Desert island fiction is a form of fiction in which a remote and ‘uncivilized’ island is used as the venue of the story and action. It has a particular attraction because it can be placed right outside the real world and maybe an image of the ideal, the unspoiled, and the primitive. It appeals directly to the sense of adventure and exploratory instinct in most people (it also appeals to a certain atavistic nostalgia) and many a child must have thought at least once how splendid it would be to be shipwrecked on a desert island.
The publication of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe in 1719 marked the inception of a literary genre which has attained universal popularity. In France, desert island stories came to be known as Robinsonnades; in Germany as Robinsonaden. In 1719 Defoe also published The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, and in the same year, an imitation appeared, called The Adventures and Surprising Deliverance of James Dubourdieu and his Wife from the Uninhabited Part of the Island of Paradise. French and German editions of Robinson Crusoe came out in 1720, and since that time there have been 196 English editions, some 130 translations into two dozen different languages, about 120 adaptations, and approximately 280 imitations (many of which have been translated).
The theme of Robinson Crusoe has appeared in numerous other works, of which some of the more notable are: The Hermit, or… The Adventures of Mr Philip Quarll (1727); Johann Schnabel’s Die Insel Felsenburg (1731-43); Johann Campe’s Robinson der Jüngere (1779-80); and the European classic Der Schweizerische Robinson by Wyss, which was translated into English as The Swiss Family Robinson in 1814.
The increasing popularity of children’s books in the 19thc. produced a good many developments of the Crusoe theme, like J. Taylor’s The Young Islanders (1841), Madame de Beaulieu’s Le Robinson de douze ans (1824). We can also mention R. M. Ballantyne’s The Coral Island (1858) and his Dog Crusoe (1861), R. L. Stevenson’s Treasure Island (1883), and, more recently, William Golding’s Lord of the Flies (1954), a story which reverses the image of an unspoiled and semi-paradisal existence. By contrast, Aldous Huxley depicted a utopian way of life in Island (1966). Related to this genre are Gerhart Hauptmann’s Die Insel der grossen Mutter (1924), Giraudoux’s Suzanne et le Pacifique (1939) and Michel Tournier’s Vendredi (1967).
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