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Robinson Crusoe

Robinson Crusoe is the title of a novel by Daniel Defoe, first published on April 25, 1719 and sometimes regarded as the first novel in the English language.

Crusoe, the eponymous hero, is shipwrecked on a remote island, and the book mainly concerns his struggle for survival. Defoe's real-life inspiration was a Scottish sailor named Alexander Selkirk, who lived alone for four years on an uninhabited island in the South Seas.

The first issue of the book was entered in the Stationers' Register[?] in London as April 23, 1719. The reception was immediate and universal. Before the end of the year, this first volume had run through four editions. Within a matter of decades, it had reached an audience as wide as any book ever written in English. It had become part of the literary consciousness of European civilization. It is the most widely read book after the Bible, although the Guinness Book of World Records[?] claims the same rank. By the end of the nineteenth century, "Crusoe" had appeared in at least 700 editions, translations, and imitations.

No single book in the history of Western literature[?] has spawned more editions, translations (even into languages such as Eskimo, Coptic, and Maltese[?]), imitations, continuations, and sequels than Robinson Crusoe. There have been hundreds of adaptations in dozens of languages, from the brilliant Swiss Family Robinson[?], to Luis Buñuel's film version.

The first part of the Crusoe series is called "The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe of York, Mariner, ... Written by Himself." The second part, called "The Further Adventures of Robinson Crusoe," was intended to be the last part of his stories, according to the original title-page of its first edition. The final text of Part One was composed perhaps in London or, according to Gildon[?], in Stoke Newington not long before its publication.

Robinson spends 28 years castaway[?] on his island. Little by little, bit by bit, he makes over the island, converting it into a habitable estate. He returns home to England just before the 1688 Bloodless revolution[?] that dismissed the Stuart kings[?] and eventually brought the Hanoverian succession of England. Robinson is not a hero but an everyman. He begins as a wanderer, aimless on a sea he does not understand; he ends as a pilgrim, crossing a final mountain to enter the promised land[?], according to J.P. Hunter[?].

Despite its simple narrative style and the absence of the supposedly indispensable love motive[?], no modern book can boast of such worldwide esteem. Novelist James Joyce eloquantly noted that the true symbol of the British conquest[?] is Robinson Crusoe: "He is the trueprototype of the British colonist[?]...The whole Anglo-Saxon spirit is in Crusoe: the manly independence, the unconscious cruelty, the persistence, the slow yet efficient intelligence, the sexual apathy[?], the calculating taciturnity[?]."

Debate over Selkirk as the inspiration for Crusoe The Selkirk conjecture rests primarily on the assumption that Defoe usually capitalized on current news events. In 1709 Alexander Selkirk was rescued by Woodes Rogers[?]' expedition after four years on the island of Juan Fernández[?]. Rogers's "Cruising Voyage[?]" was published in 1712, with an account of Alexander Selkirk's ordeal.

It is not clear whether Defoe borrowed from "Cruising Voyage" extensively, wrote Seidel. The assumptions[?] which, when pursued in one direction, lead to more serious misconceptions[?] about "Robinson Crusoe," noted J. Paul Hunter[?]. As Professor W.P. Trent[?] has observed, Selkirk's island is not Crusoe's island. We may add that Selkirk is not Crusoe, noted Secord (1924: 32). Chalmers[?] has satisfactorily vindicated Robinson Crusoe from being a piracy of Alexander Selkirk's papers, wrote the editor Pat Rogers[?] in Defoe: The Critical Heritage[?] (Routledge and Kegan Paul[?], 1972: 57).

Sir Walter Scott, who knew the 18th century well, had this observation: It is not certain that the author was obliged to the real hermit of Juan Fernandez even for the original hint..., and the account of Robinson Crusoe's thoughts and occupations so distinctly traced, that the course of the work embraces a far wider circle of investigation into human nature, than could be derived from that of Selkirk (Rogers, 1972: 77)

Other real-life castaways were reduced to an extremely primitive condition, or lost the use of speech, in a space of a few years. One report describes a Frenchman who, after two years of solitude on Mauritius, tore his clothing to pieces in a fit of madness brought on by a diet of nothing but raw turtles. Another story has to do with a Dutch seaman who was left alone on the island of St. Helena as punishment. He fell into such despair[?] that he disinterred the body of a buried comrade and he set out to sea in the coffin (Mandelslo[?], 1662: 246). Another castaway, Peter de Serrano[?], was rescued after seven years of solitude, according to Rycaut[?] and Secord. However, studies of life on desert islands[?] were neither long nor detailed. Perhaps two or three covered more than a dozen pages. To plunder from any one of these a story so abundantly stocked with detail as "Robinson Crusoe" is manifestly impossible (Secord, 1924: 26).

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