How to Read Comparatively, or Playing the Mug's Game

Six

BEFORE AND AFTER THE SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON

What is tendentious or ideological about The Swiss Family Robinson (1812)? What is noticed by the wise, demystified, critical reader I have become? A comparison with two other works, Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe (1719), in one historical direction, and the Alice books (1865 and 1871), in the other, with a further gesture toward the quite recent Foe (1986), by the South African author J. M. Coetzee, will allow economical answers.

Robinson Crusoe is a version of the prodigal son story. It depends on the ironic disjunction between the first-person narrator then and the wiser first-person narrator now, just as I am second-guessing my naiveté in being taken in by The Swiss Family Robinson. The irony in Robinson Crusoe works both ways. The older, wiser narrator tells the reader what a self-destructive fool he was not to obey his father and stay at home to become prosperous in the middle station to which Providence has called him. At the same time the reader knows there would be no story to tell if Crusoe had not disobeyed his father and gone to sea. The reader, not so secretly, admires Crusoe's foolhardiness, as well as his courage and cleverness in saving himself when he is shipwrecked. After all, Crusoe's shipwreck is ultimately the occasion of his conversion experience. The novel, seen this way, becomes ironic praise

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On Literature
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgements xi
  • One - What is Literature? 1
  • Two - Literature as Virtual Reality 24
  • Three - The Secret of Literature 46
  • Four - Why Read Literature? 81
  • Five - How to Read Literature 115
  • Six - How to Read Comparatively, or Playing the Mug's Game 132
  • Index 160
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