Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719) is one of the most important novels of the eighteenth century, and of the English literature. It is certainly the first novel in the sense that it is the first fictional narrative in which the ordinary person’s activities are the centre of continuous literary attention. Before that, in the early eighteenth century, authors like Pope, Swift, Addison and Steele looked back to the Rome of Caesar Augustus (27 BC – 14 AD) as a golden age. That period is called the Augustan age. Literature was very different since it focused on mythology and epic heroes. However, to what extent can Robinson Crusoe be called the “first novel” and how is it different from all that have been done so far? Besides, what are the evolutions in the novel genre leading to Victorian novels, like Pride and Prejudice published almost one hundred years later (1813) in terms of style, themes and concerns? Augustan writers, before Daniel Defoe, were very protective of the status quo and their novels were philosophical and religious, based on a myth of the eternal fitness of things. By contrast, Defoe stood for revolutionary change, economic individualism, social mobility, trade, and freedom of consciousness. For Swift, Defoe was “the fellow that was pilloried, I have forgotten his name.” He represented at once a social literary and intellectual challenge to the Augustan world, and the Augustans reacted to him accordingly. In Robinson Crusoe, Defoe deals with major points of Western civilisation like trade, mercantile capitalism since at that time, a great attempt was made to dominate other continents, spread culture, beliefs, like for example, when Robinson tries to convert Friday into Christianity, as he considers him a savage. In the eighteenth century, British economically depended on slave trade, which was abolished on the early 1800s. Therefore, Daniel Defoe was familiar with this practise, even though he did not actively criticise it. There is consequently no surprise that, Robinson treats Friday as his slave. However, Crusoe is able to recognise Friday’s humanity, though he does not see his slavery as a contradiction. Robinson Crusoe was written in a context of a European colonialism well established around the globe. Next, material wealth is a sign of prestige and power in Robinson’s mind. For instance, he often lists his belongings, like the amount of land ploughed, his provisions, and he stores the coins found on various wrecks. On top of that, he calls his “base,” his “castle” and eventually considers himself as a “King.” Therefore, material power is an important element as well as religion and faith in the novel. Robinson rejects his father’s advice and religious teachings at the beginning of the novel, in order to travel and have some adventure and wealth. Although, his shipwreck can be considered as a moral punishment and his disobedience as a sin, the protagonist did accumulate wealth and did survive at the end of the novel. Thus, the fact that he was punished can be argued and discussed. Robinson’s opinion about religion is very clear. He is a puritan and tries to spread his convictions on the island to convert into Christianity Friday, who is very rational. The hero simply refuses Friday’s own beliefs, thinking that his religion is the best one. This thought may be due to the fact that British people believed that they had a right and a duty to transmit their knowledge, culture and religion. By contrast, Pride and Prejudice was written a century later, and therefore, the worries were no longer the same. In Jane Austen’s novel, there is a complete shift to everyday life and society’s concerns. The writer reveals the ethical basis of everyday life, and shows how “the ordinary occurrences of the world, no less than great actions, were centred on moral conventions, moral judgement and moral choice” so that, living in such a society required a constant will and intellect to control the self...
Bibliography: Defoe, D. Robinson Crusoe. 1719. London: Penguin Popular Classics, 1994.
Skilton, D. The English novel: Defoe to the Victorians. Newton Abbot: David and Charles, 1977.
Loveridge, M. A history of Augustan fable. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
Secord, A.W. Studies in the Narrative Method of Defoe. New York: Russell and Russell, 1963: 9-108.
Sherbo, A. Studies in the Eighteenth Century English Novel. Michigan: Michigan State UP, 1969: ch.10.
Skinner, J. An Introduction to Eighteenth-Century Fiction. Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2001.
Spaas, L. Robinson Crusoe: Myths and Metamorphoses. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1996.
Please join StudyMode to read the full document