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Robinson Crusoe as the First English Novel and Its Specific Features

Novel is a genre which developed in 17th century. Novel genre can be defined as a long narrative
written usually in prose that describes fictional events with the help of a sequential plot, characters and
incidents. Novel etymologically comes from a Latin word Novellus and it means a new, fresh, young long
work of fiction. This definition makes novel a completely new genre. Terry Eagleton explains novel in his
book The English Novel An Introduction by saying that:
The novel is a mighty melting pot, a mongrel among literary thoroughbreds. There seems
to be nothing it cannot do. It can investigate a single human consciousness for eight
hundred pages. Or it can recount the adventures of an onion, chart the history of a family
over six generations, or recreate the Napoleonic wars. If it is a form particularly associated
with the middle class, it is partly because the ideology of that class centres on a dream of
total freedom from restraint. (8)
Eagleton here explains that almost every matter in life can be a subject for novel and novel can
explain different stories with unlimited ideas. This is what makes novel a unique genre.
It is said that novel genre starts with Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes in Europa. What makes
Don Quixote different from previous narratives can be seen in novels definition. Don Quixote fits the
features of a novel. When we come to England, we see that novel genre developed in 18th century with the
help of industrial revolution and realism. Until 18th people still wrote many things but they were not as long
as novels. They generally wrote romances, poems or plays but they differ from novels in many aspects. 18th
century was a golden century for novel genre because realism and industrial revolution helped novel spread
easily. Authors understood that novels could be copied to be read in most parts of Europa so they could both
gain money and see how people look to their literature. Number of printing houses increased which make it

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possible for long novels to reach most of people. Novels became popular among people quickly as they
were read by both middle class and high class people. Until novel, people from middle or low class could
not achieve to literary works as they were expensive and hard to produce. In this sense, novel made a huge
impact on literature and changed this situation in a positive way. Realism also became a huge source for
novel genre and first examples of novels in England were given with the idea of Realism. Realism produces
an effective way of narration for novel. Terry Eagleton explains what realism enables us to see in his book
The English Novel An Introduction:
The realist novel represents one of the great revolutionary cultural forms of
human history. In the domain of culture, it has something like the importance of
steam-power or electricity in the material realm, or of democracy in the political
sphere. For art to depict the world in its everyday, unregenerate state is now so
familiar that it is impossible to recapture its shattering originality when it first
emerged. (20)
First novel in English literature that we can see these features is Robinson Crusoe by Daniel
Defoe. This novel opened a new window for English literature. It brought a new genre for
English people. Defoe used realist elements in his novel. As Terry Eagleton also says:
The realist novel, as we have seen, emerges at a point where everyday experience
begins to seem enthralling in its own right. This blending of the ordinary and the
exotic is marked in Defoes work. Part of the pleasure of reading it comes from
the sheer excitement it can squeeze from the utterly mundane. There are reasons
for this mixture of high drama and routine existence. Defoe lived in turbulent,
unstable political times, and as a political adventurer found himself in the thick of

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them. In revolutionary epochs like his own, theatrics is part of the stuff of
everyday life. (32)
In this quote, we can easily see that Terry Eagleton explains Defoe wrote a realist novel by
taking examples from his own experiences to create a whole smooth work. Robinson Crusoe has
been accepted as the first English novel by many critics especially for this reason. It is the first
and one of the most important examples of a realist English novel and it brought a new way to
English literature. It gave authors a way to explain their own story in a long work. We can
definitely say that Robinson Crusoe can be considered the first English novel as it brings a totally
new style of narration to the literature that distinguishes it from previous genres.
Firstly it is considered the first novel as it gives author a limitless freedom to narrate. In
Robinson Crusoe, we see unlimited freedom. There are no limits in writing or explaining.
Robinson himself represents being free in the novel and it is an important feature of novel genre.
In this sense, the novel also gives Defoe to create his own world, ideal world and be the god of
this universe that he created. He creates a new life in an isolated island. One of the morals of the
novel is being free. This idea is also explained by Terry Eagleton. Eagleton says:
The novel is a sign of our freedom. In the modern world, the only rules which are
binding are those which we invent for ourselves. Politically speaking, this is
known as democracy. We are set free from being mere functions of the grammar
of God. It is we who give form and meaning to reality, and the novel is a model of
this creative act. As the novelist conjures a new world into existence, in a profane
parody of Gods creation, so each individual shapes his or her inimitable life-

