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Introduction to the Novel: Tutorial 1 The Birth of the Novel: Robinson Crusoe

1. Nothing is more evident, than that those ideas, to which we assent, are more strong, firm and vivid, than the loose reveries of a castle-builder. If one person sits down to read a book as a romance, and another as a true history, they plainly receive the same ideas, and in the same order, nor does the incredulity of the one, and the belief of the other hinder them from putting the very same sense upon their author. His words produce the same ideas in both; tho his testimony has not the same influence on them. The latter has a more lively conception of all the incidents. He enters deeper into the concerns of persons: represents to himself their action, and characters, and friendships, and person. While the former, who gives no credit to the testimony of the author, has a more faint and languid conception of all these particulars; and except on account of the style and ingenuity of the composition, can receive little entertainment from it. From David Hume, Treatise on Human Nature (Oxford: Oxford University Press) 63

2. The works of fiction with which the present generation seems more particularly delighted, are such as exhibit life in its true state, diversified only by accidents that daily happen in the world, and influenced by passions and qualities which are really to be found in conversing with mankind. The task of our present writers requires, together with that learning which is to be gained from books, that experience which can never be attained by solitary diligence, but must arise from general converse, and accurate observation of the living world They are engaged in portraits of which every one knows the original, and can detect any deviation from exactness of resemblance. But the fear of not being approve as just copyers of human manners, is not the most important concern that an author of this sort ought to have before him. These books are written chiefly to the young, the ignorant, and the idle, to whom they serve as lectures of conduct and introductions into life. They are the entertainment of minds unfurnished with ideas, and therefore easily susceptible of impressions; not fixed by principles, and therefore easily following the current of fancy; not informed by experience, and consequently open to every false suggestion and partial account. [] For this reasons these familiar histories may perhaps be made of great use than the solemnities of professed morality, and convey the knowledge of vice and virtue with more efficacy than axioms and definition. But if the power of example is so great, as to take possession of the memory by a kind of violence, and produce effects almost without the intervention of the will, care ought to be taken that, when the choice is unrestrained, the best examples only should be exhibited; and that which is likely to operate so strongly, should not be mischievous or uncertain in its effects. The chief advantage which these fictions have over real life is, that their authors are at liberty, tho not to invent, yet to select objects, and to cull them from the mass of mankind, those individuals upon which the attention ought most to be employd. [] It is justly considered as the greatest excellency of art to imitate nature; but it is necessary to distinguish those parts of nature, which are most proper for imitation: greater care is still required in representing life, which is so often discoloured by passion, or deformed by wickedness. If the world be promiscuously described, I cannot see of what use it can be to read the account; or why it may not be as safe to turn the eye immediately upon mankind, as upon a mirror which shows all that presents itself without discrimination.

From Samuel Johnson, Rambler 4, in The Yale Works of Samuel Johnson (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1969) 3: 19-25.

3. I hate books; they only teach us to talk about things we know nothing about. Hermes, they say, engraved the elements of science on pillars lest a deluge should destroy them. Had he imprinted them on men's hearts they would have been preserved by tradition. Well-trained minds are the pillars on which human knowledge is most deeply engraved. Is there no way of correlating so many lessons scattered through so many books, no way of focussing them on some common object, easy to see, interesting to follow, and stimulating even to a child? Could we but discover a state in which all man's needs appear in such a way as to appeal to the child's mind, a state in which the ways of providing for these needs are as easily developed, the simple and stirring portrayal of this state should form the earliest training of the child's imagination. Eager philosopher, I see your own imagination at work. Spare yourself the trouble; this state is already known, it is described, with due respect to you, far better than you could describe it, at least with greater truth and simplicity. Since we must have books, there is one book which, to my thinking, supplies the best treatise on an education according to nature. This is the first book Emile will read; for a long time it will form his whole library, and it will always retain an honoured place. It will be the text to which all our talks about natural science are but the commentary. It will serve to test our progress towards a right judgment, and it will always be read with delight, so long as our taste is unspoilt. What is this wonderful book? Is it Aristotle? Pliny? Buffon? No; it is Robinson Crusoe. Robinson Crusoe on his island, deprived of the help of his fellow-men, without the means of carrying on the various arts, yet finding food, preserving his life, and procuring a certain amount of comfort; this is the thing to interest people of all ages, and it can be made attractive to children in all sorts of ways. We shall thus make a reality of that desert island which formerly served as an illustration. The condition, I confess, is not that of a social being, nor is it in all probability Emile's own condition, but he should use it as a standard of comparison for all other conditions. The surest way to raise him above prejudice and to base his judgments on the true relations of things, is to put him in the place of a solitary man, and to judge all things as they would be judged by such a man in relation to their own utility. This novel, stripped of irrelevant matter, begins with Robinson's shipwreck on his island, and ends with the coming of the ship which bears him from it, and it will furnish Emile with material, both for work and play, during the whole period we are considering. His head should be full of it, he should always be busy with his castle, his goats, his plantations. Let him learn in detail, not from books but from things, all that is necessary in such a case. Let him think he is Robinson himself; let him see himself clad in skins, wearing a tall cap, a great cutlass, all the grotesque get-up of Robinson Crusoe, even to the umbrella which he will scarcely need. He should anxiously consider what steps to take; will this or that be wanting. He should examine his hero's conduct; has he omitted nothing; is there nothing he could have done better? He should carefully note his mistakes, so as not to fall into them himself in similar circumstances, for you may be sure he will plan out just such a settlement for himself. This is the genuine castle in the air of this happy age, when the child knows no other happiness but food and freedom. What a motive will this infatuation supply in the hands of a skilful teacher who has aroused it for the purpose of using it. The child who wants to build a storehouse on his desert island will be more eager to learn than the master to teach. He will want to know all sorts of useful things and nothing else; you will need the curb as well as the spur. Make haste, therefore, to establish him on his island while this is all he needs to make him happy; for the day is at hand, when, if he must still live on his island, he

will not be content to live alone, when even the companionship of Man Friday, who is almost disregarded now, will not long suffice. From Jean Jacques Rousseau, Emile (Phoenix: Everyman, 1993) 205-206.

