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Robinson Crusoe, Home School Hero

Margaret Eustace France


FROM 1970 to 2006, the only paperback edition of Daniel Defoe's first sequel to The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1719), The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1719), came from an unlikely source: Focus on the Family. The evangelical Christian organization chose to use a Victorian edition as their copy text, to which they made further changes and added an original introduction and reader's guide. The differences between the Focus on the Family edition and the first edition are slight but telling; for example, the most amusing alteration involves a moment of levity that turns serious. In an attempt to prevent a confrontation with a flotilla of natives in canoes, Crusoe sends Friday to determine their purpose. Friday's summons elicits an unusual response: "Six of them, who were in the foremost or nighest Boat to us, turn'd their Canoes from us; and stooping down, shew'd us their naked Backsides, just as if in English, saving your Presence, they had bid us kiss---; whether this was a Defiance or a Challenge, we knew not; or whether it was done in meer Contempt, or as a Signal to the rest" (first ed., 208).1 The Focus on the Family edition's more succinct rendition of the incident sacrifices key details: "Six of them who were in the foremost or nighest boat to us turned their canoes from us and showed us their naked backs. Whether this was a defiance or challenge, or whether it was done in contempt or as a signal to the rest, we knew not" (146). This version, with the wording reprinted exactly from the Victorian edition, not only replaces "backside" with "back," but it also excises Crusoe's attempt to explain the gesture as idiomatic, reducing the likelihood that the reader would understand "back" as a euphemism for "backside."2 Anyone vaguely familiar with Focus on the Family and the evangelical Christian values that the group claims to represent could hardly be surprised by their reliance on a copy text that covers the asses left bare in Defoe's original.3 What is more surprising, and the subject of this essay, is the way in which Focus on the Family's publication of the first two Crusoe novels reinterprets this canonical piece of Western mythology and how that interpretation might serve their interests. Editorial emendations, both those preserved from the copy text and those instigated by the editor, along with the metatextual apparatus surrounding the Focus on the Family editions of both Crusoe novels, use the violent content of Farther Adventures as a tool for building a Christian identity that is resolutely unperturbed by the sight of blood. This emphasis on violence, despite the demonstrable squeamishness at depicting actual bodies noted above, makes this version of the Crusoe story consistent with contemporary evangelical Christian media, including child-rearing manuals and the Left Behind series. Focus on the Family's insistence that the first two Crusoes be read together allows for a reading that simultaneously celebrates the autonomy of home schooling while underscoring the necessity of Christian community.

Evangelical Christians enjoy faith-based versions of many elements of the secular world: faith-based gyms, diets, heavy metal, and even their own Baldwin brother.4 All represent attempts to refashion the secular world into something familiar but Christ-centered. This movement to "co-opt or colonize the modern" does not limit itself to popular culture (Cavalcanti 15). By publishing its own editions of Robinson Crusoe and its sequel, The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, currently little-known to the general public, Focus on the Family colonizes some of the most colonizing texts of the Western Canon. Where organizations like Christian Exodus and Quiverfull explicitly seek to re-settle and repopulate the United States,5 Focus on the Family's version of the Crusoe saga rewrites the country's intellectual heritage, not only by the metatextual framing of the novels, but by insisting that the Crusoe story consists of both the first novel and the second, a distinction at once anachronistic and artificial.6 Focus on the Family effectively creates its own version of the Crusoe story, appropriating one of the most widely taught novels into its own parallel canon. Significantly, Focus on the Family includes guides for home instruction in its editions; thus, these editions attempt to replace both the conventional Crusoe saga and the institutions in which it might be encountered.

What kind of parallel canon does Focus on the Family seek to construct? As illustrated by the dearth of current editions, Focus on the Family's inclusion of Farther Adventures in its version of the Crusoe story is an unusual choice. Even during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when the novels were routinely published together, the second part was disparaged. Charles Dickens called Farther Adventures "perfectly contemptible" (158). No less a champion of Crusoe, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who felt Robinson Crusoe was the sole book Émile should read before his twelfth birthday, wanted his ideal pupil to study only Crusoe's initial trip to the island. The rest, according to Rousseau, was pointless "rigmarole" (185). In choosing to end the saga with Farther Adventures, Focus on the Family overlooks Defoe's explicitly theological final sequel Serious Reflections on the Life of Robinson Crusoe (1720) in favor of a text that is far more violent than the first novel, which is hardly a feast for pacifists. The organization's selection of the first two novels and editing choices reflect a tolerance for depictions of bloodshed as an essential part of developing a Christian identity. Brutal images punctuate both Robinson Crusoe and Farther Adventures. Everett Zimmerman notes that together the novels constitute "an intricate exploration of social and legal rationales for violence" ("Robinson Crusoe" 523), while Melinda Rabb recently used both novels as evidence of eighteenth-century England's fascination with male dismemberment (106). Still, like a sequel to a summer blockbuster, the body count rises from the first book to the second. Zimmerman considers Farther Adventures "a documentation of ungovernable passion," enumerating the rage-driven massacres and threats of massacre within the novel ("Defoe" 385), while Robert Markley notes that even Crusoe's fantasies become more violent in the second book ("Crusoe's Farther Adventures" 43). Crusoe's response to the idol-worshipping Tartars in Farther Adventures encapsulates the protagonist's shocking amenability to the use of force in the second novel: "I related the Story of our Men at Madagascar, and how they burnt and sack'd the Village there, and kill'd Man, Woman and Child, for their murdering one of our Men, just as it is related before; and when I had done, I added, that I thought we ought to do so to this Village" (333). In short, where Crusoe once imagined shooting and stabbing cannibals, in the second novel he daydreams of torching heathen women and children.

Though Focus on the Family anticipated contemporary critical approaches in considering the books together — Markley, Coby Dowdell, and Michael Austin have all published insightful work on Defoe premised on reading Farther Adventures as integral to Defoe's vision of the Crusoe story — the organization's aims have little to do with those of contemporary literary scholars. Unlike Dowdell and Markley, for example, Focus on the Family does not include Farther Adventures as primary documentary evidence of English anxiety around trade and cultural exchange with the Far East. So what pedagogical merit do Christian homeschoolers find in Farther Adventures? If we consider Defoe's Crusoe books alongside Dare to Discipline, Focus on the Family's influential child-rearing manual, as well as in the context of political debates about homeschooling and children's corporal punishment, we begin to fathom why from 1999 until 2003 a Christian organization would produce a teaching edition of The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, a text that mainstream academic publishers continue to ignore despite increased scholarly interest. Focus on the Family encourages home study of Robinson Crusoe with Farther Adventures because the addition of the second book along with editorial interventions shifts the nature and function of the story. Focus on the Family transforms Crusoe from Ian Watt's homo economicus to a man struggling to understand violence and its proper application within a Christian context. In Focus on the Family's version of Farther Adventures, the autonomous hero must accept and be guided by the wisdom of his Christian community, wherever he finds it, or risk committing atrocities. This parallels Focus on the Family's mission to make families less subject to state control, particularly in terms of education and corporal punishment, but not so autonomous that they will not act in concert according to Focus on the Family's agenda.
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