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history. For some commentators, in fact, this is where the novel is most truly
realistic. (18)
Freedom in novel is seen in this quote clearly and it is one of the most important objects of novel
form.
Characters are also described detailed in Robinson Crusoe and in novel genre. In
Robinson Crusoe we can learn many things about characters. Where they are from, what their
ideals are, their age, their physical characteristics etc. It is important for this genre because in
most of the other genres we are not enable to see or learn those facts about characters. Novel
gives us a chance to imagine the characters in our minds. Ordinary people are used and it is
possible to see a man like Robinson in real life. Novel gives us this chance. Seeing a person from
our world is common and it helps us see novel as a character detailed genre. Every reader can
imagine a different Robinson Crusoe for instance and it is a unique element of novel genre. Even
novel starts with by explaining the character in Robinson Crusoe:
I Was born in the Year 1632, in the City of York,* of a good Family, tho not of
that Country, my Father being a Foreigner of Bremen,* who settled first at Hull:*
He got a good Estate by Merchandise, and leaving off his Trade, lived afterward
at York, from whence he had married my Mother, whose Relations were named
Robinson, a very good Family in that Country, and from whom I was called
Robinson Kreutznaer; but by the usual Corruption of Words in England, we are
now called, nay we call our selves, and write our Name Crusoe,* and so my
Companions always calld me. (5)

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The opening paragraph of the novel tells everything about the look to characterization in realist
novels.
Besides these, Robinson Crusoe as the first English novel also has a very intense
observation and imagination compared to previous genres. Everything in the novel is described
effectively. Not a single point is skipped and this situation leaves us a powerful imagination
chance. For example in the novel Robinson explains his situation by comparing Evil and Good in
detailed which gives us a chance to see what he actually experienced in the island or in his trips:
He says that:
Evil: I am cast upon a horrible, desolate island, void of all hope of recovery.
Good: But I am alive; and not drowned, as all my ship's company were.
Evil: I am singled out and separated, as it were, from all the world, to be
miserable.
Good: But I am singled out, too, from all the ship's crew, to be spared from death;
and He that miraculously saved me from death can deliver me from this condition.
Evil: I am divided from mankind - a solitaire; one banished from human society.
Good: But I am not starved, and perishing on a barren place, affording no
sustenance.
Evil: I have no clothes to cover me.
Good: But I am in a hot climate, where, if I had clothes, I could hardly wear them.
Evil: I am without any defence, or means to resist any violence of man or beast.
Good: But I am cast on an island where I see no wild beasts to hurt me, as I saw
on the coast of Africa; and what if I had been shipwrecked there?
Evil: I have no soul to speak to or relieve me.

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Good: But God wonderfully sent the ship in near enough to the shore, that I have
got out as many necessary things as will either supply my wants or enable me to
supply myself, even as long as I live. (57-58)
This comparing shows us what Robinson experienced in a detailed way and helps us imagine in
our mind what kind of a situation Robinson is in.
Another example from novel is the difference between seasons and Robinsons explanation to
show what kind of weather he will see or what consequences they will have. Robinson explains
in novel again detailed by saying:
The half of February, the whole of March, and the half of April - rainy, the sun
being then on or near the equinox. The half of April, the whole of May, June, and
July, and the half of August - dry, the sun being then to the north of the line. The
half of August, the whole of September, and the half of October - rainy, the sun
being then come back. The half of October, the whole of November, December,
and January, and the half of February - dry, the sun being then to the south of the
line. (91)
In this quote, it is clear that the conditions of the island Robinson lives in and novel genre makes
it clear for us to see by using its genre properties.
Another important aspect is that it is written by following definite rules. Plot is necessary
in novel genre. Plot guides the story and there would not be any novel without the usage of plot.
It also needs introduction, developing and conclusion. There must be connection among them. In
Robinson Crusoe, it is easy to see this connection. Story starts with Robinsons idea of going to
an island which is the introduction part and it continuous with developing part what he
experienced in islands during his visits. Conclusion part is also clear in the novel and it occurs

