Everything you wanted to know about "Robinson Crusoe" but were afraid to ask Mr Daniel Defoe, a journalist

Mr Masaaki Takeda (Ph.D. candidate at Faculty of English)

Sunday, 03 February, 2002; 7:30-9:30pm

Chetwynd Room, King's College

Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe shows the versatility of a literary text. During the author's lifetime, Robinson Crusoe provoked the mixture of disapproval and praise, and only in the latter half of the eighteenth century, its reputation was established. Samuel Johnson in 1778, for example, compared Robinson Crusoe with such classics as Don Quixote and Pilgrim1s Progress. Today, Defoe is often considered as the founder of the modern English novel, but scholars remain disagreed as to what is the basic element that constitutes the modern novel. Defoe appeared on the literary scene in the late seventeenth century as an able and prolific critic on politics. His sheer stamina is born out by the fact that he published with little intermission a tri-weekly political journal, The Review for nine years. As was usual with journalists then, Defoe attracted severe criticism and even suffered imprisonment on more than one occasion. In 1713, he discontinued The Review, and began to expand his literary style afterwards. One of the first fruits of this experiment was The Family Instructor, published in 1715. This work consisted of dialogues between family members that are supposed to recommend patriarchal order. It was only in 1719 that Robinson Crusoe appeared. Between that day and 1724, Defoe published five novels. Thereafter, as far as we know, he did not write any further novels until his death in 1731. Defoe lived for seventy years, only five of which he spent in writing novels. It follows that any study which regards Defoe as simply a novelist fails to appreciate his versatility as a writer. I would like to consider this time what prompted Defoe to write (what we call) novels and by what title he may be considered the founder of the English modern novel. The discussion is open not only to literary men and women but also to those people who are sceptical about the meaning of modern literature. Just a vague idea of the story of Robinson Crusoe would be necessary to enjoy the talk.