Wednesday, November 2, 2022

The Further Adventures of Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

Takes forever to get underway
Daniel Defoe
When published in 1719, Daniel Defoe’s novel Robinson Crusoe was so successful that he published a sequel later that year, The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe. These days, the title is more commonly published as “Further” rather than “Farther.” It is often said that sequels are never as good as the originals, and after reading The Further Adventures one can surmise that people have been making that comment for at least 300 years.

The story opens in 1693, several years after Crusoe left the island upon which he was stranded for so much of his life. He is now 61 years old, living comfortably on a farm in England, married with children, yet an uncontrollable obsession with his island fills him with unrest. When Crusoe’s nephew, a ship’s captain, plans a trading voyage to the East Indies, he offers to take his uncle along for a visit to his former island home.

While that sounds like a recipe for adventure, the stopover proves to be a bore for the reader, and the Adventures are had by everyone but Crusoe. When he left the island at the end of the last novel, a few Englishmen and Spaniards had arrived there, and they remained as colonists. Four or five chapters go by relating what happened to these people during those years while Crusoe was in England. This back story amounts to a tedious string of skirmishes and truces. What makes it worse is that, with one exception, none of the characters even have names, so the text is all about this or that Englishman, this or that Spaniard, this or that “savage.” Then follows a couple chapters in which Crusoe tries to get the settlers to marry their Native wives under the formalities of Christian matrimony. Not surprisingly, like the last novel, Christian piety is a major theme here. The only surprise here is that for a 17th-century Englishman, Crusoe has some remarkably tolerant things to say about Roman Catholics.

The real “Adventures” don’t start until Crusoe leaves the island halfway through the book. He travels onto far-flung exotic locales and undergoes more bad luck and hardship, but he perseveres through faith and his pronounced ingenuity. By 19th- or 20th-century standards, this is not a great adventure novel, but by early 18th-century standards, it’s pretty good. I’ve always found it remarkable how Defoe’s prose, written three centuries ago, still reads with a fresh and clean conversational tone, unlike later writers like Sir Walter Scott or James Fenimore Cooper, who often sound antiquated and clunky. This is not one of Defoe’s better works, but it is good enough to call to mind the travel adventures written by Jules Verne. I’m sure Defoe never traveled to China, India, or Southeast Asia, but like Verne might have done he has clearly researched the accounts of those who have. The big difference is that whereas Verne’s plots revolve around scientific discovery, The Further Adventures of Robinson Crusoe revolve around commerce and trade. Defoe provides some very vivid descriptions of the exotic lands visited, but the main thrust of these travelogues is that anywhere in the world is barbaric compared to pious mother England.

Fans of the first novel will be disappointed at the offhand manner in which one important character from the first novel is summarily dispatched. In all aspects, The Further Adventures is disappointing compared to the preceding novel, but one can’t help but admire the precocious ambition and enduring accessibility of Defoe’s novel. A century before Scott, Cooper, and Alexandre Dumas, Defoe was a pioneer in elevating the adventure genre to the heights of literature.

If you liked this review, please follow the link below to and give me a “helpful” vote. Thank you.

No comments:

Post a Comment