Westering Crusoes: Mayne Reid's
The Desert Home and the
Plotting of the American West
SUSAN NARAMORE MAHER
Robinson Crusoe, Leslie Fiedler has asserted, is "so oddly like an
American book, with its striking parallel to the myth of the good companions
in the wilderness."1 Fiedler's suggestive comment has been taken up
recently by Martin Green, who has proposed Defoe's narrative as a
fountainhead of all Western fictional materials, a master-text that has helped
"energize" the Western "myth."2Green's inclusion of Scott's
Waverleyas a secondary prototype is meant to underscore the dominion of
European literary models over the nineteenth-century American book market. As
the Western developed into a distinctive genre, Green argues, the
imprint of Old World texts remained puissant. If, as David Mogen claims,
"most significant American literature is structured in some form by the
basic archetypes of this mythology-the conflict between an Old World
and a New World," then the presence of European subtexts within the
Western helps articulate "the ironic drama of the frontier figure
negotiating between ... the theme of wilderness metamorphosis ... and the
triumph of 'progress'."3 The Western genre, then, contains a textual
struggle, one between the already plotted (European) and the emerging,
indigenous American/Western text.
But, Fiedler has cautioned, Robinson Crusoe "parts company with our
own similar books at the point where Friday is taught 'Master' as his first
word."4 Robinson Crusoe empowers a peculiarly English myth, Fiedler
implies, one informed by a class structure and an extended subservient Empire.
Its premises counter the democratic experiment and negate the
American belief in the freeplay of "becoming." Crusoe, after all,
restructures the society he has left behind; he has not recreated on his island
an alternative vision, a new world celebrating its difference from the old.
Indeed, few American writers in the nineteenth century attempted to
impose the textual structure of Robinson Crusoe onto American
materials.5 For this reason, the flamboyant, self-aggrandizing Irish
writer,Thomas Mayne Reid ("Captain" to his enthusiastic readers), offers an
insightful case study into the creation of an American "Robinsonnade."
6 For Reid, Defoe's novel offered a textual framework from which he
could order the chaotic, "unplotted" (to use Stephen Fender's metaphor) Texas
landscape of the Llano Estacado and impose the dominion of culture upon the
American wilderness.7 The assertion of a European genre, the
Robinsonnade, however, ultimately proved problematic for Reid. John
R. Milton has suggested that "in the American novel Nature becomes
an additional character of force."8 In The Desert Home; or,
English Family Robinson (1851), Reid's only Western Robinsonnade, the
unplotted West remains a recalcitrant subject, resisting the acculturating will
inherent in the Crusoe myth. Ultimately, Reid's adventure reaches a dramatic
stale-mate between the opposed forces of nature (Mogen's "New World") and
culture (the "Old World"). His settlers fail to create "a table in the
wilderness," facing, instead, a land both bountiful and brutal, a subversive
subtext to their tale of recreation.
The Desert Home represents Reid's first try at juvenile fiction,
though its subject, the Great American Desert, was familiar to readers of his
first two "frontier Gothic romances," The Rifle Rangen (1850) andThe
Scalp Hunteres (1851).9 Reid's literary career spanned three
decades and was marked by a diminishment into formula fiction and hack writing.
Yet his early novels, set in the American Southwest and Mexico, received
favorable press. Reid's own experiences as a vagabond immigrant inform
much of his best fiction. Son of a northern Irish Presbyterian minister,
Reverend Thomas Mayne Reid, Sr., the junior Reid was early channeled
into the ministry. He attended the Royal Academical Institution in
Belfast, an unsuitable environment for "a wild youth who had little interest
in a classical education, generally preferring to roam the Mourne Hills
pursuing game or observing nature."10 Reid's was an impassioned,
romantic temperament. Realizing their mistake, his parents allowed Reid
to embark for New Orleans in December 1839. At twenty-one, he was
anxious to make his mark on the world.
Yet from the start, he was unable to construct a clear path to success.
