Configurations of Friday’s Body
Configurations of Friday’s Body
A Special Issue of the Nordic Journal of English Studies
Ed. by Patrick Gill and Jakub Lipski
When Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe was published in 1719, it confronted readers with a newly developed realism expressed, among other things, through the detailed description of its characters’ worlds and bodies. The connection between mind and body or physical and spiritual world was more than allegorical to eighteenth-century readers: it represented a literal and immediate correspondence, so that discourses of the body in much eighteenth-century fiction can be read as material figurations of character.
This special issue of the Nordic Journal of English Studies revisits the question of bodies and the physical materiality of characters in order to elucidate one of world literature’s most famous but also most enigmatic figures, that of Friday. Omnipresent in the Robinsonade imaginary, Friday is still to this day most frequently defined not in his own right but in opposition to Robinson: a walking, (and eventually) talking other to the castaway protagonist. By foregoing the typical approach of highlighting the evolving social, cultural and educational relationship between Robinson and Friday in favour of an approach centred around Friday’s physical materiality – his body, his movement, his space – this special issue addresses an important gap in discussions of Defoe’s classic novel and its afterlives.
The most immediately accessible but still tremendously underresearched question will be that of the causes in aid of which Friday’s body is employed as a site of signification. There are those Friday figures whose bodies function as willing helpmeets of the coloniser-castaway and those whose bodies become sites of resistance to colonial rule. This dichotomy is one that has been approached from many angles before, but as yet no concerted attempts at reading Fridays primarily through their bodies have been undertaken. Closer inspection will reveal many examples where the story is not quite so simply told, where discourse around the body may well serve to undermine dominant ideas of a paternalistically benevolent colonialism on the one hand; or where the supposed moral and intellectual inferiority of the Friday figure is belied by an ostentatious display of his physical prowess.
When it comes to negotiations of gender roles, the story of female castaways and female castaway-companions asks how the respective Friday figure is used in their physical dimensions to transpose what we think of as typical characteristics of Friday into another context or how they are employed to counteract those notions of what is thought of as “typical”? Discussing the Robinsonade in feminist terms is not an entirely new venture – doing so with a primary focus on the body (and on Friday’s body at that) offers new insights into the form of the Robinsonade.
Other forms of reconfigurated Fridays may result in similarly double-edged discourses: when companion figures are represented by inanimate objects and animals, how does that comment on Defoe’s use of othering, and how is that material change meant to be understood by modern audiences?
With a host of other questions up for discussion, including the difference between literary and screen representations of Friday’s body; physical representations of Friday employed in children’s versions of the Robinson story; idealised representations of Friday’s body; the scars and mutilations of Friday’s body as the site of colonialist oppression; the perceived threat of Friday’s physical presence, and the (monetary) value of Friday’s body as beast of burden and bear wrestler, this special issue offers plenty of scope for a long overdue discussion of the physical materiality of one of world literature’s most familiar yet also most enigmatic characters.
With a number of contributions already in place, we are looking for additional engagements with the topic of Friday’s body in anglophone Robinsonades across media, genres and centuries. Please submit 200-word abstracts to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com by 1 April 2022. Completed essays (5,000 to 7,000 words) will be due on 1 October 2022 with a view to publication in a late 2023 issue of NJES.