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The Mind's Isle

Imaginary Islands in English Fiction

Adrian Kempton

Taking as its point of departure The Odyssey, Plato’s account of Atlantis and The Voyages of Sindbad the Sailor, this book examines the profound influence of these works on the development of island fiction as a genre specific to English literature. Close readings of island fictions from the past four centuries reveal the many ways in which they adapt, rewrite and refer back to these foundational texts, forming an important and intriguing literary tradition. Examples of the genre include such universal classics as Utopia, The Tempest, Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver’s Travels, Treasure Island and Lord of the Flies.

Islands have always attracted travellers, writers and dreamers. This book leads the reader on a voyage of exploration to understand exactly what lies behind the island’s powerful appeal to the literary imagination. Along the way, it explores the cultural and historical background to Britain’s island status and its legacy of colonialism and imperialism.

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Chapter 8: Robinson Crusoe


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Robinson Crusoe

Of the works of fiction discussed so far not one has been the story of a solitary castaway on an uninhabited island. In recounting the adventures and reflections of Robinson Crusoe, lone survivor on a desert island for almost twenty-five years – before being joined by the native, Friday, with whom he spends another three years or so of marooned existence – Daniel Defoe initiated a whole new branch of island literature.

Defoe is acknowledged as the first major novelist in English literature and The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe – his first venture into lengthy prose fiction – is considered as the foundation stone in what has come to be called ‘The Rise of the Novel’ in the eighteenth century; whose main exponents, apart from Defoe, were Samuel Richardson, Henry Fielding, Tobias Smollett and Laurence Sterne. Although this view of the development of the novel in England, notably promulgated by Ian Watt in his classic study The Rise of the Novel (1957), has met with considerable critical reserve on the part of those who claim that the origins of the novel can be traced to a much earlier date,1 no one has seriously questioned the crucial role played by Defoe in the development of prose fiction and as ancestor of the memoir novel. The importance of Robinson Crusoe, in particular, can be attributed in part to the way in which it is a synthesis of...

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