4. We do not usually think of Robinson Crusoe as a novel. Defoe's first full-length work of fiction seems to fall more naturally into place with Faust, Don Juan and Don Quixote, the great myths of our civilization. What these myths are about it is fairly easy to say. Their basic plots, their enduring images, all exhibit a single-minded pursuit by the protagonist of one of the characteristic aspirations of Western man. Each of their heroes embodies an arete and a hubris, an exceptional prowess and a vitiating excess, in spheres of action that are peculiarly important in our culture. Don Quixote, the impetuous generosity and the limiting blindness of chivalric idealism; Don Juan, pursuing and at the same time tormented by the idea of boundless experience of women; Faustus, the great knower, his curiosity always unsatisfied, and therefore damned. Crusoe does not at first seem a likely companion for these other culture-heroes. They lose the world for an idea; he for gain. Their aspirations are conscious, and defiant, so that when retribution comes it is half expected and already understood; whereas Robinson Crusoe disclaims either heroism or pride; he stolidly insists that he is no more than he seems, that you would do it too in the circumstances. [] Almost universally known, almost universally thought of as at least half real, he cannot be refused the status of myth. But the myth of what? [] Myth always tends in transmission to be whittled down to a single, significant situation But even if we ask what is the essential social meaning of that one episode, that solitude, many answers suggest themselves. Defoe himself gives two main explanations for Crusoe's solitude. At times Crusoe feels he is being punished for irreligion; at others for his filial disobedience in leaving home in the Farther Adventures he even accuses himself of having 'killed his father'. But Crusoe as a man isolated from God, or as a modern Oedipus, is not our subject here. For the myth as it has taken shape in our minds is surely not primarily about religious or psychological alienation, nor even about solitude as such. Crusoe lives in the imagination mainly as a triumph of human achievement and enterprise, and as a favourite example of the elementary processes of political economy. So, in our attempt to understand the causes for Crusoe's apotheosis, we will look first at the relationship of his story to some of the enduring traits of our social and economic history. From Ian Watt, Robinson Crusoe as Myth, Essays in Criticism vol. 1 no. 2 (April 1951) 95 -97.

5. What is dramatised, under increasing pressure, in the actions of these novels, is the long process of choice between economic advantage and other ideas of value (Defoe) projected, into other histories, the abstracted spirit of improvement and simple economic advantage as most notably in Robinson Crusoe and created a fictional world of isolated individuals to whom other people are basically transitory and functional as again in Crusoe and Moll Flanders. Consciously and unconsciously, this emphasis of a condition and of an ethic was prophetic and powerful; but it is an indication of its character that what Crusoe improves is a remote island and what Moll Flanders trades is her own person. The important improvement and trading were at once nearer home and more general, but the simple practice and ethic of improvement could be more readily and more singlehandedly apprehended in deliberately isolated histories.

From Raymond Williams, The Country and the City (London: Hogarth Press, 1985) 62.

6. Defoes eighteenth-century prodigal, a seaman representing the sinners miserable condition once deprived of divine grace by original and actual transgression, is primarily an account of a spiritual experience, an allegorical story of conversion employing metaphoric symbols found repeatedly in the sermons, tracts and other religious writings of both Anglican and dissenting divines. Defoes novel, far more than the account of a practical mans adjustment to life on a deserted island, is the record of a notable spiritual pilgrimage across the sea of life, from a lawless course of living to true Christian repentance: a symbolic voyage from sin and folly to the gift of Gods grace attained through sincere belief in Jesus Christ. From Martin J. Greif, The Conversion of Robinson Crusoe, Studies in English Literature, 15001900 Vol. 6, No. 3, Restoration and Eighteenth Century (Summer, 1966), 551.

7. The design is to teach (or rather recommend) the Art of living incognito for (Reader) as others squander away their Time in Publick Hurries, and in rambling from one vanity to another, I chuse rather to retire to a solitary village (blessd with a Neighbouring Grove, a purling Stream, two cuckoos and one Nightingale) and here, under the Covert of a spreading Tree, I intend to devote the remaining Part of my Time to study my self. From John Dunton, Christians Gazette (1709) 54

Further Reading If you are particularly interested in this area, you might have a look at the following books. ed. John Richetti, The Cambridge Companion to the Eighteenth Century Novel For an introduction to the period, have a look at John Richettis first chapter. Ian Watt, The Rise of the Novel Watts seminal study tells the story of the birth of the novel, focusing on Defoe, together with Fielding and Richardson. J. Paul Hunter, Before Novels: The Cultural Contexts of Eighteenth Century English Fiction