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‘How like a King I look’d’: Nature and sovereignty in the illustrated Robinson Crusoe, as influenced by Thomas Hobbes by Simon Court

Abstract: Daniel Defoe was, amongst other things, a political pamphleteer, and he thread into the narrative of his travel novel Robinson Crusoe a variety of recognisably distinct political theories as he charted the physical and mental development of his hero. He drew on Sir Robert Filmer’s ‘Divine Right of Kings’ theory, which served to justify the sovereignty of Charles I, John Locke’s emphasis on the virtue of labour and private property, and, most notably, Thomas Hobbes’s ‘nasty brutish and short’ view of the natural condition of man living without strong government. These competing political perspectives are revealed in the multitude of illustrations to the novel since its publication in 1719, but two stand out. One is called ‘I was King and Lord of all this Country’ (a line in the novel) by J. Ayton Symington in the 1905 edition. Previous commentary has focussed on the colonial aspects of the depiction but what is striking is the similarity of the Crusoe figure to Charles I - echoing the face, dress and pose in the court portraits of Van Dyck - which reveals the ‘absolutist’ nature of Crusoe’s sovereign power on the island. The other is on the frontispiece to the first edition by John Clark and John Pine, whose iconic image of Crusoe standing alone, armed to the teeth and looking fearful, offers a fresh interpretation in the light of the political theories underpinning the novel, in particular that of Thomas Hobbes.

Date created: 
Monday, June 6, 2022
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‘How like a King I look’d’: Nature and sovereignty in the illustrated Robinson Crusoe, as influenced by Thomas Hobbes by Simon Court, All rights reserved.
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