Robin­son Cru­soe’s Strug­gle to Sur­vive

Robin­son Cru­soe has been re­pub­lished hun­dreds of times in al­most ev­ery ma­jor lan­guage over the past three hun­dred years, and is fre­quently on lists of the top books to read.

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS - Trans­lated by Zhang Ruiqing Edited by Justin Davis

There is some­times a hu­man urge to re­spond to the call of un­fore­seen temp­ta­tion and ex­plore re­mote and un­known places.

Given a sec­ond chance, pre­sum­ably the young Robin­son, hero in Robin­son Cru­soe, would still defy his fa­ther’s will, de­spise his pre­ar­ranged, so-called mid­dle-class life, for­get about ra­tio­nal­ity and re­spond to his dreams by flee­ing from his home­town.

A com­pelling ad­ven­ture and a pen led to a novel. Since its first pub­li­ca­tion, Robin­son Cru­soe has been re­pub­lished hun­dreds of times in al­most all ma­jor lan­guages of the world over the past three hun­dred years or so, and is fre­quently on book lists. It is said only the Bible is re­pub­lished more than Robin­son Cru­soe. Robin­son’s ap­pear­ance on stage and the screen has res­onated with sev­eral gen­er­a­tions and their de­sire to ex­plore with courage to press on.

A Mirac­u­lous Story and an Amaz­ing Book

When Daniel De­foe was born in 1660, Great Bri­tain was taken back by the House of Stu­art on be­half of feu­dal power. De­foe’s fam­ily was against the reign of the House of Stu­art and this po­lit­i­cal stance in­flu­enced De­foe’s en­tire life. Be­fore the age of 59, he was an ac­tive politi­cian and wrote many po­lit­i­cal books. As a re­sult of the

seem­ingly un­rea­son­able ideas in his books and speeches, De­foe was jailed at times, which made him even more con­vinced of the power of the pen.

Robin­son Cru­soe was De­foe’s first novel. Af­ter he heard of an Alexan­der Selkirk’s story, he be­gan to write the book. Selkirk was a sailor on a Bri­tish ves­sel. He was dropped onto a de­serted is­land in Latin Amer­ica one day af­ter a quar­rel with the cap­tain. He hunted wild goats for food, built two huts us­ing wood and goatskin, used nails as nee­dles, got thread from worn socks, be­friended goats and cats and prayed to God. Af­ter four years and four months on the is­land, he was saved by a Bri­tish voy­ager on Fe­bru­ary 12, 1709.

De­foe aug­mented Selkirk’s amaz­ing story of sur­vival with his own ex­pe­ri­ences at sea and his imag­i­na­tion. In 1719, De­foe fin­ished Robin­son Cru­soe. In the novel, Robin­son was from Great Bri­tain in the 18th cen­tury. He went to sea look­ing to build his wealth and even­tu­ally drifted onto a de­serted is­land where he was lucky to leave it alive like Alexan­der Selkirk. He toiled against na­ture with phys­i­cal labour, over­came hard­ships us­ing his wis­dom and con­quered an abo­rig­i­nal he called “Fri­day” with his gun and doc­trine.

De­foe demon­strated sur­vival skills in the book. Robin­son sur­vived storms at sea and used courage and wis­dom just like the real-life Alexan­der Selkirk to sur­vive on the is­land. Read­ers learned about things like how to make an oil lamp with linen used to mend sails and fat from a slaugh­tered goat, rig up a tent, repack gun­pow­der safely, ex­pand a house or bur­row, make a ta­ble and chairs and hunt goats for food. Robin­son kept his emo­tion un­der con­trol us­ing rea­son and de­voted him­self to his sur­vival work. Read­ers could ex­pe­ri­ence the hope that Robin­son main­tained when they read the book.

The book was a sen­sa­tion in Great Bri­tain when it was pub­lished. The en­ter­pris­ing spirit and the con­scious­ness of en­light­en­ment of the bour­geoisie and even an avari­cious colo­nial aware­ness of ex­pan­sion con­veyed in the book res­onated with sailors, sol­diers, ven­dors, crafts­men and other petty bour­geois. In those days, the pur­suit of ad­ven­ture and in­di­vid­ual strug­gle were well re­garded in Great Bri­tain; Robin­son ap­peared and be­came a hero of the ris­ing bour­geoisie. Peo­ple favoured this ideal, heroic fig­ure in west­ern lit­er­a­ture who rep­re­sented them, and the novel was widely known as “the first re­al­is­tic full-length Bri­tish novel.” De­foe was later known as the “Fa­ther of Bri­tish Nov­els and News­pa­pers,” which, to a large ex­tent, should be at­trib­uted to this novel.