In New Orleans he oversaw slave gangs, a job that transformed him into
a confirmed abolitionist. He opened a school in Nashville, but it quickly
folded. Reid traveled in two trading expeditions along the Red River
and into New Mexico, journeys that provided him with detail for both
The Scalp Hunters and The Desert Home. From St. Louis he helped
organize hunting parties on the plains and may have accompanied
Audubon up the Missouri in 1843 (MR, 19-20). Clearly his most important
American experiences were meeting Edgar Allan Poe in 1843 and
enlisting in the First New York Volunteer Regiment to fight the Mexican-
American War (1846-47). Reid settled in Philadelphia for a two-year
stint; with Poe's encouragement, he wrote poems and tales末published
in Godey's and Graham's末and created a tragedy,Love's
Martyr, for the Philadelphia stage. As Lieutenant Reid, he contributed war
correspondence to Spirit of the Times (I May to 18 December 1847). He
saw action in the Battle of Chapultepec, received a severe thigh wound, and
resigned as captain shortly before the U.S. Army withdrew from Mexico.
With credentials as writer and warrior, the politically radical Reid, ardent
republican, set sail for England, ironically his home until his death in
1883 (he returned briefly to America, 1867-70). Transfiguring his western
experiences for profit, Reid quickly established himself as a foremost
adventure writer and an "expert" on the American West.
Indeed, writing about the West supplemented Reid's income hand-
somely. In his career, Reid wrote nearly a dozen novels set in the American
Southwest and his subject matter proved financially astute. Readers
in America and Britain alike devoured his fiction and, as Mabel Major
and T. M. Pearce assert, his creations "were widely read and important
in forming the concept of the Southwest in the East and in Europe.""
Joan Steele presents Reid's contemporary impact more forcefully: his
"expansive vision of the American West ... helped to imprint that particular
image on a host of readers throughout the world" (MR, 132).
That Reid's art was flawed, that his plots creaked and his facts were
suspect affected his success little.12 That he chose to write a
Robinsonnade,The Desert Home, more reflects Reid's attention to the
Marketplace than to his art. Following William Godwin's translation of The
Swiss Family Robinson (1814), the Robinsonnade became a genre of choice
among children's writers because it accommodated morality, geography,
and adventure so admirably. Reid was surely no stranger to the phenomenal
success of another "Captain," Frederick Marryat, whose children's Robinsonnade,
Masterman Ready (1841), proved a bestseller in the 1840s (MR 98).Indeed,
the Robinsonnade provided Reid with a ready-made juvenile audience, both in
America and Britain, and thus The Desert Home's sales encouraged Reid to
write a number of "castaway" stories in his long career. But The Desert Home
was his only American Robinsonnade (MR, 103).
The genre itself adapted well to Reid's experiences in trans-Mississippi
America and in the deserts of the Southwest and Mexico. The prototype,
Robinson Crusoe, pits an individual against an intractable wilderness;
Crusoe's will, his energy, hard work, and sheer determination,
dominate and finally domesticate his island world. In Joan Steele's
words, "The qualities of Defoe's work give it an appeal to all who have
a pioneer spirit, survival instinct, and perhaps most of all curiosity ... it
depicts an unknown world wherein isolate man can create both a physical and
emotional life for himself" (MR, 95). Martin Green, in his com-
prehensive overview, The Robinson Crusoe Story, discerns in the
prototype seven significant motifs. First, the island itself, isolated from the
civilized, brings to the fore survival. Second, the nighttime shipwreck
signifies a complete break with the past. Work, a third motif, provides Crusoe
with a matrix for sanity and purpose. Once mental and physical survival
are assured, Crusoe's story "is a modern ... version of Dick Whittington,
played out on a desert island ... in total social mobility."13 But
the culture Crusoe recreates represents a fifth motif, one opposed to savagery.
Repeatedly, encounters with cultural "others"末Moslems, slave-
owners, cannibals, Spaniards-test Crusoe's British upbringing, but his
culture proves most worthy. In Friday, then, we see a "willing" subject,
a slave, content as object, as domineered "other" (RCS, 23). Finally,
Crusoe's narrative privileges the moral justification of imperialism.
