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Keynote Address Introduction: The Swiss Family Robinson by John Seelye If it can be said that the English novel begins with The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, then it can also be claimed that The Swiss Family Robinson occupies a similar place in the history of novels written for children. True, there were other long books written for young readers that appeared well before it was published , books of a similarly didactic design, but few of these have had the long shelf life of Swiss Family Robinson and none have survived deep into the twentieth century. The earnest purpose of books like Thomas Day's Sandford and Merton (1783-89), which within a century of its publication was inspiring parodists, not imitators, or J.H. Campe's Robinson der J√ľngere (1779), simply could not cross the great divide, which we can identify with the emergence of Robert Louis Stevenson on one side of the Atlantic and Mark Twain on the other. It is a division that demarks a later tradition of books written largely to entertain from those of the earlier dispensation, in which entertainment was a thin coating upon heavily instructional material. It is a tribute to the authors of this story about a family marooned on a tropical island that they so cannily lightened the burden of instruction with an almost breathless series of encounters, discoveries, and adventures, that children have continued for almost two centuries to find the book exciting and readable. I have written "authors" advisedly, for the credit often given on the title page to Johann Rudolf Wyss is misleading, as is the title itself. For not only is the book not about a Swiss family named "Robinson," it was not written by Johann Rudolf Wyss (1791-1830) but by his father, Johann David (1743-1818), a former army chaplain and pastor in Bern. The younger Wyss, a poet and composer as well as a professor of philosophy , took up the manuscript that had been written for himself and his brothers as children and revised it for publication, a first volume appearing in 1812, to be followed by a second the next year. This text was then translated from German into French by Baroness Isabelle de Montolieu, who apparently made a few minor changes, which were then incorporated in the first English translation, from the French, by either William Godwin or his second wife, Mary, in 1814. Then in 1816 the Godwins brought out a "Second Edition" "from the German of M. WISS," which remained for many years the basis for the standard English edition. The Baroness had in the meantime not been idle. The story written by the Wysses had ended two years after the shipwreck, with the family still on their island. A rescue ship had arrived, but before the castaways could embark, a storm forced the rescuers out to sea, taking with them the father's manuscript account of his family's adventures, which was carried back to Europe and published. The possibilities of making much more of a good thing inspired de Montolieu to continue the story in five additional volumes, published between 1824 and 1826. In 1847, this continuation was translated into English by J. D. Clinton Locke, and, combined with a somewhat modified version of the Godwin translation, first published in 1826 as the "Sixth Edition," remained in print throughout the century. Yet another sequel was provided in Le Pilote Willis, by Adrien Paul, translated as Willis the Pilot by 1857, which continued the adventures of the two sons who left the island at the end of Montolieu's version but who took almost as long as Ulysses before reaching home. By mid-century, moreover, revisionists were already at work, reducing the bulk of the expanded text or inserting "improvements " of their own. At least three major new translations had been made by the end of the century by editors who took considerable liberties with the story also, either reducing or expanding the pious and moralizing elements or introducing new adventures while cutting out old. This continuing process, by means of which editors and translators felt free to tinker with the story, taking their cue from the Baroness de...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1553-1201
Print ISSN
0885-0429
Pages
pp. 4-12
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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