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ISBN 978-1-909585-29-4
First published April 2019; 166 pp
paperback; 210 x 135mm
£10.00
click here to read a pdf excerpt.
Jack Robinson is a pen-name of Charles Boyle, editor of CBe. Previous books by Jack Robinson include An Overcoat: Scenes from the Afterlife of H.B. and, in collaboration with Natalia Zagórska-Thomas, Blush.



 
Good Morning, Mr Crusoe

The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of
Robinson Crusoe, published in the year MDCCXIX,
which for 300 Years has instructed the Men
of an Island off the Coast of Mainland Europe
to Contemn all Foreigners and Women.
Printed for CB editions in MMXIX.

Jack Robinson
 
Published in April 2019 to mark the 300th anniversary of the first publication of Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe.

To legitimise and maintain their hierarchy, tribes worship ancestors, looking back more than around or forward. How far back? Three hundred years, say: look through a telescope, back through the smoke of industry and the blood of empire, and you see a white man, no woman in sight, building a wall and training a black man to be a servant.

Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, recounting the adventures of a man who traded in slaves and despised women and was good at DIY, was first published in 1719. The novel became a mainstay of children’s literature and was incorporated into an educational system designed to promote imperialist ambitions.

Good Morning, Mr Crusoe looks back to boys’ boarding schools in the 1960s, surveys Crusoe’s fictional descendants in a range of 20th-century novels, and questions the sacred status of Eng Lit. The legacy of Defoe’s novel: racism and misogyny embedded in the fabric of British society.

‘Exactly 300 years ago, in April 1719, Robinson Crusoe was published. Given the national nervous breakdown we are living through, literary anniversaries are easily overlooked, but Jack Robinson has remembered his namesake’s birthday and in this cheeky polemical essay he celebrates it with a vengeance …
    ‘The novelty here is the way Jack Robinson uses Crusoe to analyse the mad act of self-maiming we call Brexit. As he demonstrates, all the blinkered mental preconditions for the Leave campaign exist in the novel. Crusoe fancies himself the monarch of his paltry terrain, although his only subject is the enslaved Friday: “sovereignty” is for him a mystical value, as it remains for atavistic fogeys such as Jacob Rees-Mogg. The alien footprint on the beach alarms Crusoe because it announces that his realm is about to be besieged by migrants, probably of a different race …
    ‘Crusoe’s staunchly Anglo-Saxon identity is manufactured and this insecure fiction explains his prickly mistrust of others. In one of his acutest perceptions, Robinson says that this autocratic man has a “sense of embattlement” that is “the obverse of his sense of entitlement”. Hence his bristling paranoia: he spends years reinforcing a stockade to keep out imaginary enemies, labouring over a wall that is an almost Trumpian hallucination.
    ‘We are all marooned on Crusoe’s island and our self-proclaimed leaders seem determined to ensure that we will never be rescued.’
     – Peter Conrad, Observer


‘The propagation of Defoe’s novel as an English classic over the centuries has both epitomised and contributed to a particularly noxious strand of Anglo-Saxon masculinity compounded of an arrogance and a superiority complex on the one hand and a concomitant deep insecurity and fear on the other, resulting in an instinct to devise rules, build defences and prepare violence. Jack Robinson, in this quick and subtle little book, not only sketches the deleterious effect upon English society of this thread of Englishness, leading to the Brexit crisis resulting from the projection of threat onto difference, but also traces the literary offspring of Ur-Crusoe, so to call him: Robinsons in books by Franz Kafa, Louis-Ferdinand Celine, Muriel spark and others, and in the films of Patrick Keiller, each either or both perpetuating or degrading the character with whom they are inescapably associated. ‘Robinson Crusoe’ remains a central topos for reactionary British nativism. […] Jack Robinson’s quarrel “is less with Defoe than with Crusoe and the uses which the book has been put to.” He observes that “Crusoe has amassed such gravitas - or rather, his emblematic status in British culture became so far reaching - that the natural development of his descendants was inescapably stunted.” Can this be healed? In Crusoe’s unthinking adherence to ‘heritage, values and tradition’, he is incapable of change or growth or understanding, incapable of opening himself to new experience, of accepting as an equal anyone different from himself. When Crusoe leaves the island he remains the slaver and misogynist he was when he arrived. All he has done is survived. “Defoe denies Crusoe self-doubt, which is another way of infantilising him. His blind trust in God shuts off all radical introspection.” Without that introspection there is no hope.’ 
     – Thomas Koed, Volume

‘It’s pleasant to meet Mr Boyle here: he’s a well-read, well-meaning and genial writer, and a helpful introducer of shy books. But his target is missed by a country mile, because he doesn’t know enough about the eighteenth century, or the rise of the novel, or what drove Crusoe’s creator.’
     – Min Wild, Times Literary Supplement