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when he decides to leave the island. All those 3 important aspects can be seen throughout the
novel with a very detailed narrative. Another rule is the chronological order that must be
followed in the novel. Realist novel presents us a chronological order. Robinson Crouse also
follows this order as it can be found in the quote:
NOV. 6. - After my morning walk I went to work with my table again, and
finished it, though not to my liking; nor was it long before I learned to mend it.
NOV. 7. - Now it began to be settled fair weather. The 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, and part
of the 12th (for the 11th was Sunday) I took wholly up to make me a chair, and
with much ado brought it to a tolerable shape, but never to please me; and even in
the making I pulled it in pieces several times. NOTE. - I soon neglected my
keeping Sundays; for, omitting my mark for them on my post, I forgot which was
which. NOV. 13. - This day it rained, which refreshed me exceedingly, and cooled
the earth; but it was accompanied with terrible thunder and lightning, which
frightened me dreadfully. (63)
Therefore, we can say that novel chronologically shows the readers Robinsons life.
Lastly, it gives a flawless way to criticize something to the authors. In novels, authors
have a chance to criticize something without giving real names and it can be done easily by
telling a story. Story itself gives the author enough space to criticize. Symbolism is also used to
criticize. Symbolic or metaphoric figures can be tools for criticism. In Robinson Crusoe, we can
find criticism of religion. Robinson sometimes thinks about his current situation and he questions
the God, power of God and necessity of the religions. For example in the novel Robinson says
that:
What is this Earth and Sea of which I have seen so much, whence

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is it producd, and what am I, and all the other Creatures, wild andtame, humane
and brutal, whence are we? Sure we are all made by some secret Power, who
formd the Earth and Sea, the Air and Sky; and who is that? Then it followd most
naturally, It is God that has made it all: Well, but then it came on strangely, if God
has made all these Things, He guides and governs them all, and all Things that
concern them; for the Power that could make all Things, must certainly have
Power to guide and direct them. If so, nothing can happen in the great Circuit of
his Works, either without his Knowledge or Appointment. And if nothing happens
without his Knowledge, he knows that I am here, and am in this dreadful
Condition; and if nothing happens without his Appointment, he has appointed all
this to befal me. Nothing occurrd to my Thought to contradict any of these
Conclusions; and therefore it rested upon me with the greater Force, that it must
needs be, that God had appointed all this to befal me; that I was brought to this
miserable Circumstance by his Direction, he having the sole Power, not of me
only, but of every Thing that happend in the World. Immediately it followd,
Why has God done this to me? What have I done to be thus usd? (79)
This example shows the authors way of looking at religion. He does not directly say his idea but
uses his novel as a tool to express his ideas. Novel genre is suitable for this kind of criticism and
Defoe uses this chance to form a solid basis. Ian Wyatt also clarifies how Defoe uses religion in
his book Myths of Modern Individualism by saying:
The first overt and extended treatment of religion occurs when Crusoe discovers
the growing sprouts of rice and barley. He begins to think "that God had
miraculously caused this grain to grow without any help of seed sown, and that it

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was so directed purely for my sustenance in that wild miserable place." This, he
records, "touched my heart a little" (p. 94); but then he remembers that he had
shaken out a bag of grain used on the ship to feed chickens "in that place, and
then the wonder began to cease; and I must confess, 15 G. A. Starr, Defoe and
Spiritual Autobiography (Princeton, 1965), pp. 4-20. 16 J. Paul Hunter, The
Reluctant Pilgrim: Emblematic Method and Quest for Form in "Robinson Crusoe"
(Baltimore, 1966), pp. 74-75. 17 Charles Gildon, The Life and Strange Surprizing
adventures of Mr. D De F (London, 1719) ed. Paul Dottin (London, 1923), pp. 7172. 158 Robinson Crusoe my religious thankfulness to God's providence began to
abate too, upon the discovering that all this was nothing but what was common."
He realizes later that he ought to have been as grateful for this "so strange and
unforeseen providence, as if it had been miraculous" (p. 95). (158-159)
Ian Wyatt also mentions this issue in his book by giving examples from the events in the novel
and shows us the importance of religion in Robinson Crusoe.
Consequently, novel genre differs from other narratives with its distinct features. With the
examples from Robinson Crusoe, it can clearly be seen by the readers. Novel genre made an
impact on literature and gave many opportunities to the authors. Robinson Crusoe, as the first
example shows us how novel genre spreads in England and how it changed the atmosphere of
literature. It can be accepted as a significant movement for English literature as it carries many
different ways of writing. By giving authors different methods, novel genre serves different
purposes from many people to different classes. All kind of people can comment novels
differently and it is not as simple as it seems for literary genres. Novel can achieve this perfectly
and it lets people choose or comment the novels from different perspectives freely.

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Works Cited
Defoe, Daniel. .Robinson Crusoe. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983: 5-91. Print.
Eagleton, Terry. .The English Novel an Introduction. Australia: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2005:
8-32. Print.
Wyatt, Ian. .Myths of Modern Individualism. USA: Cambridge University Press, 1996: 158-159.
Print.