn’t have Crusoe do or say anything uncharacteristic, for he saw every reader saying to himself as he read, “Yes! If I were in Crusoe’s place, that’s exactly what I would have thought/said/done.”

Though he himself couldn’t travel the world, there were plenty of resources Defoe could use to provide the information he needed. He reread William Daumpier’s book A New Voyage Around the World, published in 1703, which related the story of an Indian marooned for three years on San Fernando Island. Speaking of San Fernando Island, wasn’t that the one that Alexander Selkirk had been left on for four years, until Captain Cook rescued him? That tale was in A Voyage to the South Sea, and Around the World, published in 1712. Then there was Captain Woodes Roger’s book A Cruising Voyage Around the World, also published in 1712. Two other good voyage books were Daniel Beckman’s Voyage to and from the Island of Borneo, published in 1718; and James Janeway’s Legacy to His Friends, published in 1674. The latter dealt with God’s providence, something most writers ignored. And then there were a number of travel books such as Hakluyt’s Voyages that would help when Crusoe got off the island and made up for lost time by really traveling.

When Defoe delivered the finished manuscript to William Taylor at Sign of the Ship in Paternoster Row, April 25, 1719, he did not do so with pride. He knew Robinson Crusoe was good, but this kind of story would be looked down on by so many people. Well, the 100-pound payment would cover quite a few bills.

Sadly for the Defoe family, 100 pounds was all Defoe ever received for the book. It would be others who would make a fortune from it. The first printing in late April was for 1,000 copies; by May 9, a second printing had been done; by June 6, a third printing was ordered. Within a year, Robinson Crusoe had been translated into French, German, and Dutch. By the end of the nineteenth century, 181 years later, it had come out in more than 700 different editions—today, that number is well over 1,000. Without question, it is one of the best-selling books of all time.

The second part of the book, The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, was published in August 1719. Many editions include only the first part of the story: Crusoe’s life on the island. (pp. xiii, iv).

ARCHAIC WORDS

Three centuries ago, our language was somewhat different from today’s. Consequently, whenever I came across a word that was too archaic to show up in standard dictionaries, I footnoted it and provided the original meaning of the word.

Focus/Tyndale Edition - 1997
Focus/Tyndale Edition – 1997

PARAGRAPHING

Defoe utilized monstrous paragraphs; in mercy to the modern reader, I separated such run-on text into paragraphs at natural breaks. I also provided headings where needed (usually using Defoe’s own words).

ILLUSTRATIONS

I also wanted to bring back what has been virtually lost during the last century: marvelous woodcut illustrations. These were true works of art that not only captured wonderfully the essence of the scenes being depicted but also give us faithful depictions of objects, people, cities, landmarks, etc., of the time. I incorporated the 120 original illustrations by Walter Paget that were used in the McLaughlin Brothers edition.

UNABRIDGED VS. ABRIDGED

One of the most dishonest practices I know of is for a publisher to abridge a book without acknowledging that at the front of the book—yet they do. Indeed, I’d venture to say that many modern editions are in fact abridgements. My texts are complete and unabridged. They also have Discussion Questions at the end of the book.

Focus/Tyndale Edition - 1999
Focus/Tyndale Edition – 1999

Should you be interested in picking up a copy of our (out-of-print) version, Robinson Crusoe (new) is available at $14.99, and The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (new) is $12.99 – plus the shipping at $6.00 per book.

Go to our web page: www.joewheelerbooks.com, and you can place your order there.

3 thoughts on “Daniel Defoe’s “Robinson Crusoe”

  1. Thank you. I just finished reading this book, and it was fascinating. Some of the sentences were long, but the exciting story more than made up for it.

    It is too bad that Defoe earned very little on his book.

  2. I just finished reading this book and found it fascinating. It contains long sentences, but the exciting story more than makes up for its deficiencies..

    It is too bad that Defoe earned very little from his book. Little did he realize that over three hundred years later the book would be among the best sellers.

  3. Very interesting story.

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