Defoe, Tournier, Coetzee and Deconstructive Re-visions of a Myth
In the introduction to the 1999 World’s Classic edition of Robinson Crusoe published by Oxford University Press, John Maxwell Coetzee writes:
Robinson Crusoe was Defoe’s first attempt at a long prose fiction. It is not his best book: Moll Flanders is more consistent in its execution; Roxana, though uneven, rises to greater heights. Robinson Crusoe suffers as a result of hasty composition and lack of revision. Its moral is confused. The last quarter of the book, as well as Crusoe’s early adventures, could have been carried off by any capable writer […]. Nevertheless, the core of Robinson Crusoe—Crusoe alone on the island—is Defoe at his best […]. Defoe is a great writer, one of the purest writers we have. (SS 20)
Coetzee’s mixed response is typical of the criticism on Robinson Crusoe, which points to the unique paradox of its unforgivable demerits and its enchanting effects. For centuries, the image of a single man surviving alone on a desert island has remained an inspiration to writers, so much so that even a subgenre in literature emerged: the Robinsonade. This word was first coined in 1731 by a German writer Johann Gottfried Schnabel, in the preface to Die Insel Felsenburg. Since then, it is used to refer to novels with a subject similar to that of Robinson Crusoe.
Responding to the multifarious forces of desire and motivations as a way to interpret Defoe’s text, the rewritings of the Robinson Crusoe story take on...
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