Crusoe: Daniel Defoe, Robert Knox and the Creation of a Myth

Katherine Frank. Pegasus (Norton, dist.), $27.95 (368p) ISBN 978-1-60598-334-9

While authors such as Tim Severin have made the case for various models for Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, Frank’s well-researched if overly detailed account makes the case that his primary model was real-life voyager Robert Knox, who was detained in Ceylon beginning in 1659, the year that saw Crusoe cast away. This is no coincidence. Although Robinson Crusoe was billed as “Written by Himself,” Frank says this ruse represents one more effort by the prolific inventor of the English novel to distance himself from the source of his invention of this most enduring myth of English fortitude and adaptability. Indeed, it is virtually certain that by the time the crafty Defoe published his lesser-known Captain Singleton, writes Frank, he was quite familiar with all the events of Knox’s unpublished autobiography, not to mention the sailor’s (later sea captain’s) 1681 bestselling An Historical Relation of the Island Ceylon. Once it was generally ascertained that Defoe was the author of Crusoe, there was no rush to enlighten the public that, unlike Knox, Defoe may not have journeyed at all. Despite its intrinsic interest, however, Frank’s account is tedious and scattershot in drawing connections between her two protagonists. 12 pages of illus. and maps. Agent: David Godwin (U.K.) (Apr.)
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