Defoe's preface is less than a page long, but is important to pay attention to because it lays out the "Editor's" rationale for publishing Robinson Crusoe's history. This "Editor," however, is not Defoe's real editor, but rather the first fictional character of the novel. The Preface, then, is Defoe's method for framing the upcoming narrative in terms of issues relevant to the early eighteenth century. Since the period saw an explosion of book selling (the printing press had come into its own), as well as the first copyright law ever to be instituted, early modern culture felt overwhelmed by the availability of books to the public. With such a relative wealth of books, people wondered, how would one know which books were worth reading and which weren't? Perhaps in response to this, Defoe's Preface seems obsessed with justifying its own publication, even going so far as to claim that it is not a novel, and is instead a history. As a history, the Editor argues, Robinson Crusoe is worth publishing because it can provide a (negative) example to readers -- showing them what not to do in order to live a satisfying and safe life. The Editor then goes on to say that this history is the most publicity-worthy of any he knows because Crusoe's life is more filled with unbelievable adventure than any other. He is thus making two arguments: the first is that we should regard Crusoe as a true (that is, believable) history, and the second is that this history is worth telling precisely because of its unbelievability. Although the Preface seems designed to clarify the terms of the novel, then, Crusoe begins with a contradiction.
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