History of Literature #82 – Robinson Crusoe

robinson-crusoe

In 1719, a prolific author and political agitator named Daniel Defoe published a long-form narrative about a shipwrecked sailor stranded on a desert island, who lives in solitude for 27 years before famously seeing a human footprint on the sand. Often viewed as the first novel written in English, Robinson Crusoe was a smash hit in its day and has been popular ever since. Who was Daniel Defoe, and how did he go from being the owner of a brick-and-tile factory to being the author of 500 works (and a paid spy)? How does his classic adventure story forge a path for novels and novel writing? How did this work become so popular – and why did its protagonist, a man coming to grips with both solitude and the absence of society, become a modern literary myth? And finally, we take a look at the story of Alexander Selkirk, the real-life survivor who may have served as the inspiration for Defoe’s classic character.

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