Robinson Crusoe’s implausible palisades: Privateering, colonialism, realism, myth and the south-sea bubble

Robert Clark

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Defoe’s reimagining of Alexander Selkirk’s experience of being marooned on the island of Juan Fernández represents a history of imperial violence as a mixture of spiritual and practical enlightenment and guiltless mercantile development. Defoe’s production is deeply involved with the South-Sea Bubble which, as Defoe himself observed, deployed fantasies of colonial wealth to resolve funding problems for the British state and to enable financial fraud. Defoe’s novel is thus understood as an imaginary solution to the contradiction between the ideology of honest trade and the real interests of finance capitalism. The novel, which has been seen as inventing literary realism, and which constructed in Crusoe an ideal-type of “rational economic man,” worked to legitimate the conversion of “native” resources into privatised finance capital. Crusoe is realist to the extent that it represents the world as quantities ready to be rationalised into commodity form, thus promoting the mercantilist view and the formation of the British empire.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)167-181
Number of pages15
JournalEtudes Anglaises
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2019

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