Places: The Swiss Family Robinson

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Der Schweizerische Robinson, 2 vols., 1812-1813 (The Family Robinson Crusoe, 1814; as The Swiss Family Robinson, 1818); illustrated

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Adventure

Time of work: Late eighteenth century

Places DiscussedShip

Ship. Swiss Family Robinson, TheUnnamed vessel on which the Robinsons are traveling when the novel opens. Readers are told little about the ship, except that it is a sizable sailing vessel with a substantial and varied cargo; its name and intended destination are carefully unmentioned. Its main function, while it remains stuck on a rock close to the shore of the island on which the Robinsons are marooned, is to provide the castaways with a rich source of useful materials, including food, tools, gunpowder, livestock, and a small boat.

Refuge Bay

Refuge Bay. Shore on which the family lands. The exact location of this bay is unspecified. It initially appears to be in a subtropical zone off the coast of either Central or South America because its native floras include coconut palms, potatoes, and sugarcane, while its faunas include penguins, agoutis, and margay cats–all species native to that part of the world. However, as the story continues, the varieties of flora and fauna on the island become improbably elaborate and extraordinarily extensive, eventually even including numerous creatures native to Africa, such as ostriches, hyenas, and a hippopotamus.

The Robinsons’ decision to name their landfall Refuge Bay sets a pattern echoed in other place-names chosen by the castaway family. For example, the promontory on which they search unsuccessfully for the crew of their ship becomes the Cape of Disappointed Hope (a clear takeoff on Southern Africa’s Cape of Good Hope), and the hill on which they make their survey they call the Observatory. Other names are improvised according to circumstance, with a careful simplicity that represents the determined utilitarianism of their approach to life. Thus, the place where they spend their first night becomes Tentbourne, the wetland inland of it Flamingo Swamp, and the stream where they glimpse the eponymous animal, Jackal Brook.

Falconeyrie

Falconeyrie. Family’s principal dwelling, so called because it is constructed around the base and within the branches of a huge tree. Hastily contrived at first, this home-away-from-home and its surrounding estates are steadily improved, despite the occasional intervention of destructive storms.

Kingdom of Truth

Kingdom of Truth. Allegory constructed by the narrator on the family’s first Sunday ashore (which, as good Calvinists, they observe meticulously). The Kingdom of Truth is also known as the Kingdom of Day, and is contrasted with the Kingdom of Vagueness, or Kingdom of Night. The capital of the Kingdom of Truth is Heaventown, but, in order to be worthy of life in that paradisal location, candidates for citizenship drawn from the Kingdom of Vagueness must serve a probationary period on an uninhabited island called Earthland. Unfortunately, the candidates forget their goal before arriving in Earthland, which results in some of them failing in their duty of diligent labor and many of them fearing the arrival of the fleet that will come to their rescue–whose Admiral Death has an ironclad flagship named The Grave. This symbolic description of human life has a particular reference to the family’s predicament; their island, too, is a microcosm of the world, and their duty is not merely to survive in the hope of rescue but to cultivate the land and exercise technological mastery of their environment, demonstrating their worthiness with their achievements.

Grotto

Grotto. Natural cavern lined with mineral salts that is exposed to view when the Robinsons use gunpowder to clear a way through inconvenient rocks near Tentbourne. The Grotto becomes a secondary dwelling during the rainy seasons, one that contains storerooms and a workshop, as well as a source of useful substances.

Highpeak

Highpeak. Hill on which the family’s fourth settlement–after Tentbourne, Falconeyrie, and the Grotto–is established. The hut they erect there they name Woodstead. Although the family is not large enough to require four separate dwellings, the steady expansion of their petty realm is a key example of their steadfast commitment to the Protestant work ethic.

Stony Arabia

Stony Arabia. Casual name that the Robinsons give to the inhospitable region that makes inland journeys difficult for them, even when they have become securely established in the coastal strip. This region is reached via the Causeway, which extends away from Boarsford. Although it is a desolate plain, it is not completely lifeless, as it is more suggestive of South America’s Patagonian plain than the exceptionally arid Arabian desert; however, it figures into the story at the moment that geographical confusion rapidly intensifies, presumably because the second author has stepped into the narrator’s shoes to replace his predecessor.

Pearl Bay

Pearl Bay. Destination of the family’s most adventurous journey in their “cajak” (although the boat in question does not much resemble a kayak). It takes them past Nautilus Bay and Cape Snubnose, allowing them to discover Churchcliff, Otter Reef, Bird’s-Nest Bay, and–eventually–the Isle of Gladness, where they rescue the young English castaway, Jenny Montrose.

New Switzerland

New Switzerland. Name given to the family’s little Refuge Bay colony after contact with civilization is reestablished. Its location on the world map remains slightly mysterious, although Jenny Montrose’s assertion that she was en route from Batavia (on the north coast of the Indonesian island of Java) to New Guinea when her ship went down moves the novel’s apparent setting from Central or South America to the other side of the world. Moreover, an encounter with the British navy confirms that, wherever the Robinsons were to start with, they now seem to be on an island in the Banda Sea, within the Indonesian archipelago. Although the elder Johann Wyss might not have approved of his successor’s failure to pick up on all the clues indicating that the family was supposed to be near South America, there is a certain strange symmetry in placing a sea-surrounded New Switzerland on the other side of the world from landlocked Old Switzerland.

BibliographyBashore, J. Robert. “Daniel Defoe.” In Writers for Children: Critical Studies of Major Authors Since the Seventeenth Century, edited by Jane Bingham. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1987. A comparison of The Swiss Family Robinson to Robinson Crusoe (1719), examining the enduring appeal of each to a young readership.Fisher, Margery. Who’s Who in Children’s Books. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1975. In a short entry, Fisher argues that rather than being simply a series of loosely connected episodes, the novel is a depiction of a natural and accustomed piety within a family context.Glaenzer, Richard Butler. “The Swiss Family Robinson.” Bookman 34 (1911): 139-142. Focusing on the causes for the enduring appeal of this story, Glaenzer argues that the Wysses made the novel enjoyable despite a serious purpose: to instruct his children. He did this through emphasizing a good-natured rivalry among four young boys, thus dealing with the serious business of life in an engaging way.Loxley, Diana. Problematic Shores: The Literature of Islands. London: Macmillan, 1992. A study of the nineteenth century successors to Defoe, looking at the connections between children’s books and imperialism, as well as the depiction of childhood innocence by means of empty islands.
Categories: Places