Crusoe turns a dead island to use,he converts a heathen to Christianity,
he subdues the voracious Spaniards, and by novel's end he leaves an
island "fit to belong to the British Empire" (RCS, 23). Paradoxically,
British imperialism projects itself as anti-imperialistic. Spain and its
cruelties represent "Empire": Crusoe stands for "self-help, not hierarchy,
of the adventurous individual, not official authority" (RCS, 23). A
counter-current, a sub-text, strongly resists, then, any monolithic governing.
Yet in valorizing the individual "I," in allowing Crusoe willed
and willful dominion over wilderness and opposing peoples, Defoe projects an
ideology that provides rationale for violence, for encroachment,
for conquering. And though Defoe seemingly embraces the sovereignty
of the individual, readers cannot ignore Crusoe's rapprochement with
his father's world, with the mercantile class, with those who will benefit
from British expansionism. Crusoe, as a designing hero, reflects his nation and
its global imperial designs. Thus the first Robinsonnade glorifies Britain,
British manhood, and British rule.
Reid, displacing Crusoe's mythic tale into the Texas borderlands, uses
the Robinsonnade to articulate a dialectic between the vast, unpopuslated
spaces of the American West and the myths of individual power, freedom, and
action. But herein ties the unresolved tension, the confusion in his work: the
Crusoe myth, to nineteenth-century readers, came to represent Britain and
Empire itself (and it is important to note that most nineteenth-century
Robinsonnades were written by British writers to acculturate British children).
To Victorian readers, Crusoe signified Empire and its expansion; he marked the
imposition of British culture onto unmapped (read "unplotted") regions. Reid's
romance, however, balks at a close identity between the individual and the
state. Though a British writer himself, Reid's radicalism (he was an
enthusiastic republican) diametrically opposed the imperial adventure writing
of his contemporaries, Marryat, R. M. Ballantyne, G. A. Henty, W H. G.
Kingston, and Gordon Stables (MR, 96). His fiction did not share the
ideological terrane of these adventure writers. For this reason, The Desert
Home remains, today, a fascinating study of the problems inherent in
adapting European plots to Western fiction. Reid was attempting an important
permutation; but his efforts, in the end, were weakened by the ideological
restraints placed upon the Robinsonnade and by the very wildness of the land he
desired to plot.
Reid, however, was no radical when it came to structuring narrative.
All of his fiction claims a heavy debt to established literary
devices.14 The Desert Home begins conventionally enough. Reid
frames his tale, introducing first an erudite prairie merchant who gives his
young readers a lengthy geography lesson on the Great American Desert, an
expanse of land "twenty-five times as big as all England."15 In
search of more efficient routes across this vast wasteland, the merchant's
group stumbles upon Reid's intrepid "castaways," the below: "Away below," the
merchant narrates, "lay a lovely valley, smiling in all the luxuriance of
bright vegetation. It was of nearly an oval shape, bounded on all sides by a
frowning precipice, that rose around it like a wall" (DH, 30-31). In this
imprisoned garden stand a fine house, sturdy fences, stables, cultivated
fields, and a lake resplendent in its purity. Mustangs, elk, buffalo, deer,
mountain sheep, foxes, wild turkeys roam peaceably around Rolfe's compound.
Even black bears and panthers frolic near the porch where Mrs.
Rolfe is working. To all appearances, the Rolfes seem descendants of
Crusoe and of the Swiss family Robinson. From the desert wilderness
the Rolfes, stranded as if upon an island, have wrought through industriousness
and ingenuity a seeming utopia. In this cultured oasis, they
have bent nature to their wills, even domesticating the wildest beasts.
Indeed, their ability to subdue the natural world within their compound,
their lack of despair, their determination to settle the hidden
oasis all shadow the kind of Robinsonnade popular in the mid-century.
