“Stick to facts”: Author Figures and Textual Authority in Robinson Crusoe and the Twentieth-Century Robinsonade

Avant, Vol. XII, No. 1, https://doi.org/10.26913/avant.2021.01.07
published under license CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

Patrick Gill orcid-id
Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz

Received 27 March 2021; accepted 13 September 2021; published 18 September 2021.
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Abstract: While Robinson Crusoe is credited with having introduced the desert island and castaway tropes into English literature, it also foregrounds and firmly establishes narratological concepts such as the frame narrative and the inclusion of an author figure. The story of Robinson Crusoe comes to us in the guise of a first-person narrative based in part on a diary. This is where the writer Robinson Crusoe takes the vagaries of his life and shapes them into a coherent exemplary story of individual salvation. 20th-century novels have picked up on this metafictional aspect of the Robinsonade but usually to ends very different than is the case in Defoe’s original. One pertinent example can be found in Muriel Spark’s 1958 novel Robinson, which uses its author figure to convey anything but certainty. The essay compares authorial agency and control in Spark’s Robinson and Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe to then move on to the example of J.G. Ballard’s Concrete Island (1974). This urban Robinsonade forgoes the convention of having a first-person narrator generating its text, offering instead a third-person narration. My essay argues that the 20th-century Robinsonade virtually by default participates in discourse around the question of authorship and textual authority, even where an author figure is omitted.

Keywords: Robinsonade; Defoe; metafiction; textuality; author; narrator; narratology


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