torstai 5. helmikuuta 2009

Daniel Defoe: Robinson Crusoe

It happened one day about noon going towards by boat, I was exceedingly surprized with the print of a man's naked foot on the shore, which was very plain to be seen in the sand. I stood like one thunder-struck, or as if I had seen an apparition; I listened, I looked round me, I could hear nothing, nor see any thing; I went up to a rising ground to look farther; I went up the shore and down the shore, but it was all one, I could see no other impression but that one. I went to it again to see if there were any more, and to observe if it might not be my fancy; but there was no room for that, for there was exactly the very print of a foot, toes, heel, and every part of a foot; how it came thither I knew not, nor could in the least imagine.

Like a well-trained product of the Western society, I too read Robinson Crusoe (first published in 1719) for the first time when I was quite young. Of course, that was not the full story, but some kind of abridged, censored, children's edition in Finnish. Nevertheless, I was not only carried away by the adventure, but also strangely fascinated by Crusoe's obsession with making lists. :) Lists of things he got off the ship, listed inventories of his belongings, lists of animals and plants... This all appealed to the horribly pedantic list-maker within me.

I think this is the first time I've read this (arguably) earliest novel in the world with a more critical eye. Trying to look beyond the unrealistic, almost naïve adventure story and see the more serious themes: the supremacy of a white man over his non-white servant, the Western fear of cannibalism and the Other, the cold economy of colonising and dominating the island... I especially disliked the way Crusoe became a sort of superhuman at the end. The novel also seems to rush to an abrupt ending, including a strangely out-of-place episode of being attacked by wolves somewhere in southern Europe, which I'm sure was never included in the abridged versions!

Robinson Crusoe also seems to promote all the stereotypes of masculinity. Female characters simply do not exist (with the fascinatingly, if unintentionally, symbolic exception of a female cat that manages to defy the hegemonic masculinity of the island by actually reproducing - to the extreme annoyance of the main character!). Robinson Crusoe does get married at the end of the book, but Daniel Defoe manages to sum up his marriage, children and the death of his wife all in one sentence: In the mean time I in part settled my self here; for first of all I marry'd, and that not either to my disadvantage or dissatisfaction, and had three children, two sons and one daughter: but my wife dying [...] my inclination to go abroad [...] prevailed and engaged me [...].

Below is the novel's title in full. What a spoiler! :P

Daniel Defore: 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 Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, where-in all the Men perished but himself. With An Account how he was at last as strangely deliver'd by Pyrates. Written by Himself. Penguin Books. 1965.

Wikipedia: Robinson Crusoe
Wikipedia: Daniel Defoe

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