Even Rolfe's predilection never to "lose an opportunity of instructing
my children in facts that may hereafter be useful to them" (DH, 52)
conforms to a didacticism established in the religiously fervent Swiss
Family Robinson and emulated by British writers. Moreover, the prairie
merchant's emphasis on the orderly work of the Rolfes' compound
breaks no new ground; the Rolfes have been as efficient and steady as
the beavers they have farmed for pelts. Rolfe tells his listeners about the
primitive but functional furniture, serviceable kitchenware and pottery,
and wall decorations he and his family have fashioned. From the wild
roots and grains of the valley, they have found substitutes for bread,
coffee, and sugar. Mountain goats provide milk for cheeses and Rolfe
has managed to brew imitation beer. Having salvaged very little from
their covered wagon, the Rolfes survive ten years on wits and hard labor,
but without losing the social graces and habits of the well-bred. Indeed,
the merchant is struck by his host's appearance, "that of a man who
regularly attended to the duties of toilet" (DH, 43). Freshly shaved and
manicured, impressively educated, Rolfe dominates all around him by
"a gentleman-like bearing" (DH, 43). The Desert Home, then, confirms
Green's first five motifs. The Rolfes, completely isolated from past
connections, have survived with bodies and minds intact. Work structures
their existence, and the products of their labors embody a new-found
wealth. They have opposed savagery and thus have established them-
selves as worthy owners.
Similarly, the road to paradise is reminiscent of the works of Reid's
contemporaries, as the Rolfes experience one deliverance after another.
Saved by a wife who extricates him from near bankruptcy in England,
Rolfe and his family emigrate to Virginia. The overworked farm he has
purchased from swindlers, however, combined with the murky practice
of "buying men" (DH, 51), convinces Rolfe that the eastern United
States suffers from the same moral diminishment that has paralyzed the
Old World. Rolfe next buys land, sight unseen, in Cairo, Illinois (Reid
obviously had read Martin Chuzzlewit), but the severe journey with his
family and his loyal black servant, Cudjo, ends in bitter disappointment.
His new property is a swamp. Nearly broke and broken in spirit, the
Rolfes join a caravan headed into the untainted wilderness to pursue an
elusive happiness. Yet more trials await them: their wagon breaks down;
upon catching up with their caravan they discover, to their horror, the
bodies of their fellow travellers brutally massacred by Arapahoes; thus
stranded, they nearly die as the desert landscape becomes increasingly
hostile. "We could see nothing around us," comments Rolfe, "but the
sterile plain ... not even a bush or rock or the form of a wild animal,
relieved the monotonous expanse. We were as much alone," he concludes, "as if
we had been in an open boat, in the middle of the ocean"(DH, 8 7).
But at the nadir of their hapless journey, the Rolfes are predictably
delivered. Having camped at the base of the mountains, they discover
life-saving water and a hidden oasis (as Meyer points out, Reid takes
liberty with reality here: no 14,000-foot, snow-capped mountain is near
Lubbock, Texas ["The Western Fiction of Mayne Reid," 123]). In
celebration, Rolfe reads from Exodus, marking "our own almost miraculous
deliverance" (DH, 114). In the tradition of other literary isolates, the
Rolfes perceive their newfound home as "more like the fabled Elysium
than a reality of nature" (DH, 125), more Eden than post-lapsarian
Earth. "No smoke rose over the trees, and no noises issued forth, except
the noises of nature, uttered in the songs of the birds and the hum of
falling waters. It seemed," declares Rolfe, "as though man had never
desecrated this isolated paradise by his presence and passions" (DH,
125). Yet, as Reid's Western Robinsonnade seemingly conforms to
Defoe's conventions-the family is delivered, a paradise found, the long
task of recreation begun-the subtext begins its unraveling.
Reid increasingly isolates Rolfe and his family-from their English
roots, from the populated coasts of America, from frontier towns, from
a wagon train-to highlight humanity's lone struggle for order and
dominion. In Robinson Crusoe, the hero's strength counters nature's
power and reveals its malleability. The Rolfes, however, are unable fully
to conquer nature, signified by the "frowning precipice" enclosing them.
Culture appears makeshift beneath these towering walls. No longer anchored to
society, they seem dwarfed by the desert, and though their paradise offers safe
haven, the forces of nature never cease to assail them.
Indeed, the peaceable kingdom the traders perceive is but a half-truth;
the valley is populated by assorted predators-wildcats, wolves, peccaries,
bears-an ever-present danger. Guns, special, near-magical tools
of civilization in other Robinsonnades, afford only occasional protec-
tion to the Rolfes.
