The Truth about Crusoe

          I was going to carry this secret to the grave. I was. I wasn't going to pass it on, as my grandfather did, and his father before him, and his father's father, and so on. It just seemed time to let the tawdry tale die. What difference did it make anyway? But, as the reader has surely surmised, something happened which dashed my determination.

          The straw that broke the camel's back was put on in Brooklyn College. Once again,I found Defoe getting undeserved credit. I'd turned one cheek too many. That's why I decided to take time to tell you the real story of Robinson Crusoe. If you think Daniel Defoe wrote the story, you're mistaken. How do I know? Because my daddy told me and he got it from his father, who got it from his father, who got it–well, you get the picture. What it all boils down to is one of my great-grandfathers, Sunday, got it from the horse's mouth. And who do you think his daddy was? Of course, he was Friday's child. This is how my dad said the whole thing happened.

          Defoe was struggling to make ends meet in humiliating defame and default. Having been used to the good life, he was scarcely coping with the flip side. The misuse was breathing threats and recriminations down his neck, like a domestic dragon. The kids were whining for want of the most mundane necessities. His creditors were demanding gold or gaol.

          As you know, Defoe had a fertile mind and prolific pen, but for months he was trapped in a famine of thought. Little did he know that his creative juices were devilishly dammed. He only knew that life had turned against him and something must be done to reverse the hellish trend.

          Defoe was a man of great ingenuity and some moral flexibility. Contrary to historical generosity, he knew when to let a minor principle go . He was not one to stick with a loser. In his desperation to decrease the widening distance between pen and paper, he'd invoked the Muses, prayed to the Blessed Virgin, and took his requests to the Prophet three times a day. Nothing worked, 'till one day, in a fit of frustration he cried, "I give up. What am I going to do?"

          You can imagine his surprise when something responded, "Calm down old chap. I've been waiting for your call. Rather resistant to pressure, aren't you? But I knew you'd come around."

          By this time, Defoe had fled to the far corner of the room, a flight that would've been hilarious had it not been so pathetic.His wig was knocked askew when he jumped in terror. The eyes that were formerly glazed in failure were now alive with fright. And the flaccid residue, of what was once a respectable paunch, jiggled as he flew, causing Defoe to present a rather undignified, but comic picture.

          The visitor burst forth in peal after peal of unearthly but pleasing laughter as Defoe, now armed with a poker, tried to fend off his invisible assailant.

          "Here, here, Daniel. Just what do you intend to do with that? Rather like trying to beat the wind, don't you think? Have a seat, compose yourself; you really are a sight."

          The weary writer, more than a bit embarrassed and even more intrigued, did as he was commanded.

          "My name is unimportant, Defoe. What you're interested in is my ability. I am an angel–with a capital A–and a smart one at that! I know all about the story you've been trying to develop–an adventure story, right? It's supposed to be a spinoff of the Selkirk affair, but you can't seem to make it work. Am I right so far?"

         Defoe nodded in the affirmative. As I mentioned before, Defoe was wont to go to unorthodox quarters for help, so he bade his guest, "Go on."

          "Defoe, you're small potatoes now, but I can put you in the big time."

          The writer's hand began to shake in involuntary expectation.

          The angel continued, "I can put you in the books. You can go down in history."

          By this time, the writer's ally, Ego, joined the conversation. Defoe turned towards the sound of his incorporeal guest's voice and challenged him. "Sir, that is not possible– is it?"

          The plea in Defoe's voice told the angel (but surely you know by now it was the devil) all he needed to know. "I'm a busy man, Defoe; do we have a deal or not . You're getting a better bargain than Faustus; take it or leave it."

          Defoe deliberated deeply for all of a minute–just enough to show he was a man of gravity–and agreed to take the devil at his word.

          "Take your pen and take these notes," he said in triumph.

          "I like the idea of an adventure story. I like the idea of the young man running away from his father. We can really play up that rebellion angle. It's been worked and overworked, but I'm sure we can dust it off and give it another go. I think we can stick with Selkirk and leave this guy marooned on an uninhabited isle. He'll be one man, lost in paradise. I know, it's been worked before, but it still has plenty of mileage."

          "What is the purpose of the book?" the puzzled writer asked.

          "I'm going to turn the world upside down, with your help, Defoe. We're going to create the man of the future and he's going to be born in your book. Some people will call him a capitalist, some a colonist,some an imperialist. I call him a brother–an angel–a man after my own heart. But enough of these raptures, the guy is going to change the face of the world.

          "He'll have a cash register for a heart, a double entry brain, and ice water in his veins. The most meaningful word in his vocabulary will be 'more.'"

          "What sort of a family shall I give him," asked Defoe.

          "Family? Why would he need a family? He'll have gold and power and property. What would he do with a family?"

          "But he'll need love, not to mention the other amenities," Defoe interjected.

          "Is that your idea of the amenities, downstairs?"

