Robinson Crusoe: an Englishman of the Age

Francis Watson delights in Defoe's inimitable personage not only as the hero of one of the greatest of all adventure stories, but “as the portrait of an Englishman, a representative of the contemporary middle class, with a Protestant stimulus to hard work, founding a new age of commercial, industrial and political development.”

For admirers in all countries—and Defoe’s masterpiece has probably earned more translations than any other book except the Bible—the slightest excuse is good enough for going back to Robinson Crusoe: not perhaps to the Farther Adventures and the Serious Reflections, which are admittedly formidable, but at least to the full version of the Life and Strange Surprising Adventures, as the book first came from the printers in 1719.

The tercentenary of the casting of Crusoe on his island on September 30th, 1659, offers a peculiarly apt excuse. Not only was Defoe himself much taken with the significance of dates and anniversaries; but the popular and enduring inclination to accept Crusoe as a real, rather than an imaginary, figure provides the final vindication of Defoe’s craftsmanship. Many passages in Defoe’s own life remain mysterious or controversial; and during his last years, as his prospective son-in-law complained, he “hid himself in mists.”

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