Notes from the Edge 03-17-24

The Swiss Family Robinson

Written by Swiss writer, Johann David Wyss, edited by his son Johann Rudolf Wyss, and illustrated by another son, Johann Emmanuel Wyss, the novel was intended to teach his four sons about family values, good husbandry, the uses of the natural world and self-reliance.

I read this book in grade school, yes, that was a long time ago, just after it was written by a Swiss Pastor, Johann David Wyss (1743-1818). He was born in Berne, became an army chaplain, and is said to have told the story episode by episode to his four sons; wrote it. Okay, I’m not that old: Actually, I was in grade school, 4rth or 5th grade and the whole class went to visit the library. We were all given Library Cards and encouraged to pick a book. I chose Swiss Family Robinson because it sounded like a great adventure to me.

It was. I read that book faster than I had ever read anything. In a few days it was finished, and I slipped into depression, well depression as a child feels it. Man, I wanted that island back. I wanted to know what happened next, I wanted… I don’t know, more!

I didn’t get more; after all there was only one book, right?

So, last month I thought about Swiss Family Robinson and decided it would be great to re-read it, so I did a Google Search, found it, found it was public domain too, so I downloaded an ePub version and that night when I went to do my nightly reading, that is what I read. Or did I?

The book I was reading seemed different: Only subtly at first, but then veering off course. I couldn’t believe it, someone had taken my favorite book, re-wrote it, published it in the original authors name and left out all the really good parts I remembered as a kid. Also, when I got halfway through the book, it ended. There was a brief note that this is all that the original author was able to write, that he left the manuscript incomplete and disorganized ,and so it was prepared for publication at Zurich in 1812-13 as Der schweizerische Robinson;” its editor was his son, Johann Rudolf Wyss (1781 – 1830) who was a professor of philosophy at Berne.

Isabelle de Montolieu produced the first French adaptation/translation in 1814 which included material she had added herself; “the first English translation was by probably the work of William Godwin and was published by his wife, M. J. Godwin in 1814 [but see below] as The Family Robinson Crusoe and described as a translation ‘from the German of M. Wiss,’ though it incorporated some of Montolieu’s additions. The Godwin version was re-issued in a longer version in 1816, and the book’s familiar title first used in 1818. In 1824 Montolieu produced a yet larger version in French; she added the adventures of Fritz, Franz, Ernest and Jack” (Oxford Companion, p. 510). Still other writers added yet further (improbable) adventures; interestingly these as well as the adventures added by Montolieu are among the best known.

Over the years there have been many versions of the story with episodes added, changed, or deleted. Yet the best-known English version is by William H. G. Kingston, first published in 1879.[1] It is based on Isabelle de Montolieu‘s 1813 French adaptation and 1824 continuation (from chapter 37) Le Robinson suisse, ou, Journal d’un père de famille, naufragé avec ses enfants in which were added further adventures of Fritz, Franz, Ernest, and Jack. And, my friends, that is the book I first read, or I should say the adaption of her additions called the revised edition in English. That became the library standard in America.

That version is the one I had expected to read. So, when I reached the middle of the book and was informed that the original writer never finished the book, and that Isabelle de Montolieu had finished the book, I was shocked. It stated that she was a popular writer of her time and that she had been asked to finish the book by the son Johann Rudolf Wyss. I couldn’t find any substantiation for that, yet I did find that she did add a section in 1813 and expanded that in 1824. So, I read on and was surprised to find that although I was reading the things I expected, they didn’t turn out the same. For instance: Although a huge Python did show up, it didn’t kill and eat the Ass as it had in the book I had read. And, although they had problems with the monkeys and apes, they did not end up killing several of them. And I had never read a version where Franz and the mother were captured by savages and ultimately rescued by the father, Fritz, Ernest and Jack was wounded during the rescue but ultimately rescued too. And a young English woman and her children, some savages who wanted to live in New Switzerland as well as a shipwrecked pastor. Wow, then a ship showed up for rescue.

