Randy Boyagoda: Review of Katherine Frank's "Crusoe: Daniel Defoe, Robert Knox and the Creation of a Myth"

Roundup: Books

Randy Boyagoda’s latest novel, “Beggar’s Feast,” set mainly in Sri Lanka, will be published this month.

“Each historical era and every culture has appropriated ‘Crusoe’ for its own purposes,” Katherine Frank announces at the start of her ambitious new book about “Robinson Crusoe,” Daniel Defoe and the obscure Englishman who might have been a significant inspiration for one of literature’s most famous characters. Before setting out her case for an unexpected original behind the original, Frank catalogs Crusoe’s latter-day incarnations, which have included “a hero of Romantic individualism, of Victorian Empire or 20th-century capitalism, an explorer, an inventor, the embodiment of radical or conservative ideologies, an evangelist, a prophet of positive psychology and the gospel of prosperity, even an antihero.” Surveying this long and varied afterlife, she declares, “You name it and someone has probably thought and said Crusoe has been it. That’s his secret: Crusoe is Anyone and Everyone. He is you and he is me.”...

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