"The greatest of all books," Rolfe tells us, is "the book of nature"
(DH,275). Nature, however, is particularly sanguinary in The Desert
Home. The last half of the novel glorifies nature's battles and its
violence. In a typical British Robinsonnade of Reid's day, violence helps pace
the mounting tension as the narrative speeds to a rip-roaring conclusion
(usually a battle with cannibals). Warfare between clear-cut good and
evil expresses the urgency of quest. The unfolding of this quest underscores
Green's argument that eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Robinsonnades are
ultimately circular: the tested heroes prove their worth because they are
civilized (and usually British). Though each heightened stage in the adventure
"ups the ante," and each encounter appears more formidable than the last, the
heroes' imperturbability establishes clear superiority. Victory is a foregone
conclusion. But as J. S. Bratton has pointed out, The Desert Home lacks
narrative tension; it does not build to a single climax, but instead exhausts
itself in consecutive bloody kills, under the pretense of "instruction" in
natural history.16 Such promiscuous violence reduces the Edenic
valley to a microcosmic testing ground in which the strong continually battle.
The Rolfes, intelligent and hardworking, are among the "fittest," but their
dominion is never fully attained and their land is not easily husbanded.
Beneath the prosperous surface is a Sisyphean narrative of inconclusive
purport. Thus the mythic assumptions that guide other juvenile Robinsonnades,
written for future Empire builders, do not apply to Reid's tale of survival.
Joan Steele makes this exact argument when she describes Reid's "mythopoeic
Vision of America"; "a mythic comprised of exoticism, power, freedom, and
manifest destiny" (MR, 44-45). The violence endemic in all his American
narratives stems from Reid's depiction of a "sublime and fearsome
nature" (MR, 60), a land "which often looms larger than either plot
or character" or culture (MR, 44). Steele concludes, "Mayne Reid can-
not be placed among . . . 'typical' Victorian writers of adventure tales"
In fact, culture has done little to prepare Robert Rolfe for a life of
hardship. Admittedly his book-learning occasionally saves his from disaster and
enables them to discern edible flora and fauna. Yet of his education, Rolfe
explains, "I was sent to those schools where I should meet the scions of the
aristocracy. I was taught to dance, to ride, and to play. I was allowed
spending money at will; and could call for champagne, and drink it, with any of
my companions" (DH, 47). He was educated to spend at leisure, never to know the
joys of labor. Unfortunately, his acculturation has made him susceptible to
swindlers and cheats and easily persuaded by the parasites of society. In many
respects, he never matures until all ties with civilization are broken and he
is forced, in the Great American Desert, to make decisions on his own. Crusoe,
too, matures in the wilderness, but he returns to his father's values; Rolfe
must disown his corrupt English upbringing and disavow the world his father
The presence of Cudj'o serves to emphasize Rolfe's shortcomings. The
black servant initiates Rolfe into the realities of a boundless wilderness.
He reminds his "master" that the individual must serve his own needs:
"ebery man put his own shoulder to him own wheel, else de wheel no
run good" (DH, 63). Moreover, Cudjo, an invaluable jack-of-all-trades,
is perfectly suited for wilderness survival. As a carpenter, farmer, woodsman,
and toolmaker, he insures that a new life can be forged for the Rolfes. Though
an uneducated slave, his skills prove vastly superior to Rolfe's expensive
English education. Cudjo's creations and discoveries make renewal in exile
possible for the Rolfes, make their exile, in fact, a true deliverance.
Admittedly, Reid's "noble savage" is tainted by his century's racism: Cudjo
extends "a sable paw" when receiving food; he is invariably cheerful and loyal;
when frightened, he rolls and enlarges the whites of his eyes. Yet each episode
in the novel reaffirms the black man's natural superiority in the wilderness.
Cudjo is a thorough student of the great book of nature. Defoe's Friday remains
subordinated as student, but Reid's "Friday" shares a wealth of information
with the Rolfes. Without him, they would have neither food, shelter, nor the
tools to survive. Through him, Reid suggests that civilization breeds
effeteness, nature builds strength and durability. His subversive Robinsonnade,
tthen, subtly privileges nature over nurture.
