Monday, February 13, 2012

Not Quite The Castaway

Robinson Crusoe isn’t quite the castaway that I was expecting when I read this novel last week (especially comparing it to the excellent movie Castaway) but he is enormous fun. 

I had this on my reading list because last year I read The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins and it was the favourite novel of one of the characters who constantly quoted from it.  It certainly does contain plenty of thought provoking anecdotes.

Crusoe is the sole survivor of a shipwreck (not his first either by the way) and he spends the next 28 years marooned on a desert island.  Amazingly though this island seems to be able to supply him with all his wants and needs – there are goats which he kills for meat and obtains milk; and grapes which he dries into raisins to begin with.  Later he grows corn, makes a type of bread, learns how to make cheese, weaves baskets and fires clay pots.  He has a ‘house’ on the beach which he calls his ‘castle’ and then he has his ‘country retreat’ further into the island.  Crusoe certainly makes the best of a bad situation, whilst berating himself for not taking his father’s advice many years ago and abandoning his plans to go to sea in the first place.  His father, being a pious man, had planted the seed in Crusoe’s mind about God's punishment should he go to sea which he refers to throughout the novel.

Whilst the plot is pretty whimsical, it does reach a defining moment when one day the lonesome Crusoe finds a footprint in the sand.  Suddenly the idealistic life becomes one of fear and constant looking over his shoulder.

Daniel Defoe
There are plenty of moments where you just cringe, but they do relate to the times when this novel was written.  Crusoe was in fact on a voyage to purchase Negroes, to bring back to the Brazils as slaves, at the time of his shipwreck.  One day after many years on the island, and with cannibals being bi-annual visitors to the other side of the island, he saves a Negro man from imminent consumption.  This man is called Friday as that was the day, by Crusoe’s reckoning, on which he saved him.  We never actually find out what this poor man’s real name is.  Crusoe dresses Friday in jackets and breeches made from goatskin which probably would have been excruciatingly uncomfortable, not to mention hot, and taught Friday to say his (Crusoe’s) name which was ‘Master’!!  Appalling!

The best thing about this book though, for me, was the fact that it was written nearly 300 years ago yet the language is simple and the story entertaining. I can imagine Defoe in his elaborately curly wig, fingers stained with ink, writing with his quill by candlelight, and giving his readers a glimpse of far away places that most people could not even begin to imagine yet alone visit.  That’s pretty magical.

Until next time


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