Af­ter Robin­son Cru­soe, De­foe wrote many other pop­u­lar nov­els by fol­low­ing a sim­i­lar ap­proach to writ­ing, such as Cap­tain Sin­gle­ton, Moll Flan­ders, Colonel Jack, Rox­ana, A Jour­nal of the Plague Year and Me­moirs of a Cav­a­lier, but none of them was com­pa­ra­ble to Robin­son Cru­soe, which was char­ac­terised by its orig­i­nal­ity, was De­foe’s first book and was writ­ten in the form of a di­ary. How­ever, since then, books de­pict­ing in­di­vid­u­als’ ef­forts to adapt to the en­vi­ron­ment and sur­vive have be­come in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar with read­ers. For in­stance, Amer­i­can poet and nov­el­ist May Sar­ton wrote Jour­nal of a Soli­tude, which recorded her frus­trat­ing and reclu­sive life from 1970 to 1971 in Nel­son, New Hamp­shire, in the United States; Amer­i­can tran­scen­den­tal­ist Henry David Thoreau wrote Walden, which de­scribed his lonely life in the hut he built in the woods on the bank of Walden Lake, Con­cord, Mas­sachusetts. Sim­i­lar con­tent has ap­peared in movies like The Mar­tian, Cast­away on the Moon and even Gone with the Wind. Peo­ple may need some­one like Robin­son to draw en­cour­age­ment and in­spi­ra­tion from, which is prob­a­bly one of the rea­sons why Robin­son Cru­soe has been so pop­u­lar.

Life’s Guide­line

Reader‘s un­der­stand­ing of a novel is in­flu­enced by both con­tent and style. De­foe wrote the novel in a con­cise man­ner and mostly used com­mon ex­pres­sions. The story is told in first per­son, the nar­ra­tive is smooth and nat­u­ral and the word­ing is lu­cid. The de­tailed de­pic­tion of Robin­son’s think­ing at­tracts read­ers as if they had landed on the is­land, build­ing tents, rais­ing live­stock, plant­ing crops, meet­ing Fri­day and even­tu­ally go­ing back to Great Bri­tain with him. It feels like a di­ary that some­one re­ally kept on the is­land.

De­foe in­serted nu­mer­ous “life guide­lines” in the nar­ra­tive to re­veal what oc­cu­pied Bri­tish thought at that time.

Robin­son’s fa­ther once told him that a good life was mea­sured by whether all peo­ple de­sired it. Robin­son once had a chance to live an en­vi­able life, but “when men com­pare their present con­di­tions with oth­ers that are worse, heaven may oblige them to make the ex­change, and be con­vinced of their former fe­lic­ity by their ex­pe­ri­ence.” Af­ter es­cap­ing from the Moors at Sallee, he got him­self a res­i­dence per­mit and spent ev­ery­thing he had buy­ing some un­de­vel­oped land. Then Robin­son made a plan­ta­tion. Af­ter op­er­at­ing the plan­ta­tion for awhile, his

busi­ness and wealth in­creased rapidly. He made an un­rea­son­able com­par­i­son be­tween life as a plan­ta­tion owner and his life on the is­land, which led to his seem­ingly des­tined en­counter with the bit­ter life on the is­land.

The novel in­tro­duces Robin­son’s “ap­par­ent ob­sti­nate ad­her­ing to his fool­ish in­cli­na­tion of wan­der­ing abroad” and his pur­suit of that in­cli­na­tion, which is “in con­tra­dic­tion to the clear­est views of do­ing him­self good in a fair and plain pur­suit of those prospects, and those mea­sures of life, which na­ture and Prov­i­dence con­curred to present him with.” “But, alas! For him to do wrong that never did right, was no great won­der. He hails no rem­edy but to go on.” Robin­son had a good rea­son for re­gret­ting giv­ing up Xury to an­other man dur­ing the first few years af­ter he was thrown on the is­land and lived as a drifter, which he grad­u­ally re­alised. To even sur­vive re­quires abil­ity. He un­der­stood “it was in vain to sit still and wish for what was not to be had.”

When he first landed on the des­o­late is­land, he pointed to the sea and told him­self, “all evils are to be con­sid­ered with the good that is in them, and with what worse at­tends them,” and, “I had a tol­er­a­ble view of sub­sist­ing, with­out any want, as long as I lived; for I con­sid­ered from the be­gin­ning how I would pro­vide for the ac­ci­dents that might hap­pen, and for the time that was to come, even not only af­ter my am­mu­ni­tion should be spent, but even af­ter my health and strength should de­cay. ”

On the is­land, Robin­son was sel­dom idle. He kept try­ing to solve all kinds of prob­lems and fo­cused his at­ten­tion on how he could pro­tect him­self. Af­ter seven months on the is­land, he found him­self be­com­ing less and less dis­cour­aged by things. He un­der­went rain­fall, earth­quakes, hur­ri­canes, sick­ness and en­coun­tered wild men and beasts. He would drink a cup of sugar cane juice as a sort of wine to boost his morale. He pro­cessed grapes into raisins, sowed seeds of bar­ley and rice, di­vided sea­sons on the is­land, fired pot­tery jars, made stone mills, sifters and ca­noes, and trav­elled to other is­lands. He kept en­cour­ag­ing him­self to get his life back on track.

Robin­son’s eyes and foot­prints froze a piece of Bri­tish land in the 18th cen­tury as well as a pic­ture of Bri­tish life, and re­tained the life plan­ning made nearly 300 years ago.

