- Rewriting Crusoe: The Robinsonade Across Languages, Cultures, and Media ed. by Jakub Lipski
Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell UP, 2020. Pp. 212. $34.95.
Over three hundred years after its first appearance, The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1719) is the text that keeps on giving: at a time when more people can access a wider variety of media and visual referents than at any previous point in human history, and when software [End Page 243] algorithms increasingly present us with information which only serves to confirm our worldview rather than expand our horizons, Defoe's castaway is one of handful of cultural icons that enjoys near-global recognition.
As 2019 marked the tercentenary of the publication of both The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe and its sequel, The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, it is understandable that Crusoe should currently be in the spotlight. (These two volumes from 1719, published together for much of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, were followed in 1720 by Serious Reflections During the Life and Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe.) Not only has Defoe's first and best-known part of the trilogy never been out of print, but Crusoe's castaway experience in this volume has become synecdochal: the part taken to be representative of the whole. Indeed, Crusoe's experience of island life has inspired so many castaway narratives that they form their own genre: the Robinsonade. In Rewriting Crusoe: The Robinsonade Across Languages, Cultures, and Media, Jakub Lipski brings together an excellent range of essays interrogating the idea of the Robinsonade, placing consideration of traditional castaway narratives alongside explorations of other types of isolation.
A measure of the worth of any collection of essays of this nature is whether it inspires readers to (re)read, (re)watch, and (re)consider the works to which it refers. Lipski's collection easily delivers. The opening essay by Rivka Swenson made me determined to revisit its subject, Peter Longueville's The Hermit (1727), which Swenson presents as a sensory delight, full of very un-Crusoe-like reflections on the sights, sounds, and tastes that might be savored in island isolation. Other neglected eighteenth-century Robinsonades feature in Przemyslaw Uscinski's exploration of The Female American (1767) and editor Jakub Lipski's own essay on The Adventures of Mr. Nicholas Wisdom (1776) and the early reception of Robinson Crusoe in Poland. Lipski's consideration of Polish Robinsonade may be seen as emblematic of his thoughtfully-constructed collection, which simultaneously invites consideration of Robinsonades of different geographical and national origins beyond a narrow eighteenth-century British experience, while challenging readers' ideas of the definition of the genre, for the idea of Crusoe has been endlessly appropriated and has always been morphing into something else. In Frederick Burwick's account of Crusoe's representation on the London stage, we see Robinsonades, such as The Hermit, metamorphose into theatrical entertainments, alongside dedicated plays, such as Richard Brinsley Sheridan's Robinson Crusoe, or Harlequin Friday (first staged in 1781). While Sheridan's play has an abolitionist message, and Burwick examines it alongside George Colman's anti-slavery Inkle and Yarico (1787), Burwick considers a wide variety of plays that demonstrate Crusoe's theatrical descendants were as likely to be playing for laughs as legislative change. [End Page 244]
An essential ingredient of any traditional Robinsonade is, of course, an island. In the popular imagination and in countless advertising campaigns, the ur-island of our supposed collective dreams is tropical yet tranquil, fruitful though uncultivated, and perfectly conformed to deliver our own private escape. Yet Crusoe's island was never an uncontested personal paradise and the most iconic moment that occurs upon it—known even to those who have never read Defoe's text or watched an adaptation of it—is Crusoe's discovery of a lone footprint that signals to him that "his" island may become the site of a struggle for dominance. The role of islands in imperial struggles and colonial enterprises is the focus of more than one essay in this collection, including Márta Pell...