Robinson Crusoe biography
The adventures of Robinson Crusoe penetrated into common consciousness and became world known. Thousands of editions- it could be spoken of 20 editions in Slovakia and 90 in Czech republic. But immense popularity caused that the true Robinson Crusoe is nearly unknown. For some readers the whole initial part, in which Robinson was captured on his journeys to Spain, Portugal after his rescue from the island will be absolutely new. Going through different editions, we will find out that our hero has completely different experiences, the plot is running differently. We can read in numerous remakes and overworks of this book that Robinson Crusoe comes from York, in other book form Hamburg or even form Bremen. We could only wonder how many varieties of Robinson Crusoe exist. They differ not only in initial and final parts, but also in the time the hero spent on the island: 28 years, 2 months and 19 days; or 17 years and 11 months or 11 years etc. Except of the intimately known Friday we can find in some books also a man named Thursday. But how is it possible that there are so many varieties of his book? The explanation is very simple. The book simply paid tax to its popularity.
The book was published for the first time in 1719 and it was an immediate success, an extraordinary one. Several repeated editions came out in the very same year. The row of translations has started already in the year 1790. The process of shortening and remaking of R.C. starts in this year too. This work was of course filmed many times, also in many forms, sometimes not very convenient ones (even misused for political aims in Germany).
The unknown may be seen as mysterious. What is in many examples the case of Daniel Defoe - what may be viewed as a paradox. Indeed he lived at the end of the 17-th and the beginning of the 18-th century. He was a famous, publicly active person. I am speaking about unbelievably fruitful journalist, writer. He spoke about himself in puzzles, as if he wanted to cover his personality into secret clothes, as if he wanted to hide the footsteps of his existence and work. Daniel Defoe was a merchant, to whom deceits, endless speculations and bankrupts were not strange. A contractor, journalist, writer but at the same time a spy and an informer. He had a very complicated and contradictory personality.
He was born in St.
Giles in Cripplegate probably in the year 1660 (also the year of his birth is questenionable-anyway this fact doesn’t surprise me, in the 17-th century only small attention was devoted to the preciseness of personal data). His original name was Foe, but coming near his 40th birthday he changed his name. Why? There are several theories, e.g.: because name Foe meant an enemy, or the prefix De was to show a noble origin, even though his father was a simple chandler and a butcher, or precisely therefore.
Daniel Defoe studied theology, because schools Oxford and Cambridge weren’t accessible for him as a presbyterian. Finally he did not become a preacher, but a merchant. He was doing a business with bet material, knitted things and stockings, what for he was not saved from ironical remarks of literary critics. He wa unbelievable speculator, a wild and regardless plunderer. Only between years 1688/1694 he was involved in 8 trials and accused of deceit in all of them. He had to hide before creditors, he was afraid of coming into jail for debtors. Often he overestimated his abilities with risky mannars, unknowledge, unbelievable regardlness and irresponsibility, or bad intentions. Defoe wrote: „An English merchant is a kind of Phoenix that rises form its own ash.“-this characteristics inherited also R.Crusoe. The unbelievable lust for life, courage.
Robinson Crusoe was (before and after his stauy on the island), even a brilliant merchant He knows all kinds of money, though he says it is only rubbish, he takes them with him on the island and lays them aside very carefully. And of course he doesn`t forgot to take the money coming back to civilization. Many people believe that Robinson Crusoe is an allegory of a real human life, the author alone himself writes in foreword, that „plot though allegorical, is also historical“ and swears by his soul that it is a survey if real 28-year life. Several events between life of Robinson Cruose and life of Defoe are compared: R.Crusoe was born on 30.09.1632, Defoe probably on the same day in the year 1660. R. Crusoe shipwrecked on 30.09.1659, while D. Defoe lived after the uprising in 1687 in separation for 27 years in Tooting. In 1660 R.Crusoe visited the opposite side of his island and during 1688 D.Defoe visited Scotland. So if not an allegory, what is this book? It contains multitude of data handed with such convincingness, that we have an impression of absolute reality in the data, indeed. Quantity of details makes up the feeling of reality without word, though we must come to a conclusion, that whole plot is invented.
Critics say about Defoe, that he was gifted in telling lies, what was however strange indeed, Defoe’s main profession was journalist, what meant: reality, facts and happening (events). Defoe wanted to shock his readers. Therefore is Robinson Crusoe full of catastrophes, cannibals, pirates, storms and earthquakes. The fact is that Robinson Crusoe was not a book written for children, it only became later by regulation, time mistakes intentional, or only the result of writer’s carelessness. It seems to me that Defoe even didn’t read after himself, what he wrote. His contemporaries had an opinion that he was a liar; plenty of articles written by him were invented, although he was the one who claimed in name of Robinson Crusoe that lies and half-truths are dangerous. Here we can see a contradiction between things he wrote and his real behavior. He was working more and more often with literary fiction. He got so skillful in it that an uninformed reader wouldn’t notice that what he is just reading is pure invention. That’s exactly the point where Defoe overlaps the borders of journalism and gets into another level, level of a new literary genre – novel, realistic novel. He is taken as its father. A novel is invention, fiction. This is the reason why we can’t compare Daniel Defoe with Robinson Crusoe. It is very easy to show that Robinson Crusoe is an invention, let’s consider Defoe’s description of tropical nature and animals- it is only superficial, inexact and is similar to the description of European countries: „I discovered there brook with fresh, very good spring water. There was green grass growing on both banks of the river“, or the words „there were immensely big animals of many species“- we can see even from these two fragment that Defoe apparently had no idea how a tropical nature looked like. Critics consider him to be one of the most disorderly English writers. For example: after Robison Crusoe saved himself from the shipwreck, he decided to investigate the wreck. He put off his clothes and jumped into the water. On the ship he found stock of food, among them also crackers and filled all of his pockets with it. The question is what pockets, when he put off his clothes?! Or in another part we could read Robinson salted meat, but several pages on he couldn’t bake bread because he lacked salt. We can find plenty of misunderstandings like these. We say misunderstandings or untruth. But what do we consider as an error in fiction? For example no one criticized that Robinson Crusoe met on the coast of West Africa a tiger, though a zoologist would catch at least at his head.
On the other hand many mistakes were caused by translator: the English word Indian indicates inhabitants of India and first inhabitants of America too. In some cases translator corrected author’s mistakes, but had a translator right to do this?
Robinson Crusoe is evaluated as a masterpiece of literary fiction. We may only admire the simple means Defoe has used. Professor Trent said about Robinson Crusoe: „Its form can be imitated, but not its spirit“.
J.Vítek: Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe -
B.Hlinka: Robinson Crusoe myth and reality -
R.S.Belousov: Books are keeping it in secret -