In Crusoe’s Footsteps: Robinson Crusoe and the Robinsonade – A Tercentenary Appraisal
Friday, 6th September 2019
Digby Stuart College, University of Roehampton
Bookings for the conference are now open here:
Writing in 1834, the Scottish novelist Sir Walter Scott observed the following of Daniel Defoe’s most influential novel, Robinson Crusoe: ‘There is hardly an elf so devoid of imagination as not to have supposed for himself a solitary island in which he could act Robinson Crusoe, were it but the corners of the nursery’ (Biographical Memoirs, 279). While Scott’s comment evidently speaks to the pervasiveness of The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, published in 1719, it also more explicitly aligns the Robinson Crusoe story with childhood.
It is little wonder that Defoe’s novel has been embedded within the imagination of childhood culture from the eighteenth century onwards, for a great number of works of literature for young readers present Defoe’s novel as the blueprint for a certain “right kind” of living. In Thomas Bewick’s The History of Little King Pippin (c. 1810), for instance, the eponymous child-character, Peter Pippin, saves up his money to purchase an edition of Robinson Crusoe from his local bookshop, rather than squander it on sweets and trinkets. When, in the course of his adventures, Pippin finds himself thrown upon the shore of a seemingly uninhabited island, it is his swift recollection of Robinson Crusoe’s similar predicament that saves Pippin from his imagined fears. Similarly, Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Little Pig Robinson (1930) points its young readers towards Defoe’s novel as a valuable resource; while Arthur Ransome, the author of the Swallows and Amazons series, went so far as to claim that “Robinson Crusoe is a very important book for those of you who want to know what to do on a desert island”.
Andrew O’Malley has rightly queried how Defoe’s novel, “a book that has on its surface so little to do with children”, has had “so much to say about childhood” (“Crusoe’s Children” 2012, 88). This year’s NCRCL conference explores the cultural heritage and continued relevance of the Robinson Crusoe story for young readers within modern and contemporary children’s literature. By way of a retrospective, we invite speakers to consider adaptations of the Robinson Crusoe story for young readers from the eighteenth century to the present day, drawing on the wide range of the Robinsonades produced in Defoe’s wake. We will be thinking about the origins and developments of the Robinsonade as well as the continued significance of the desert island story to children’s literature. Discussions will cover such topics as the expanding definition of the Robinsonade (which encompasses both the traditional island settings and non-traditional “islanded” topographies), the gendering and disengendering of the Robinsonade, and the crossover between the Robinsonade and other popular children’s genres and forms (the bildungsroman, the adventure narrative). We will also consider the relationship between Defoe’s source novel and the many adaptations of the Robinson Crusoe story, the crossover Robinsonade narrative for children and young adult readers, and the ways in which the experiences of childhood depicted within these narratives have changed over time.
The conference will include a keynote presentation by Professor M.O. Grenby (University of Newcastle), the author of Juvenile Tourists: British Children and the Grand Tour (2018), The Child Reader, 1700-1840 (2011), and Children’s Literature (2008).
Proposals are welcome for individual papers (20 minutes) on all aspects of the Robinsonade genre and on adaptations of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe for young readers. Topics might include (but are not limited to):
· Theoretical and historical considerations of the form/genre (shifting ideologies; underlying didacticism; continued significance within the childhood imagination)
· Adaptations of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe written specifically for children and young adults (Robinson the Younger, or The New Robinson Crusoe; The Young Islanders; The Little Savage; “The Children’s Island: A True Story”; Four on the Island: A Story of Adventure; The Boy Castaways)
· The gendering and disengendering of Robinsonade fictions (female Crusoes; Robinsonades for girls; “Robina Crusoe”; Leila, or the Island; Zelia in the Desert, or The Female Crusoe; Little Miss Robinson Crusoe)
· Postcolonial and/or feminist considerations of the Robinsonade (Nation; The Island of the Blue Dolphins; Friday and Robinson; John Dollar; Beauty Queens)
· Early-learner and/or picturebook adaptations of Robinson Crusoe (The Robinson Crusoe Picturebook; Robinson Crusoe in Words of One Syllable; Robinson Crusoe Written Anew for Children)
· Reconsiderations of the Robinsonades of high Empire (The Coral Island; Masterman Ready; The Mysterious Island; The Swiss Family Robinson; Treasure Island)
· Pre-Robinsonade fictions (works which pre-date Defoe’s novel but which may be reconsidered in light of the genre’s heritage)
· The relationship between the Robinsonade and other genres for young readers (the adventure story; the survival story; the bildungsroman)
· Utopian/dystopian considerations of childhood (Lord of the Flies; The Island of Shipwrecked Children; The Secret Islanders)
· Robinsonades and/or survival narratives set in non-traditional “islanded” locations (My Side of the Mountain; The Wall; The Keeper of the Isis Light)
· Adaptations of Robinson Crusoe for film, television, computer gaming, music (Robinson Crusoe; The Swiss Family Robinson; Gilligan’s Island; Lost in Blue)
· Philosophies of childhood and the Robinsonade (Paul and Virginia; The Blue Lagoon)
· Islands in children’s literature (The Island of Adventure; The Secret Island)
We welcome contributions from interested academics, authors, historians, publishers etc. in any of these areas.
The deadline for proposals is 17th June 2019. Please email a 200-word abstract (for a 20-minute paper), along with a short biography and affiliation to: Julia.Noyce@roehampton.ac.uk.