| When popular mémoir turns out to be wholesale fiction
by Janie B. Cheaney
Posted 4/05/08, 12:00 am
Daniel Dafoe's Robinson Crusoe was, as we say today, "based on a true story": the ordeal of Alexander Selkirk, shipwrecked on an island off the coast of Chile for five years. In fact, when the book first appeared in 1719, the public believed it was a true story and Crusoe an actual person. Credulous readers could be excused on the ground that they were experiencing a new genre. Fiction, until this time, had taken the form of legend, myth, and epic poetry: Realistic, book-length fiction was unknown, or otherwise known as "lying."