Swiss Family Robinson: A Question of Translations

Remember when Ursula Vernon was doing periodic live-reads on Twitter of the Swiss Family Robinson? I loved those threads. SFR was one of my favorite go-to escapism books as a kid. I had the Great Illustrated Classics version, which I believe I have noted previously (in reference to H.G. Wells' The Time Machine) were excellent adaptations; in making the books accessible to children, the editors also judiciously cut-and-stitched away the worser plot holes and (in the case of SFR) the preachy holy lessons and self-reliance and Renaissance Man stuff. As a result, thanks to some excellent editors, I actually didn't even know a lot of that was *in* the book until Ursula did her amazing live-read.

I've been spending a lot of time in bed lately, due to some medical stuff, and I've been wanting to read something that I can pick up and put down easily without feeling like I've lost my place or gotten overly invested. SFR is *very* chunkable in that regard. And if there's one thing we all know that I love, it's revisiting beloved childhood classics of mine and setting them on fire. Doubly-so if it's a sacred cow roast in the process. (Though I do want to note, in case anyone is feeling nostalgic, to be very careful of old SFR movies because at least one of them had so much animal cruelty in it that I'm pretty sure that film is one reason why modern films now have a disclaimer insisting that no animals were harmed in the making of this film. Kissmate and I started watching one of them on Disney+ earlier last year and we had to stop about 15 minutes in.)

Ever since I started my project rewriting the Grimms' fairy tales, I've become hyper-aware of how hard it is to find out the *translator* for non-English pieces of public domain writing. Go search the Swiss Family Robinson offerings on the Amazon Kindle store and you'll see what I mean; author and publisher are there, and editor is usually available too, but translators aren't listed. And is the book abridged or unabridged? I wanted an unabridged version if possible, as I'm assuming that any abridgment would focus on removing some of the nutty (and we want maximum nutty!) but according to Anne Wingate, "No unabridged edition of Swiss Family Robinson exists in English. Indeed, the book has been rewritten so many times, by so many editors, that it can legitimately be said that that no complete edition of the book exists in *any* language." Dammit.

Actually, I want to quote a larger chunk from the Pink Tree Press:

   No unabridged edition of Swiss Family Robinson exists in English. Indeed, the book has been rewritten so many times, by so many editors, that it can legitimately be said that that no complete edition of the book exists in *any* language.
   Johann David Wyss, a Swiss pastor, originally wrote this book to entertain and instruct his four sons. Years later, his son Johann (or Jean—accounts differ) Rudolf Wyss, by then a professor of philosophy, persuaded his father to allow him to complete and edit the unfinished manuscript. It was published in two volumes in Zurich in 1812-1813.
   Its French translator, Mme de Montholieu, obtained permission to greatly enlarge the book. It was published in five volumes from 1824 through 1826. The first English edition, abridged, was published in 1814; it was followed by several other English translations of varying quality. In 1849 W.H.G. Kingston re-translated and greatly abridged Mme. De Montholieu's version. Most English versions are based on Kingston's abridged version.
   Despite a vast number of amusing errors in flora and fauna, the book has entertained, and warmed the hearts of, many generations. However, most modern editions omit an incredible amount even of Kingston's translation by making small cuttings here and there, some of them maddeningly inept. The Editor's Cut edition from Pink Tree Press has been based on, and compared with, no fewer than five previous editions, all of them out of copyright. Most, though not all, of the cuttings have been restored. The material that continues to be omitted is of little imaginable interest to anyone other than a scholar of nineteenth century literature.
   Anne Wingate, Ph.D.
   Pink Tree Press

So the answer to "which translator was this?" is apparently, in the case of SFR, W.H.G. Kingston + one or more unnamed and unsung heroes trying to figure out what to cut and what to keep from this two-volume-turned-five-volume-turned-one-volume-again monstrosity.

Which version are we to use for our live-read? I'm extremely tempted to use the Pink Tree Press version, not only on the strength of that excellent editor's note, but also because of useful footnotes like "Some editions translate [Franz] to Francis, apparently to avoid confusion with Fritz. I see no reason for the change, and am retaining the original spelling. Ed." The only downside to the Pink Tree Press version is that, as far as I can tell, no one has loaded it onto the Amazon Kindle store, which is easier for me to read and take notes electronically.

The next-best translation that I can find (here defined as the translation closest to the Pink Tree Press as the gold standard) is the Windermere version which is available both on Project Gutenberg and Amazon Kindle. And if you're looking for something that is a little more readable and a newer English translation than the 1849 Kingston edition, there is a lovely one available on Project Gutenberg and Amazon by...someone! You literally can't tell from the book who is writing the preface about its newer, more modern translation.

Books. They are truly amazing sometimes. Anyway. Watch this space, I guess? We'll be pulling from the Pink Tree and Windermere versions for this live-read because they have a lot more nutty in them, but I'm going to list the New Hotness as well, because it really is more readable (in my opinion) and you might actually want a copy of this book that doesn't make your eyes want to vacate your head.


Pink Tree Press: Project Gutenberg.
Windermere: Project Gutenberg and Amazon Kindle.
New (Anonymous) Hotness: Project Gutenberg and Amazon Kindle.


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