Abstract

This article examines the circulation and reception of cheap nineteenth-century American abridgments of Robinson Crusoe (1719). This essay shows that the American canonization of Daniel Defoe’s narrative was a function of commercial printing and the democratic reading practices it enabled, particularly where poor and working-class readers were concerned. Robinson Crusoe’s circulation among economically marginalized audiences becomes especially important when we consider the frequency with which issues of upward mobility and wealth acquisition are foregrounded in American abridgments and the interpretive instability such invocations evince. The variety of ways in which Robinson Crusoe abridgments engage with or disavow money suggests that Crusoe’s gold was among the most contested symbols in the antebellum literary marketplace.

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