02/21/01
Robinson Crusoe Month
    by Rita Smith

February is Robinson Crusoe month, named in honor of the anniversary of the rescue on February 1, 1709, of Alexander Selkirk, a Scottish sailor who had been put ashore in September 1704, on an uninhabited island at his own request after a quarrel with his captain. Ten years later, Daniel Defoe published The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe loosely based on Selkirk's adventures on the island. It was not originally written for children, but in 1719 there was hardly anything written for children; they had to make do with what they could find to their taste from literature written for adults. One of the first of such books, which they took over for themselves was The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe. It isn't hard to see the attractions such a work had, and still has, for children--with their desire for privacy, their love of hideouts and their wish to organise and control their lives--especially when all this is told with Defoe's careful attention to the most minute details.1 Children read Robinson Crusoe and continue to read it because it is an exciting story that stirs the imagination.

Abridgements began to appear almost as soon as it was printed and by 1750 the original 300-plus page text could even be found in chapbooks of 16 or 8 pages. The first abridgement intended especially for children was published in 1768 by Francis Newbery. Many other childrenís versions followed and in a poll taken in 1888 it was far and away the favorite boy's book.

Robinson Crusoe has remained hugely popular with children and inspired a whole genre of literature, known as the Robinsonnade. Early imitators such as Campe's The New Robinson Crusoe and Wyssí The Swiss Family Robinson followed Rousseauesque themes of education through exercise of the natural arts as required by necessity. Victorian versions of the Crusoe story, such as Marryatís Masterman Ready and Ballantineís Coral Island stressed adventure, manliness, and self-help. Elements of the Robinsonnade turn up again and again in the typical childrenís adventure story from the mid 19th century onward. More recent examples include O'Dell's Island of the Blue Dolphin and Taylorës The Cay. The lure of the struggle of one person in cruel and unforgiving conditions of nature continues to this day. The Crusoe story is one of unparalleled adventure in concert with the ingenuity and inventiveness needed to establish a semblence of domestic routine. Iím not going to advocate finding an island to tame, but in honor of Robinson Crusoe month maybe a re-reading of The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe would be appropriate, and in the spirit of Robinson Crusoe, make February a month to be adventurous and self-reliant.

1Dixon, Bob. Catching Them Young 2: Political Ideas in Childrenís Fiction, Pluto Press, 1977, pp. 74-119. Reprinted on the Literature Resource Center website of the Gale Group website: http://galenet.gale.com/

Sources:

Carpenter, Humphrey and Mari Prichard. The Oxford Companion to Chldrenís Literature. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1984. p. 457-459.

Dixon, Bob. ìCatching them Young 2, Political Ideas in Childrenís Fiction,î Pluto Press, 1977. pp. 74-119. Reprinted on the Literature Resource Center website of the Gale Group website: http://galenet.gale.com/

Copyright © 2001 by Rita Smith

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