Good Morning, Mr Crusoe uneasily juggles with three imperfectly distinguished entities: Crusoe the original novel; its author; and the later enslavement of both the novel and its eponymous hero to alien agendas. Boyle is inconsistent in apportioning blame for the novel’s “racist, imperialist and misogynist baggage”. You are now expecting me to defend Defoe’s book by saying that it was “of its time”; Boyle, indeed, takes the trouble to assure us that he is of his, but doesn’t always accord that courtesy to his adversary. Much about Crusoe is indeed reprehensible, or even horrifying: from Crusoe’s callous sale of Xury, the boy who helped him most, to the paternalistic possession of Friday’s body and soul, and most of all (and here Boyle’s bat is straightest) the way the book has been used to justify imperialist attitudes in the Victorian and Edwardian eras.
Jack Robinson – the jokey alias of Charles Boyle, a witty and ingenious dropout from the publishing trade – is unimpressed by the rich, imaginative afterlife of a story that soon became a myth. He considers Defoe’s novel to be “a dull thing” and questions its elevation to “the sacred status of Eng Lit”; what matters to him is its malign influence – its xenophobic propaganda and its pandering to the delusions of imperial Britain.