When reading a book that is nearly 300 years old it is very hard not to see it through our more modern frame of reference. I felt this problem when reading the soppy sexism in Clarissa and I just could not stop cringing when I read this book.
I’ve said it before that a lot of these earlier books require editors. I mean Tom Jones certainly did. This is the first time where I have felt this way about a book that is less than 400 pages. It’s the sheer amount of exhaustive detail that Daniel Defoe goes into about pretty inane things. Then again it doesn’t help that this is written as a fictional autobiography and the character of Robinson Crusoe is awful.
At the time this was written – when the slave trade was booming and colonialism was in vogue – the character of Robinson Crusoe was very much an idealised man. He was a man of means, a religious zealot, the king of his castle and actively engaged in the slave trade.
Yes, he gets shipwrecked because he is looking for slaves to work on his plantation in the Brazils. His punishment for this is 28 years marooned on an island in the Caribbean where he somehow is able to work out a lot of things he shouldn’t be able to do such as making pottery, general agricultural practices and folk medicine. I say folk medicine… he comes down with a case of something similar to malaria and makes a weird cure by soaking tobacco leaves in rum. I might have gagged at this when reading on the train.
In all his alone time he makes no mention of missing the carnal pleasures. In fact he comments on how his new strengthened belief in God and Providence means he doesn’t miss it. Absolute crap. But hey, at least he finds a native man to tame, convert to Christianity and pretty much enslave and insult. Seriously this man is the worst.
There was a part of me that hoped the cannibals would get him, but that would not have made any sense from the point of view of this being an autobiography with a sequel.
Still, this is one of those books that has truly permeated our culture. I didn’t realise the idea of a boy or girl Friday came from this book… and I really wish I didn’t know that now. Hopefully the next thing I read will be less racist.