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Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

September 6, 2012

I read an abridged version of Robinson Crusoe as a kid and enjoyed it very much. I like castaway stories—particularly the survival aspect. Building shelter, planting crops, making due with whatever washes ashore. I recently read Jonathan Franzen’s essay “Farther Away,” where he talks in part about Robinson Crusoe and it gave me an itch to re-read the novel.

What I found this time, not surprisingly, is a novel that has much more depth than I remembered. There is literally more story—a decent amount of sailing about before Robinson ends up on his island, as well as a rather odd tale of fending off wolves during a backcountry trek through Europe after his rescue—but there’s also quite a bit more introspection that happens. Meditations on society, religion and the needs of man are well-placed to break up descriptions of life on the island.

The best moment of the novel, and one that surprised me by how much it shocked me, was when Robinson, who has by this time been living alone on the island for many years, comes across a single human footprint in the sand. The fear that it strikes and the fact that one might feel safer on a desert island alone than with a stranger, is an interesting commentary about human nature.

Robinson Crusoe was one of the earliest novels, first published in 1719. As such, the peculiarities of the language are really entertaining. But even if you’re not a word nerd like myself, there is still much to love about this classic.

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