Lobster à la Robinson

Kinsmen shipwrecked in the East Indies become means by which to impart the virtues of proper husbandry, self-reliance and thorough knowledge of the natural world – such is the conceit of the pastor Johann David Wyss’s 1812 novel The Swiss Family Robinson. As much a child of the Enlightenment as a man of the cloth, Wyss presents his subjects’ exploits as a series of lessons in morality, natural history and the physical sciences. An ostrich tamed is transformed into transport, soil into earthen vessels. The heteroclite character of the island – elephants cavort with kangaroos, tapirs with giraffes; coconut palms grow side-by-side with fir trees – perplexes not the resourceful Swiss family; they draw from it nourishment, entertainment and comfort, as well as valuable insight.

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