Premium 300 years later: is Robinson Crusoe a hero or a villain?

Illustration for Robinson Crusoe

Illustration for Robinson Crusoe

Daniel Defoe's novel is studied in schools and has inspired other books and films. But how can we talk today with the racist and colonialist hero of 1719?

On April 25, 1719 - just over 300 years ago - the London publisher William Taylor published a book with a long title: The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, from York, the Sailor,below which one could read an even longer post-title: "Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an un‐inhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself. With An Account how he was at last as strangely deliver"d by Pyrates". And at the bottom of the page yet another piece of information: "Written by himself."

It was not, however, another account by an explorer, as so many that existed at the time, but a fictional autobiography, and its author was Daniel Defoe. The initial confusion did not prevent the immediate success of the book - considered the first modern English novel. That year immediately it had four editions. And the author was quick to write two sequels.

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