Repeatedly The Desert Home reveals an ambivalence toward the
Robinsonnades conventions. Though the Rolfes' homestead imposes order upon the
wilderness, Reid's narrative uncovers a fascination with disorder. The Rolfes
are clearly "good," but nature is more often than not indifferent, or randomly
violent, despite Rolfe's valorization of it. Their "uncultured" servant
suggests the impotency of European culture in the face of such overwhelming
wilderness. Even the conventional dialectic between the savage Other (usually
in guise of savages or beasts) and the self is at a marked stalemate. The
novel's end presents one last equivocation. Though Rolfe has reached full
manhood in the valley, he desires a return to civilization: "The artificial
wants of society," he states, "implant within us the desire of accumulating
individual property; and I could not rid myself of this provident feeling"
(DH, 157). There is enough of the Crusoe in Rolfe to make fortune building an
attractive proposition. As he boasts to the prairie merchant, at novel's end,
"our old cabin now contains 4500 £ of property ... we estimate our
livestock in the dam ... at 2500 £ more; so that, we are worth in all
7000 $pound at the moment" (DH, 399). After recounting numerous adventures,
after touting the happiness his family has found in the valley, Rolfe's return
to the language of "artificial wants," to the desires of the civilized, signals
a re-embracement of the British Robinsonnade. Rolfe informs his guests
that come spring he will settle his family in St. Louis to oversee his
children's education and future marriages.
Yet a letter to the prairie merchant, written years later, undercuts the
Rolfes' rescue and return to society. "Rolfe's letter," the merchant reveals
in the novel's final moments, "further informed me it was their
intention末as soon as the marriage festivities were over-to return to the
valley oasis" (DH, 411). A life of leisure and pleasure is not for them.
The Rolfcs intend to resettle their desert home for life and form "a little
patriarchal colony of themselves" (DH, 411). Reid's castaways return to
a state of isolation. Their colony, patriarchal though it is, is linked to no
nation. Adventure in the wilderness is to them a lure more attractive
than the constructs and comforts of civilization.
Stephen Fender, in Plotting the Golden West, argues that the
American wilderness posed a problem for those steeped in European traditions.
As a European, trained conservatively for the ministry, Reid was nurtured by
Old World institutions. Yet as an Irishman in a British culture, a radical
republican in a society positing anti-democratic neo-feudalism, he resisted his
acculturation. He fled to America, creating both himself and his vision of a
nation opposed to "fossilized formularies" (MR, 30), open to new destinies, new
directions. The Desert Home recaptures, in a sense, Reid's own
repudiation of a sterile Europe for the endless possibihties embodied in
America. In Joan Steele's words, "America was always far more than the mere
subtext of Reid's tales; it was a symbol for change and freedom in a world that
gradually was demolishing the strictures of age-old despotism" (AM, 132).
Reid chose the Robinsonnade, a genre that traditionally celebrated
recreation, to articulate his myth of America, of the West-for Reid's
America is the West. The West, the Great American Desert, towers over
Britain, a pygmy nation in comparison, its civilization "a terrible legacy"
(MR, 30). At first, however, this West affords no comforts; its inhospitable
climate brutally reminds the Rolfes that whatever shred of happiness comes
their way Will be paid for in blood and sweat. But it is here, overwhelmed by
vast, monotonous, uncivilized spaces, that Rolfe finally discards the ruins of
his past and recovers an indomitable will to live and to conquer. The distant
snowy peaks that renew his inner win reward him with a bounty of game, edible
plants, and fertile land. Here is freedom to work, to believe, to prosper-once
one has been strengthened by the land.
Reid's West is also a place where the weak succumb to violence, where
brute nature continually wages battle to dominate and survive. Without
grit, without predatory instinct and calculating reason, men and women
soon perish, leaving behind only bleached bones to mark their existence.
The Rolfes, softened by their English acculturation, would never survive
if Cudjo were not along to help them counter nature's indifferent violence.