          "Okay," Defoe said, "so he has no family. How do I get him off the island?"

          "Leave it to me. We'll arrange a rescue scene. Our hero will sail off the island having trebled his worth. He'll come into even more money–so much that he can bankroll further adventures."

          "Are we talking sequel, sir?"

          "That I am. I told you, you're in the big leagues now."

          But Defoe still wasn't satisfied with the personification of his protagonist. "The people will not accept this man. The masses want a hero, someone they can look up to."

          "They won't buy him without the trimmings, but, if we give him a Bible to beat, we've got 'em."

          Defoe blanched, "You're talking blasphemy. I cannot–"

          "You can and you will," the devil overruled. "I need a prophet." Defoe's eyebrows lifted, but the devil continued. "As much as I hate to, I've got to include Him."

          "You mean God," questioned Defoe. "Yes, Him. This man–you started to call him Crusoe and I'll go along with it–must be perceived as His ordained vehicle of change. He's going to be His agent to subdue a hostile world. By the time the rest of the suckers catch on, it will be too late."

          "I see," said Defoe, "shall I give him horns and a forked tail?"

          "Wise up , Defoe, that stuff went out with the Dark Ages. Crusoe should look like you. Make him the guy next door. Make him every man."

          "I beg to differ, sir, but why would the public be taken in by such an ordinary fellow?"

          "I know where you're coming from and I've thought of that too. I've designed the perfect foil for Defoe. The thing that's going to make Crusoe a hero is that he steps on others as he fights toward the top. Everyone wants to be better than someone–whether they truly are or not–so we'll give Crusoe someone to Lord it over. The enemy has to be different enough to be feared, but similar enough to make the joy of conquest worthwhile. Let's make him black, but just black enough to be palatable. Make him a cannibal; that ought to provoke fear. Make the hair wild, but for God's sake, not nappy. Call him–what's today?–Yeah, call him Friday."

          Defoe grimaced.

          The devil continued,"I guess I can let you in on a little joke since you won't be around to enjoy it. Crusoe is going to start with Friday, but he'll end up victimizing his fellows. The man of the future will be insatiable. But never you mind, that's a hundred years down the pike. You can start to write now and I'll be back to check on the finished product."

          Defoe started to protest, but hesitated, for somehow, he knew he was once again alone.

          Needless to say, he followed the instructions to the letter. The devil, crazy, as it sounds, fulfilled his promises, dotting every "i" and crossing every "t." Defoe went on to celebrity and wealth. His name was included in every history book that had a right to be called such. But the devil didn't count on Friday, for there really was such a person. Selkirk made several return trips to his island of terror. On one such trip, he took a companion named Daniel Defoe. It was there that my ancestor met the aged and much dissipated writer. Defoe took a liking to the native and over many weeks unburdened himself to Friday. Having completed this catharsis, Selkirk and Defoe left, never to return again.

          The burden that Defoe dropped was now placed squarely on the shoulders of my forefather. It aged him considerably, but he, compelled by the life-threatening news, went to warn the neighboring peoples. They, being simpleminded folk, did not believe him. In fact, they laughed him to scorn. They couldn't believe, dumb savages that they were, that men could be so inhumane, without a cause. They attributed Friday's delusions to too much tropical sun. But what could they know, they were only savages.

          So there you have it, the story of Robinson Crusoe–strange but true. And if you're still having trouble believing me, check the history of imperialism. Maybe that will make a believer out of you.


Mr. Lovelace to Mr. Samuel Richardson

          I am informed by my good friend Belford that the lady is still alive. I beseech ye, Richardson, let me follow my character. You know well that it is not within my nature to remain away from her, as she, Belford and yourself wish me to do. I have made several attempts to see her but she has foiled them all. She is aware of my scheming and has learned techniques to avoid them, but I have worked very hard at this endeavor and do not wish to be beaten. I will not abide losing her after all my efforts. I do love her very deeply and wish to pursue my need to behold my Clarissa in mine own eyes. I received her letter promising a meeting in her father's house, but I am not a patient man and do not wish to wait any longer. I am aware that she is deteriorating every day and I fear that my time may be running out.

          Now, I wish to declare that she is, indeed, mine. I am beginning to recognize your own obsession with beautiful and virtuous Clarissa and I am a jealous man. She is not yours and can never be yours. You have isolated her completely for your own benefit. I swear, I may not be able to control myself, in my jealous, suffering state. I must see her. You cannot control me or manipulate my character any longer. Sir, a duel may be in order. You have interfered long enough in our love affair.

Miss Harlowe to Mr. Samuel Richardson

         Thank you so much, kind sir, for finally freeing me from that awful rake. I am in an impatient hurry to be gone of this earthly suffering. Please tell my story truthfully. I have seen what you have written thus far and have only one complaint. It is too long. No young ladies will have the time to read such a tremendous manuscript and thus learn from my disagreeable experience.

