Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

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It’s never too late to be wise.
Robinson Crusoe


Robinson Crusoe
was published in 1719. Written by Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe is the tale of a man who dreams of becoming a sailor and has adventure far beyond those dreams.

The first few pages open with an explanation from Crusoe about his desire to have a life at sea and his father’s wish for him to find a different desire. Crusoe’s father has a serious conversation with him about the casualties and discomforts of such a life. He explains all the benefits living a middle class lifestyle provides, telling Crusoe that many people would be elated to have the opportunity to live a life in “the middle station.” His effort (and tearful plea) to persuade Crusoe against going to sea moves Crusoe – but only for a year’s time. Desire ultimately gets the better of him, so he leaves on a whim without a word to his parents.

Crusoe’s first voyage includes two storms, the first of which scares Crusoe terribly. He prays to God to save him, promising he will return home once upon land. Yet he forgets that promise once the storm passes, but when the next one approaches, he immediately regrets abandoning his prior conviction. But again, this storm passes, Crusoe reaches dry land, and, even after being warned by the master of the ship that misfortune at sea seems to follow him (Crusoe), he presses on to another voyage.

From there, Crusoe sets sail, is captured, becomes enslaved, strategically escapes, and surprisingly enough, lands himself in “the Brazils.” He becomes a plantation owner and lives there for about four years before volunteering to sail to Guinea. Yet it is on this voyage, great calamity strikes: Crusoe is shipwrecked on a deserted island as the lone survivor.

Amazingly, Crusoe doesn’t only focus on the fact that he is all alone on an island. Instead, he makes a home for himself there, establishing first his very basic needs, such as finding food, building shelter, and, later, constructing amenities such as a table and chair. A year into Crusoe’s journey, he becomes very ill with fever, which he later discovers is due in large part to not having calculated and planned for the rainy season on the island. As he’s recovering, Crusoe has a dream of warning. Though this dream is similar to that of John’s on the island of Patmos, Crusoe’s dream is one that prompts the true beginning of his spiritual journey. When he wakes, he begins reading the Bible, praying to God, and ultimately growing spiritually. Dangerous currents, terrifying storms, feasting cannibals, and the fear of the unknown make for a serious adventure story.

Several genres influenced the creation of Robinson Crusoe, such as travel books and conversion narratives. Crusoe describes in great detail his labor, his daily comings and goings, and his life on the island. Since travel books were popular during this time, Crusoe’s story of life abroad would certainly have been one of great interest to the general public. It’s clear from the beginning of the novel that Crusoe is telling his story from a future perspective, as he is able to look back on certain situations as he retells them and mention times when he didn’t listen to reason – or to God. (There are echoes of Biblical stories in his tale, such as the Prodigal Son and Job.)

The text reads as though it were written in the early 1700s, so before you pick a copy, do be aware of that. However, even if you aren’t necessarily a fan of eighteenth-century prose, my guess is that you’ll appreciate the adventure part of the story regardless. There are times you’ll want to knock some sense into Crusoe, as the saying goes, and others where you’ll be relieved of his decisions, but I’d say the fact that you’re bound to feel this way only goes to show Defoe’s craftiness in creating the character of Robinson Crusoe.

Feel free to message me with questions or let me know your thoughts as well! Happy reading!

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

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“Take nothing on its looks; take everything on evidence. There’s no better rule.”
Great Expectations

There is no possible way to do this book justice in one blog post, but here’s a quick review anyway. Great Expectations, one of the greatest classics ever written, is set in Victorian England and tells the story of Pip, an orphan who faces monetary challenges, relationship struggles, and life-changing choices.

Pip’s tale begins with much excitement. The opening scene takes place in Kent, specifically in a graveyard, with an escaped convict preying upon Pip and ordering him to bring him “wittles” (food) and “a file” (small handsaw). The convict’s legs are still chained, and Pip is his only hope in escaping such a burden. Lucky for Pip, his brother-in-law is a blacksmith, so Pip is able to return with the convict’s demanded items after having been severely threatened if he did not. Though Pip plays no part in the convict’s capture, the convict is ultimately caught and taken back to the Hulks (old ships used as prisons), but from that point on, Pip’s journey becomes one of both great fortune and detestable misfortune.

Some scenes later, Pip is invited to the wealthy Miss Havisham’s house to play with her adopted daughter, Estella. After being exposed to the upper class, Pip’s view of the world changes, along with his ambitions and aspirations in life. He greatly desires to be wealthy and to leave his life of blacksmith apprenticeship behind. He falls in love with Estella, who treats him with utter contempt, yet his ultimate hope is to become a gentleman to both impress her and win her heart.

Interestingly enough, Pip receives word that he has been given a large inheritance (his great expectations), and he moves to London to – that’s right – become a gentleman. While there, he comes to believe that Miss Havisham is his mysterious benefactor and that he will one day marry Estella. Pip meets Herbert, and the two become the best of friends, but Pip’s relationships at home in Kent become strained. Pip learns much in London, including the truth about the circumstances that brought him there and the real desires of his heart.

Much of Pip’s focus is on his shortcomings; he is constantly upset with himself at his failure to be better child in Kent with his sister and brother-in-law, his miserable attempts to impress Estella, and his awkwardness in becoming a gentleman in London. Yet Dickens seems to encourage his readers to look at Pip’s actions, not just his words. Pip deals with much internal conflict as he learns he must live with the choices he makes, but his great adventures, conflicts, gains, losses, and changes allow Pip to develop as a character while also giving the reader the ability to easily connect to Pip.

Dickens is known for his development of character, but his style and the choices he made as an author are certainly worth appreciating: the importance of the settings and their reflections of Pip’s journey; the development of themes; the characters, objects, and elements of symbolic nature; the depth of the allusions made; and the beautiful imagery Dickens creates. Critics disagree about the worth of the numerous coincidences (often involving characters) which are so prevalent in Dickens’s works. Regardless of your take on the happenstance of the characters’ relations, you’ll likely agree that Dickens was very creative in his creation of such coincidences.

So much can be learned from Pip’s journey into adulthood, including the need for loved ones, the unimportance of wealth, and the value of staying true to who you are. If you’ve never read Great Expectations, you’re missing out on a story from which much can be learned. Happy reading!

 

“That was a memorable day to me, for it made great changes in me. But, it is the same with any life. Imagine one selected day struck out of it, and think how different its course would have been. Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day.”
Great Expectations