To say the least it was a surprise. So back to Google I went and began a search to find out why I had received this book when it clearly wasn’t the one I remembered from childhood.

I found out that there have been dozens and dozens of translations, many with their own additions, based on Isabelle de Motolieu’s addition, yet changed subtly or even wildly. So I searched and found her version, which indeed was the one I downloaded. On the page it also showed the popular English version of my youth, the Swiss Family Robinson Revised edition. The one I remembered, so I searched for a copy, found it was also public domain, downloaded it and read it. Yes, the apes were killed, the Ass was killed by the Python who in turn was killed by the father and the boys, and Fritz went on a canoe trip towards the end to find the young woman who had placed a note on a rag wrapped around an Albatrosses’ leg he had nearly killed. He found Jenny Montrose and bought her home, then a ship came and Fritz left for England to marry Jenny if he could obtain her father’s permission, and Franz surprised the heck out of me by leaving his mother and going to England permanently. The End… No…

No because Jules Verne also became obsessed with the Swiss Family Robinson. He himself has admitted that it had greatly influenced hi writings. I love older books, and I often search for public domain books that can be downloaded. As with Swiss Family Robinson I went looking for some of Jules Vern’s’ books I had read as a young child. I found many, and some I had never heard of, including two, Their Island Home and The Castaways of the Flag. Both of these books sound very like Robinson Crusoe or Swiss Family Robinson influenced. They weren’t simply influenced by books, they were both continuations of the original story, and they were also both public domain.

The first is Their Island Home, and it picks up exactly where the original ended. The ship, Fritz and Franz leaving. The second, The castaways of the Flag picks up after that one. I found both and downloaded them and am beginning the first so as to read them in order. Jules Vern’s’ writing style is much different. He tells the tale in an author’s voice, not first person. He also gives the family a last name Zermatt. And while finding these to read, I also found Willis the Pilot by Johann Wyss, the Pastor? No clue, it could be the pastor, his son, and some ascribe it to the original author’s grandson, so I downloaded that as well and will read it at the end. So, the answer to the question at the beginning of this: Was there more than just one book? Yes, there was. There were several books.

The Swiss family Robinson  Johann David Wysse

The principal characters of the book (including Isabelle de Montolieu‘s adaptations and continuation) are:

·         Pastor – The patriarch of the family. He is the narrator of the story and leads the family. He knows an enormous amount of information on almost everything the family comes across, demonstrating bravery and self-reliance.

·         Elizabeth – The loving mother of the family. She is intelligent and resourceful, arming herself even before leaving the ship with a “magic bag” filled with supplies, including sewing materials and seeds for food crops. She is also a remarkably versatile cook, taking on anything from porcupine soup to roast penguin.

·         Fritz – The oldest of the four boys, he is 15. Fritz is intelligent but impetuous. He is the strongest and accompanies his father on many quests.

·         Ernest – The second oldest of the boys, he is 13. Ernest is the most intelligent, but a less physically active boy, often described by his father as “indolent”. Like Fritz however, he comes to be an excellent shot.

·         Jack – The third oldest of the boys, 11 years old. He is thoughtless, bold, vivacious, and the quickest of the group.

·         Franz (sometimes translated as Francis) – The youngest of the boys, he is 8 years old when the story opens. He usually stays home with his mother.

·         Turk – The family’s English dog.

·         Juno – The family’s Danish dog.

·         Nip (also called Knips or Nips in some editions) – An orphan monkey adopted by the family after their dogs Turk and Juno have killed his mother. The family uses him to test for poisonous fruits.

·         Fangs – A jackal that was tamed by the family.

This book:

A second version:

The Castaways of the flag:

Their Island Home:

Willis the Pilot:

There you are, enjoy. These books are Public Domain in the U.S. Although you may find copies that ask payment, these links do not require a payment, yet they do accept donations. See you again, soon, Dell.


Author: Dello

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