Cudjo, Reid's man Friday, reveals again how far The Desert Home
strays from Defoe's text and from other contemporaneous Robinsonnades that
articulate myths of Empire. Being English guarantees neither Rolfe's standing
as "master" of his world, nor does it fumish him with the tools of colonizing.
Even with Cudjo's masterbuilding, Rolfe never completely subdues the forces
around him. The West always confounds him, working against the narrative he
himself weaves for the prairie merchants. He is Mogan's archetypal hero
attending to both the call of the wild and the lure of the civilized, ever
negotiating, but never defusing the tension between "Old" and "New."
In the end, the West also confounds Reid's Robinsonnade. For Reid,
like Rolfe, never left behind "artificial wants." Writing to please a
predominantly "Old World" British audience, he strived to squeeze his plot
into a profitable mold, the juvenile Robinsonnade, and thus he stranded
an English family within an American desert to test their mettle, and,
after suitable hair-raising adventures, to fatten their pocketbooks. In the
tradition of literary castaways, the Rolfes suffer much, work hard, and
grow rich, materially and spiritually. Yet surrounding the emblem of
their success末their compound末looms a forbidding landscape. This
"New World" diminishes their achievement and underscores their vulnerability in
the shadow of nature's daunting forces. The culture they bring is insubstantial
in comparison. Thus the Robinsonnade, that genre which exalts acculturating
will, proves incapable of dominating Reid's West, of domesticating its savage
corners. Perhaps for this reason, Reid never again employed this genre when
plotting the American wilderness. Reid went on to write numerous early
westerns and as Edwin Gaston remarks he is firmly at the beginning of a
"plethora" of literary output from the Southwest.17 But the imprint
of Crusoe did not leave its mark again in Mayne Reid's textual West.
- Leslie Fiedler,The Return of the Vanishing America(New York,1968),53.
- Martin Green,The Great American Adventure(Boston, 1984), 6-7.
- David Mogen,"The Frontier Archetype and the Myth of America: Patterns
That Shape the American Dream," in The Frontier Experience and the
American Dream, ed. David Mogen et al. (College Station, 1989), 21.
- Fiedler, The Return of the Vanishing America, 53.
- The only American Robinsonnade of note written near mid-century is James
Fenimore Cooper's Mark's Reef (1848). However, the number of
nineteenth-century British Robinsonnades is certainly impressive, attesting
to the genre's importance in articulating an expanding British Empire's
fantasies and desires.
- The term "Robinsonnade" is a variation of the German "Robinsonaden." For two
centuries, continental scholars have used one or the other of these terms to
describe stories that use the premise of Defoe's masterpiece as a
springboard for a recasting of the prototype. The most thorough discussions
of the Robinsonnade are found in Erhard Reckwitz's Die Robinsonade:
Themen und Formen einer literarischen Gattung(Amsterdam, 1976) and
Martin Green's new book,The Robinson Crusoe Story(University
- See Stephen Fender, Plotting the Golden West: American Literature and the
Rhetoric of the California Trail(Cambridge, 1981).
- John R. Milton,"The Novel in the American West,"in Critical Essays on the
Western American Novel, ed. William T. Pilkington(Boston, 1980), 18.
- W. H. Hutchinson, "Virgins, Villains, and Varmints," in Critical Essays of
the Western American Novel, ed. William T. Pilkington (Boston, 1980),25.
- Joan Steele, Captain Mayne Reid (Boston, 1978), 18. Hereafter
- Mabel Major and T. M. Pearce, Southwest Heiitage: A Literary History with
Bibliograpbies (Albuquerque, 1972), 81.
- Roy W Meyer,"The Western Fiction of MayneReid,"Western American
Literature 3 (Summer 1968):131.
- Martin Green, The Robinson Crusoe Story (University Park, 1990), 23.
Hereafter abbreviated RCS.
- Meyer, "The Western Fiction of Mayne Reid," 129.
- Thomas Mayne Reid, The Desert Home or the Adventure of a Lost Family in
the Wilderness (Boston, 1851), 9. Hereafter abbreviated DH.
- See chapter 4 of J. S. Bratton, The Impact of Victorian Children's
- Edwin W Gaston, The Early Nopels of the Soutbwest (Albuquerque,