          You already know my last wishes and I do hope that you abide them. My suffering has been great and I ask you speed up your writing so I can, at last, be compensated in the next world for my pain in this one.

My dearest Clarissa Harlowe from Sam Richardson

In all your punctiliousness, I, your humble servant, respect your wishes and punctilio. You are the most excellent exemplar of women and deserve retribution in your ultimate fate. I am loathe to lose you and I continue the story only to keep you within my view. Please understand, most perfect and meritorious of women, that it is difficult to part with such beauty and angelic virtue as yours. I am bound to do as you wish, though, and your wish is my command.

          I realize that it is your wish to enter the kingdom of heaven where you can finally be at peace. This is extremely difficult for me to endeavor. I know of course that a place is reserved for your holy soul but I repine at your leaving my grasp. Your most humble servant, /Sam Richardson

Mr. Lovelace to Mr. John Belford, Esq.

          Discourage me no more. Ignore that vile Richardson who is as treacherous as James Harlowe. You must help to engage a certain doctor to save Clarissa's life. I have spoken with him at length and he is sure her ailment is curable. I will marry her and I will not allow her do die before I do so. I will direct this fine doctor to attend Clarissa under the guise of a funeral director and since you are her executor you can inform her of his upcoming visit. When he arrives, he can administer the medicine he claims to be so miraculous. Think of it, my good friend Belford, the incomparable Clarissa can be saved.

Mr. Belford to Mr. Samuel Richardson

My good sir, I can stand it no more. I beg of you to allow me to save her. My deepest desire is to marry Miss Clarissa Harlowe. She would be saved from all disgrace and suffering and I feel she does have a liking for me. Indeed, we are good friends and she trusts me well. I am completely within her power and all my loyalty lies with her. I am no longer a fellow libertine and friend of Robert Lovelace. As a matter of fact, I would like to suggest that you set him in a duel with her brother James to fight for her insurmountable honor, in which her brother would win.

          I am in a position to influence that base wretch of a man in regards to Clarissa's situation. I will mislead him in any manner you wish if only you will grant me this wish. It is evident that it is the answer to all our problems.

          And to prove my loyalty, I have a bit of information that may prove valuable to you. Lovelace has engaged a famous doctor to save the noble Clarissa. His plan is to dupe you by having him disguised as a funeral director with my help. I give this information to you to fortify my declaration that I am no longer a party to Lovelace's schemes. Please repay my kindness by fulfilling my undying love for Clarissa by allowing me to save her.

Mr. Richardson to Mr. Robert Lovelace, Esq.

          How dare you threaten me. You must remember that I am in charge here. None of your base, underhanded trickery will work with me. I have granted Clarissa's wish. You will see her no more. Accept your fate, as you have no choice. You are in no position to duel with me as our weapons are completely different. Yours is the sword and mine is the mighty pen. Farewell, you rake.

Miss Howe to Mr. Samuel Richardson

          My sir, I feel you have distanced me from my dearest Clary long enough. I must insist that I may be allowed to visit her directly. All these trifling, contrived interruptions you have created would not hold me back from seeing the noblest of creatures, Clarissa. Indeed, a team of horses could not keep me from her and yet you do. I wonder at your motives. I could not hurt her or you in any way. Why do you wish to isolate her so? Isn't it true that her dearest friend might be able to save her life by helping her to mend her heart. Please consider my request and direct your correspondence to me forthwith. Thank you.

Mr. Richardson to Mr. John Belford, Esq.

         I regret to inform you that your request will never be granted in my book. My angelic Clarissa deserves much more than settling for the likes of you. Her angelic disposition and state of mind are no match for a man who was once friends with that rake, Lovelace. I could never sacrifice my faultless lady of perfection to you or any other man.

          Thank you very much for that piece of information: it has been very helpful. A word of advice to you, Belford, do not use your bargaining chips before a solid deal has been struck.

Mr. Richardson to Miss Howe

         My strong-minded lady, I am sorry to inform you that my plans do not include your intrusion on the exemplar of women. You should take a page from her book. Please pursue the matter no further as it is not in your best interest. Your mother has been protecting you from your own rashness and Clarissa does not need your assistance any further.

Mrs. Richardson to Mr. Samuel Richardson,

         My good sir, although at one time I was the light of your eye, I can see that our situation has been greatly altered. Your obsession with Clarissa Harlowe and that stupid book has ruined our marriage. You are so enamored with your exemplar of women, you have ignored and neglected me to fault.

         I must inform you that punctiliousness was never one of my characteristics and that I hate to be alone, which you knew. I have therefore taken up with our stable boy, the illiterate; therefore, I will not lose him to a pen. Please do not be too shocked but I do not fear you will be. Indeed, you have not even noticed my existence for the last four hundred pages. You may not even miss le at all if you can endeavor to keep that artful Clarissa alive. Good-bye and Good riddance.


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Revised: 8/30/02