|Author||Johann David Wyss|
|Original title||Der Schweizerische Robinson|
|Translator||William H. G. Kingston|
|Illustrator||Johann Emmanuel Wyss|
|Publisher||Johann Rudolph Wyss (the author's son)|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover and paperback)|
The Swiss Family Robinson (German: Der Schweizerische Robinson) is a novel by Johann David Wyss, first published in 1812, about a Swiss family of immigrants whose ship en route to Port Jackson, Australia, goes off course and is shipwrecked in the East Indies. The crew of the ship is lost, but the family and a number of domestic animals survive. They make their way to shore where they build a settlement, undergoing a number of adventures before they are rescued; some of them refuse rescue and remain on the island.
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. Wyss' attitude towards its education is in line with the teachings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and many chapters involve Christian-oriented moral lessons such as frugality, husbandry, acceptance, and cooperation.
Wyss presents adventures as lessons in natural history and physical science. This resembles other educational books for young ones published about the same time. These include Charlotte Turner Smith's Rural Walks: in Dialogues intended for the use of Young Persons (1795), Rambles Farther: A continuation of Rural Walks (1796), and A Natural History of Birds, intended chiefly for young persons (1807). But Wyss' novel is also modeled after Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, an adventure story about a shipwrecked sailor first published in 1719.
The book presents a geographically impossible array of large mammals and plants that probably could never have existed together on a single island, for the children's education, nourishment, clothing and convenience.
Over the years there have been many versions of the story with episodes added, changed, or deleted. Perhaps the best-known English version is by William H. G. Kingston, first published in 1879. 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. Other English editions that claim to include the whole of the Wyss-Montolieu narrative are by W. H. Davenport Adams (1869–1910) and Mrs H. B. Paull (1879). As Carpenter and Prichard write in The Oxford Companion to Children's Literature (Oxford, 1995), "with all the expansions and contractions over the past two centuries (this includes a long history of abridgments, condensations, Christianizing, and Disney products), Wyss's original narrative has long since been obscured." The closest English translation to the original is that of the Juvenile Library in 1816, published by the husband and wife team William Godwin and Mary Jane Clairmont, reprinted by Penguin Classics.
Although movie and television adaptations typically name the family "Robinson", it is not a Swiss name. The German title translates as The Swiss Robinson which identifies the novel as part of the Robinsonade genre, rather than a story about a family named Robinson.
The novel opens with the titular family in the hold of a sailing ship, weathering a great storm. The ship's crew evacuate without them, and William and Elizabeth and their four sons (Fritz, Ernest, Jack and Franz) are left to survive alone. As the ship tosses about, William prays that God will spare them.
The ship survives the night and the family finds themselves within sight of a tropical desert island. The next morning, they decide to get to the island they can see beyond the reef. With much effort, they construct a vessel out of tubs. After they fill the tubs with food and ammunition and all other articles of value they can safely carry, they row toward the island. Two dogs from the ship named Turk and Juno swim beside them. The ship's cargo of livestock (including a cow, a donkey, two goats, six sheep, a ram, a pig, chickens, ducks, geese, and pigeons), guns and powder, carpentry tools, books, a disassembled pinnace and provisions have survived.
Upon reaching the island, the family set up a makeshift camp. William knows that they must prepare for a long time on the island and his thoughts are as much on provisions for the future as for their immediate wants. William and his oldest son Fritz spend the next day exploring the island.
The family spends the next few days securing themselves against hunger. William and Fritz make several trips to the ship in their efforts to bring ashore everything useful from the vessel. The domesticated animals on the ship are towed back to the island. There is also a great store of firearms and ammunition, hammocks for sleeping, carpenter's tools, lumber, cooking utensils, silverware, and dishes. Initially they construct a treehouse, but as time passes (and after Elizabeth is injured climbing the stairs down from it), they settle in a more permanent dwelling in part of a cave. Fritz rescues a young Englishwoman named Jenny Montrose who was shipwrecked elsewhere on their island.
The book covers more than ten years. William and older boys explore various environments and develop homes and gardens in various sites about the island. In the end, the father wonders if they will ever again see the rest of humanity. Eventually, a British ship that is in search of Jenny Montrose anchors near the island and is discovered by the family. The captain is given the journal containing the story of their life on the island which is eventually published. Several members of the family choose to continue to live tranquilly on their island while several of them return to Europe with the British.
The principal characters of the book (including Isabelle de Montolieu's adaptations and continuation) are:
In the novel, the family is not called "Robinson" as their surname is not mentioned. However, in 1900, Jules Verne published The Castaways of the Flag (alternatively known as Second Fatherland), where he revisits the original shipwreck. In this sequel, of the family's final years on the original island, the family is called Zermatt.
The novels in one form or another have also been adapted numerous times, sometimes changing location and/or time period:
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The Swiss Family Robinson
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