Wed, 12 Dec 2001
So I finished Robinson Crusoe. I found it a little disappointing. I liked the adventure elements – man against nature, man against cannibals, that kind of thing – all the stuff people think of when they think of the novel. What no-one seems to remember is you have to sludge through five long chapters about the protagonist’s rebellious teenage years and early career as a Brazilian plantation owner before he finally gets himself shipwrecked and the good stuff starts. What’s more, once he finally escapes the island, you have to endure four more anticlimactic chapters of Crusoe returning to Europe and getting his finances back in order. But worst of all, right in the middle, during the most exciting parts of the narrative, when he’s stuck on his island, harried by nature and cannibals and cutthroats, the narrator insists on pausing to deliver lengthy, tedious lessons in theology.
I am grateful that, not being a Christian, I am not obliged to live in fear of the God who haunts poor Robinson Crusoe. First God wrecks his ship, killing everyone else on board, to punish Crusoe for the sin of having gone to sea against his parents’ wishes. Then, when the shipwreck washes near the shore, allowing the castaway to retrieve a few supplies, Crusoe falls on his knees and thanks God. Crusoe falls ill – further punishment, it is suggested, for the sin of not honouring his father and mother. Then he gets well. He falls on his knees and thanks God. Then God sends cannibals. When the cannibals neglect to devour him, he thanks God. Time and time again, God pushes him to the brink of death, then pulls him back at the last second – and each time, Crusoe thanks God for the ride.
The sermons get even more tiresome when various savages and Spaniards begin to arrive on his island, giving Crusoe the opportunity to compare his enlightened Protestantism with the wretched heresies of the cannibals and Papists. (The Church of Rome, he reluctantly admits, is perhaps a shade more civilised than the cannibalistic tribes of the Caribbean islands.) When he finally dedicates ten pages to the manufacture of a corral for his herd of goats, it’s fascinating by comparison.