12. Robinson Crusoe – Daniel Defoe.
History: It was first published in 1719, and is sometimes considered to be the first novel in English. The positive reception was immediate and universal. Before the end of the year, this first volume had run through four editions. Within years, it had reached an audience as wide as any book ever written in English. Defoe's initial inspiration for Crusoe is usually thought to be a Scottish sailor named Alexander Selkirk, who was rescued in 1709 after four years on the uninhabited island.
Plot: Crusoe leaves England, setting sail in September 1651, against the wishes of his parents, who want him to stay home and become a businessman. After a few tumultuous journeys, and after purchasing a Plantation in Brazil, his lust for the sea remains so strong that he sets out to sea again. He joins an expedition to bring slaves from Africa, but then is shipwrecked in a storm about forty miles out to sea on an island September 30, 1659. His companions all die. Having overcome his despair, he fetches arms, tools, and other supplies from the ship before it breaks apart and sinks. He proceeds to build a fenced-in habitation near a cave which he excavates himself. He keeps a calendar by making marks in a wooden cross built by himself, hunts, grows corn, learns to make pottery, raises goats, etc., using tools created from stone and wood which he harvests on the island, and adopts a small parrot. He reads the Bible and suddenly becomes religious. Years later, he discovers native cannibals who occasionally visit the island to kill and eat prisoners. When a prisoner manages to escape, Crusoe helps him, naming his new companion "Friday" after the day of the week he appeared. Crusoe then teaches him English and converts him to Christianity. After another party of natives arrive to partake in a cannibal feast, Crusoe and Friday manage to kill most of the natives and save two of the prisoners. One is Friday's father and the other is a Spaniard, who informs Crusoe that there are other Spaniards shipwrecked on the mainland. Soon an English ship appears; mutineers have taken control of the ship and intend to maroon their former captain on the island. Crusoe helps the captain and the loyalist sailors retake the ship from the mutineers, whereupon they intend to leave the worst of the mutineers on the island. Before they leave for England, Crusoe shows the former mutineers how he lived on the island, and states that there will be more men coming. Crusoe leaves the island December 19th, 1686, and arrives back in England June 11th, 1687. He learns that his family believed him dead and there was nothing in his father's will for him. However, his estate in Brazil granted him a large amount of wealth. In conclusion, he takes his wealth over land to England to avoid traveling at sea. Friday comes with him and along the way they endure one last adventure together as they fight off hundreds of famished wolves while crossing the Pyrenees.
Review: My freshman year at college I took a novel class and enjoyed it tremendously. Because this is noted to be the first English novel, it was first on the list. This book was a struggle though… Of course I already knew the story and shipwrecked novels have always grabbed me.
Opening Line: I was born the year of 1632, in the city of York, of a good family, tho’ not of that country, my father being a foreigner of Bremen, who settled first at Hull.
Closing Line: But all these things, with an account how 300 Caribbees came and invaded them, and ruin’d their plantations, and how they fought with that whole number twice, and were at first defeated, and three of them kill’d, but at last a storm destroying their enemies’ canoes, they famish’d or destroy’d almost all the rest, and renew’d and recover’d the possession of the their things, with some very surprising incidents in some new adventures of my own, for ten years more, I may perhaps give a farther account of hereafter.
Quotes: “O drug!” said I aloud, “what art thou good for? Thou art not worth to me, no, not the taking off of the ground; one of those knives is worth all this heap; I have no manner of use for thee;”