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Robinson Crusoe

Robinson Crusoe

Of all Defoe’s works, the most famous is his first novel, Robinson Crusoe, written when he was sixty years old. Such was its popularity that it was published no fewer than nine times in 1719 and has never since gone out of print.

The probable influences of the work are numerous, including the vast amount of travel literature that was popular at the time. The most important of these was the account of Alexander Selkirk, the Scottish sailor who was left alone on the island of Juan Fernandez for over four months and rescued on January 31, 1709. Later writers even accused Defoe of stealing Selkirk’s manuscript and claiming it as his own. Other influences include current events such as British colonial endeavors and religious debates. Rising above any mere social commentary or adventure story, however, Robinson Crusoe “is the greatest mythic fantasy ever written of the solitary survivor who will never succumb” (ODNB).

First Editions

Robinson Crusoe Title Page
The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner: Who Lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an un-inhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been Cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself. With an Account how he was at last as strangely deliver’d by Pyrates. Written by Himself. London: Printed for W. Taylor at the Ship in Pater-Noster-Row. MDCCXIX.

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In the centuries since its first printing, Robinson Crusoe has been read as an economic parable, a spiritual autobiography, an adventure story, and as a fable illustrating human development and education. Novak argues that there is “enough in it to support what might seem to be entirely separate readings.”* It is this multifaceted nature that explains its perennial popularity over hundreds of years and in over a hundred languages.

The first edition, first issue of the book, published on April 25, 1719. From the collection of J.K. Lilly.

Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe
The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe; being the Second and Last Part of his Life, and of the Strange Surprizing Accounts of his Travels round three Parts of the Globe. Written by Himself. To which is added a Map of the World, in which is Delineated the Voyages of Robinson Crusoe. London: Printed for W. Taylor at the Ship in Pater-Noster-Row. MDCCXIX.

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First edition, first issue of the sequel to Robinson Crusoe, written in August of the same year and thereafter often printed alongside the first book. Includes a preface in which Defoe condemns those who would abridge the work (and then reprint it more cheaply), likening the crime to highway robbery and house-breaking. A pirated abridgment had been printed only weeks before.

From the collection of J.K. Lilly.

Serious Reflections Title Page
Serious Reflections during the Life and Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe: with his Vision of the Angelick World. Written by Himself. London: Printed for W. Taylor at the Ship and Black-Swan in Pater-noster-Row. 1720.

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First edition of the third and final part of the Crusoe story. This part of the work, which is a series of essays rather than an adventure narrative, was not so well received and was seldom printed alongside the previous two parts of the story.

From the collection of J.K. Lilly.

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Last Updated: 17 August 2008
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