Defoe's novel Robinson Crusoe (1719) tells of a man's shipwreck on a deserted island and his subsequent adventures.
The author based part of his narrative on the story of the Scottish castaway Alexander Selkirk, who spent four years stranded on the island of Juan Fernandez. He may have also been inspired by the Latin or English translation of a book by the Andalusian-Arab Muslim polymath Ibn Tufail, who was known as "Abubacer" in Europe. The Latin edition of the book was entitled Philosophus Autodidactus and it was an earlier novel that is also set on a deserted island.
"One day, about noon, going towards my boat, I was exceedingly surprised with the print of a man's naked foot on the shore, which was very plain to be seen on the sand."
— Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, 1719
The novel has been variously read as an allegory for the development of civilisation, as a manifesto of economic individualism and as an expression of European colonial desires but it also shows the importance of repentance and illustrates the strength of Defoe's religious convictions. It is also considered by many to be the first novel written in English. Early critics, such as Robert Louis Stevenson admired it saying that the footprint scene in Crusoe was one of the four greatest in English literature and most unforgettable; more prosaically, Dr. Wesley Vernon has seen the origins of forensic podiatry in this episode. It has inspired a new genre, the Robinsonade as works like Johann David Wyss's The Swiss Family Robinson (1812) adapt its premise and has provoked modern postcolonial responses, including J. M. Coetzee's Foe (1986) and Michel Tournier's Vendredi ou les Limbes du Pacifique (in English, Friday, or, The Other Island) (1967). Two sequels followed, Defoe's The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1719) and his Serious reflections during the life and surprising adventures of Robinson Crusoe: with his Vision of the angelick world (1720). Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels (1726) in part parodies Defoe's adventure novel.
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Start In Life
I was born in the year 1632, in the city of York, of a good family, though not of that country, my father being a foreigner of Bremen, who settled first at Hull. He got a good estate by merchandise, and leaving off his trade, lived afterwards at York, from whence he had married my mother, whose relations were named Robinson, a very good family in that country, and from whom I was called Robinson Kreutznaer; but, by the usual corruption of words in England, we are now called—nay we call ourselves and write our name—Crusoe; and so my companions always called me.
I had two elder brothers, one of whom was lieutenant-colonel to an English regiment of foot in Flanders, formerly commanded by the famous Colonel Lockhart, and was killed at the battle near Dunkirk against the Spaniards. What became of my second brother I never knew, any more than my father or mother knew what became of me.
Being the third son of the family and not bred to any trade, my head began to be filled very early with rambling thoughts. My father, who was very ancient, had given me a competent share of learning, as far as house-education and a country free school generally go, and designed me for the law; but I would be satisfied with nothing but going to sea; and my inclination to this led me so strongly against the will, nay, the commands of my father, and against all the entreaties and persuasions of my mother and other friends, that there seemed to be something fatal in that propensity of nature, tending directly to the life of misery which was to befall me.