Robinson Crusoe is now three hundred years old: the founder of the modern novel
The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe is not only one of the most famous novels ever written; it is also, in many ways, the very founder of the modern novel. He was released in England on April 25, 1719 and then turns 25 or 300 years old. The adventurous Daniel Defoe, an essayist, journalist, novelist and spy, published it at the age of 59 or 60.
Born in 1632 in York, Robinson disregarded the expectations of his father who would like him to be a lawyer, seeking his fortune on board. After several misadventures in the Mediterranean, he managed to cross the Atlantic and settle in Brazil, where he became the owner of a sugarcane plantation. Having embarked once again for Guinea to take part in the slave trade, he was shipwrecked off the coast of Venezuela, and landed, the only survivor, on a wild island at the mouth of the Orinoco River. Robinson, in the midst of the storm, doesn’t get too upset and uses the wreck to build rafts with which he transports to the shore the pieces needed to build a beautiful fort immediately.
The island is full of wild goats, which our hero tames, using their skins to cover himself. He immediately built a large cross, on which he engraved the date of his landing: 30 September 1659. Thanks to a daily notch, the Cross became his calendar. At a certain point, Robinson also managed to capture a parrot to whom he taught to speak. Until July 1760, when he ran out of ink, he also kept a diary in which he recorded all his misadventures. He also fell seriously ill, and, in the grip of a very high fever and delirium, saw a man in a black cloud proceeding in the middle of the flames, reminding him that his life had never been illuminated by the light of faith.
And so Robinson, having recovered, truly rediscovered his faith in God, who thanked him for all that he had found on the island, and began to read every day a passage from the Holy Bible, which is then the only book he had providentially brought with him.
And this is what for Robert Louis Stevenson is one of the culminating moments of literature: Robinson comes across the beach in the imprint of a human foot larger than his own. It’s not just on the island! Twelve years after his arrival, Robinson makes a terrible discovery: the island is inhabited by savages who take prisoners of war and feed off them. He intervenes in one of these abominable banquets and manages to kill all his guests, freeing the victim, who is his slave, giving him his name on Friday, from the day of the week when he met him, and to whom he will teach English and the Christian religion. Then Robinson saves two other sacrificial victims from the savages: Friday’s father and a Spaniard, who reveals to him that other of his fellow countrymen are missing on the island. While the group was drawing up plans to save them, an English ship arrived on the island, whose crew, who had mutinied, wanted to abandon the captain and the two sailors who had remained faithful to him on the island. Robinson and his companions hurl themselves at the mutineers and take possession of the ship.
Twenty-eight long years of exile end. It was 19 December 1686 and Robinson set sail again from the island, towards York. He returned to immerse himself in European civilization on the threshold of the Age of Enlightenment on June 11, 1687, after 35 years of absence. Robinson then embarked on Friday for Lisbon, where a Portuguese captain informed him of his current condition: his parents and brother had died, while his sugar cane plantations were flourishing, making his capital £600,000.
Here an alliance is created between the novelist, who would never want to finish writing his masterpiece, and the reader, who would never want to reach the end of the word. In fact, we will not see Robinson die, and Defoe will write two sequels of this novel.
So we see Robinson transporting his wealth to England, where he sells his plantations to get married and have three children. But in his secret, hatching heart, the nostalgia for the island where he learned to live. So, after his wife’s death, in December 1694 our hero returns to the island of his life and becomes triumphantly governor of the Spanish colony that lives there. After other adventures that promise the novel that does not want to end, will be told in a later report, January 10, 1705 Robinson Crusoe lands again in England to enjoy in peace his beautiful old age. The ingenuity of loneliness, amidst dangers of which he himself had remained unaware for so long, and the inexhaustible pleasure of narration and reading mark this, which is also a masterpiece of children’s literature.
But it is above all the masterpiece of the Enlightenment because there is only one man who is completely the arbiter and sovereign of circumstances and nature. Above him, Robinson recognizes only Jesus and kneels to him. All the rest he subdues and submits to himself.
Giancarlo De Palo