Saturday, November 15, 2008

Robinson Crusoe – The sequel

Ever since its first publication in 1719 (April 25, to be more precise) Daniel Defoe’s “Robinson Crusoe” have been praised by readers and critics alike. The novel achieved immediate success and today it’s the best selling books of all times. Considering that only by the end of 1719 the book already had run through four editions it is no wonder that its author decided to continue the adventures of everybody’s favourite character.

For some reason “The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe” today is not very well known. Most of the readers are unaware of the existence of this sequel, not to mention that there is a third installment of the series – the almost forgotten “Serious Reflections of Robinson Crusoe”.

This part 3 is more of a collection of moral essays than an actual continuation of the story. Defoe, known for his Puritan Christian views, already had a vast experience in this filed – books such as “The New Family Instructor” (1727) and “Religious Courtship” (1722) are fine examples of his work. The name of Robinson Crusoe was attached to the title to attract the attention of the readers – we could call it a “marketing strategy” on behalf of Defoe.

And while I can imagine the readers being somehow disappointed by “Serious Reflections of Robinson Crusoe” I still can’t figure out why the farther adventures are so underrated. It reminds me of the fate of a low-budget direct-to-video sequel of a major Hollywood blockbuster – if you’re not a die-hard fan of the franchise most probably you don’t know or you don’t care about it. And since I like Robinson Crusoe I decided to check out what’s going on in the second book.

The title-page of the less known Part II shows the following text: “THE FARTHER ADVENTURES OF ROBINSON CRUSOE; Being the Second and Last Part OF HIS LIFE, And of the Strange Surprizing Accounts of his Travels Round three Parts of the Globe. Written by Himself. To which is added a Map of the World, in which is Delineated the Voyages of ROBINSON CRUSOE. LONDON: Printed for W. Taylor at the Ship in Pater-Noster-Row. MDCCXIX”
As you can see for yourself – the style of the original is still present in the sequel. The title itself reveals the pseudo-documental diary-like way of telling the story, which Daniel Defoe, being a journalist and a pamphleteer himself had mastered.

Unfortunately I couldn’t actually find the book printed, but you can get the e-version on the net (here for example: ). And since I hate reading from the monitor probably while you’re reading this essay I will be still reading the book, but just out of curiosity - let’s take a look at the plot summary!

The story begins some years after the end of the original first novel with the statement about Crusoe's marriage in England. He bought a little farm in Bedford and had three children: two sons and one daughter. Our hero suffered distemper and a desire to see "his island." He could talk of nothing else, and one can imagine that no one took his stories seriously, except his wife. She told him, in tears, "I will go with you, but I won't leave you." But in the middle of this felicity, Providence unhinged him at once, with the loss of his wife.
At the beginning of 1693, he made his nephew the commander of a ship. About the beginning of January 1694, Crusoe and Friday went on board in the Downs on the 8th, then touched and left Ireland. Then they made it to Crusoe's Island and realized that the spaniards were making trouble. Crusoe and Friday soon took care of them. On the way to the mainland once again from Crusoe's Island, the boat gets attacked by the cannibals. Crusoe wins but Friday dies due to 3 arrow shots. (Man, how could they kill Friday?! I love this character… That’s a major spoiler. Having spent half of his life on a desert island, lost both his wife and his best friend Crusoe is truly a tragic figure) After having buried Friday in the ocean, the same evening they set sail for Brazil. They stayed for a long period there, then went directly over to the Cape of Good Hope. They landed on Madagascar where their nine men were pursued by three hundred natives, because one of his mariners had carried off a young native girl among the trees. The natives hanged this person, so the crew massacred 32 persons and burned the houses of the native town. Crusoe opposed all these, therefore he was marooned, and settled at the Bay of Bengal for a long time (here we see the reocurrance of the castaway theme).
Finally, he bought a ship that later turned out to be stolen. Therefore they went to the river of Cambodia and Cochin-China or the bay of Tonquin, until they came to the latitude of 22 degrees and 30 minutes, and anchored at the island of Formosa (Taiwan). Then they arrived to the coast of China. They visited Nanking near the river of Kilam, and sailed southwards to a port called Quinchang. An old Portuguese pilot suggested them to go to Ningpo by the mouth of a river. This Ningpo was a canal that passed through the heart of that vast empire of China, crossed all the rivers and some hills by the help of sluices and gates, and went up to Peking, being near 270 leagues long. So they did, then it was the beginning of February, in the Old Style calendar, when they set out from Peking.
Then they travelled through the following places: Changu, Naum (or Naun, a fortified city), Argun(a) on the Chinese-Russian border (April 13, 1703).
Argun was the first town on the Russian border, then they went through Nertzinskoi, Plotbus, touched a lake called Schaks Ozer, Jerawena, the river Udda, Yeniseysk, and Tobolsk (from September 1703 to beginning of June 1704). They arrived into Europe around the source of the river Wirtska, south of the river Petrou, to a village called Kermazinskoy near Soloy Kamskoy (Solikamsk). They passed a little river called Kirtza, near Ozomoys (or Gzomoys), came to Veuslima on the river Wirtzogda, running into the Dwina, then they stayed in Lawrenskoy (July 3-7, 1704). Finally Crusoe arrived at the White Sea port town Archangel or Archangelsk on August 18, sailed into Hamburg (September 18), and Hague. He arrived at London on 10 January 1705, having been gone from England ten years and nine months.

I can’t tell for sure before I finish the book, but it seems like Part II was somehow unnecesarry. Most of the ingredients that turned the first novel into a huge success and a classical masterpiece are missing – the man versus nature motif, the lonelyness and the isolation, the desperate atmosphere of the desert island... But still it seems that Daniel Defoe introduses some new interesting topics – the nostalgic longing of the castaway to go back to his desert island, the social criticism on colonisation (Crusoe oposes the brutal marines and therefore is being left behind, cast away by his own men – the colonizators). And last, but not least Defoe introduces many more exotic locations, unknown to the common British reader – Madagascar, China, Siberia…

But even if it turnes out that “The Farther Adventures of Robinosn Crusoe” does not live up to its predecessor it’s still good to know that such a book exists, and I still inted to read it just out of curiousity.

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