Global Fame

“Robin­son” is thought to be a name only ad­ven­tur­ers de­serve, which has to be at­trib­uted to trans­la­tors. This world-fa­mous book was al­ready in­tro­duced to China as Juedao piaoliu ji (“life on a de­serted is­land”) three years be­fore Lin Shu (1852–1924), the renowned trans­la­tor of the late Qing

Dy­nasty (1644–1911), trans­lated it into clas­si­cal Chi­nese in 1905. That was its de­but in China. By the late 1940s, other Chi­nese trans­la­tors, in­clud­ing Li Lei, Gao Xisheng, Peng Zhao­liang, Gu Jun­zheng, Tang Xiguang, Yang Jin­sen, Zhang Baox­i­ang, Xu Xi­a­cun and Fan Quan, did some abridged trans­la­tion and ab­bre­vi­a­tion and the fruits were in­cor­po­rated in such Chi­nese lit­er­ary col­lec­tions as Shuobu con­g­shu (“se­ries of nov­els and writ­ings about anec­dotes”), Linyi xi­aoshuo con­g­shu (“col­lec­tion of Lin’s trans­lated nov­els”) and Wanyou wenku (“a reper­tory of books”).

Very favourable among read­ers, pub­lish­ers and trans­la­tors, Robin­son Cru­soe is in­com­pa­ra­ble in re­pub­li­ca­tion fre­quency and cir­cu­la­tion to any other west­ern lit­er­ary works in­tro­duced to China. The trans­lated ver­sion by Gu Jun­zheng and Tang Xiguang was pub­lished 11 times from 1934 to 1948, and the abridged ver­sion by Fan Quan was pub­lished three times in 1948. Af­ter 1949, it has been pub­lished by ma­jor Chi­nese pub­lish­ing houses in­clud­ing Peo­ple’s Lit­er­a­ture Pub­lish­ing House, Yilin Press and Shang­hai Trans­la­tion Pub­lish­ing House. New trans­lated ver­sions still come out oc­ca­sion­ally. It is fun for read­ers to com­pare the dif­fer­ences among dif­fer­ent ver­sions.

Robin­son’s story also shows up in other forms of me­dia. In 2016, the an­i­mated ver­sion of Robin­son Cru­soe, di­rected by Vin­cent Kesteloot and Ben Stassen, was re­leased. The movie tells a story on an iso­lated is­land. Many an­i­mals live a peace­ful life on the is­land and don’t know what other parts of the world are like, and Mac, a par­rot, is the only one among them that is ea­ger to see the un­known world. One day, a storm brings a wrecked mer­chant ves­sel onto the is­land and they meet Robin­son, sur­viv­ing the storm on the ves­sel. Mac re­gards Robin­son as his door to the rest of the world and ac­cepts the name that Robin­son gives him, Tues­day, with joy. Be­cause of the lan­guage bar­rier the first meet­ing be­tween the an­i­mals and Robin­son is a lit­tle dif­fi­cult. Thanks to Tues­day’s help trans­lat­ing, the an­i­mals and Robin­son be­come friends. Their so­ci­ety gets put into dan­ger, as a re­sult of an­tag­o­nists that came with Robin­son. A cute story and ex­ag­ger­ated im­ages turned Robin­son’s orig­i­nally ar­du­ous strug­gle into an in­tense jour­ney. The Swiss Fam­ily Robin­son: Flone of the Mys­te­ri­ous Is­land made in 1981 in Ja­pan also tells a story of build­ing a new world on an iso­lated is­land but it in­volves Robin­son’s fam­ily.

In 1964, Robin­son Cru­soe was made into an im­pres­sive TV drama in France. In 2008, Michael Robin­son to­gether with Duane Clark and Alex Chap­ple di­rected a 13- episode TV se­rial with Robin­son Cru­soe as the hero. This TV drama com­bines the tra­di­tional ele­ment of ad­ven­ture with com­puter spe­cial ef­fects, ac­tion scenes, sus­pense and a fast pace. It not only has rap­tors, man- eaters, beasts, the threat of star­va­tion and thun­der­storms from the orig­i­nal work but also adds some new fig­ures and sit­u­a­tions. This im­age of Robin­son is not ex­actly the same as the Robin­son fa­mil­iar to read­ers. The new Robin­son uses sci­ence, makes var­i­ous im­ple­ments us­ing what is avail­able and turns cri­sis into op­por­tu­nity. He lives a reclu­sive life on the bar­ren is­land of the 17th cen­tury, which still cap­tures of imag­i­na­tion of mod­ern au­di­ences.

At dif­fer­ent stages in the his­tory of cin­ema, di­rec­tors like Luis Buñuel, Thierry Chabert, Ge­orge Miller and Rod Hardy em­ployed their own tal­ents to shoot dif­fer­ent film adap­tions.

Robin­son’s story has also been put on stage by stu­dents, com­mu­nity the­atres and pro­fes­sional com­pa­nies. He con­tin­ues to at­tract the in­ter­est of new gen­er­a­tions, and his will to live through hard­ships has in­spired those in times of need.

Cru­soe ( TV se­ries) re­leased in 2008

Robin­son­cru­soe (or Thewil­dlife), a 3D an­i­mated film re­leased in 2016

Por­trait of Daniel De­foe

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