The Mysterious Island (Early Classics of Science Fiction).
Translator: Sidney Kravitz. Introduction & Notes: William Butcher. Illustrator:
Jules Ferat. Editor: Arthur Evans. Middletown, CT, Wesleyan University Press, 2002.
676 pages, 152 ill.
Softcover — ISBN-10: 0819565598, ISBN-13: 978-0819565594
The Mysterious Island
Translator: Jordan Stump. Introduction: Caleb Carr. Illustrator: Jules Ferat. New
York, NY, Modern Library, 2001. 629 pages, 74 ill.
Hardcover — ISBN-10: 0679642366, ISBN-13: 978-0679642367
Trade — ISBN-10: 0812966422, ISBN-13: 978-0812966428
Softcover — ISBN-10: 0812972120, ISBN-13: 978-0812972122
The first full re-translations of this novel in over a century, both of these appeared
back to back late in 2001, and both are now available in soft-cover editions. In
actuality, for the last several years New Jersey engineer Sidney Kravitz had generously
made his original draft available on an informal basis—spiral-bound, on diskette,
and in Zvi Har’El’s Jules Verne Collection. For this official version,
however, series overseer Arthur B. Evans has supplied the professional editorial
touch, inserting contractions into the dialogue, tweaking the vocabulary, and lubricating
the phrasing. As for Modern Library’s text, it’s a more recent effort
by University of Nebraska professor Jordan Stump.
In any case, both renditions are admirably responsible and readable. Stump’s
sometimes has a more consciously literary tone, Kravitz’s is a little more
faithful to Verne’s inner sequences and structures. For example, eyeball the
opening paragraphs of II 9 while checking the French at Zvi’s site: Kravitz,
like Verne, gives the March 2nd date at the outset of paragraph two;
Stump, contrariwise, just barely tacks it on. Yet Stump may sometimes phrase more
elegantly: “otherwise the interior of their dwelling would surely have been
flooded.” Versus Kravitz: “otherwise all would have been flooded inside
Both reissues are reasonably priced. True, the Wesleyan costs four bucks more, but
it packs plenty of extra value. Modern Library reprints 74 of the Férat illustrations,
whereas Wesleyan offers all 152 in cleaner, clearer reproductions. What’s
more, the latter features a huge scholarly apparatus: William Butcher supplies extensive
annotations, analyses of the pertinent manuscripts, comprehensive bibliographies
on the author and on this novel in particular, and coverage of Verne’s other
desert-island efforts including his false start for this novel, Uncle Robinson.
As for Butcher’s introduction, it’s endlessly stimulating, relating
the novel’s tortuous evolution, detailing the struggles between the author
and his micromanaging editor P.-J. Hetzel, and raising major questions for future
researchers—for instance, I was startled to learn that Verne had originally
planned a god-out-of-the-machine different from the one in the text we know. Fascinating
For its part, Modern Library redraws Verne’s map with English place names,
but otherwise the incidentals are pedestrian: their Verne bio is hackwork, featuring
careless research (Verne didn’t “witness” the 1848 revolution,
nor did he leave a MS of The Barsac Mission), and also recycling the old
discredited fiction of young Jules running off to sea. And this last taradiddle
is trotted out yet again in historical novelist Caleb Carr’s intro, a would-be
think piece on the novelty of Verne using a mystery-yarn format. It’s a valid
angle, but unfortunately for mystery buffs and first-time readers, Carr undercuts
it by giving the plot away.
So Wesleyan’s entry ought to be the easy winner—except for one lamebrained
editorial decision. Wespress undermines the overall preeminence of their version
by omitting Verne’s detailed chapter headings (Kravitz did
them, as shown by his draft text at http://jv.gilead.org.il/kravitz/
which means that for all its added attractions and special features, this Wesleyan
edition is literally incomplete. Consequently, for first-timers who simply want
a good reading copy of this novel, my recommendation would have to be Modern Library.
Serious Vernians, needless to say, will want both.
-- Review by Frederick Paul Walter, extracted from “Verne
in the Shops,” originally published in Extraordinary
Voyages, Vol. 9, No. 3 (Mar 2003).
review obtained 12 Jan 2009
The Mysterious Island
Translator: W.H.G. Kingston. Introduction: Isaac Asimov. Afterword: Bruce Sterling.
New York, NY, Signet Classics, 2001. 528 pages, ?? ill.
Softcover — ISBN-10: 0451529413, ISBN-13: 978-0451529411
NOT RECOMMENDED (read why below)
W.H.G. KINGSTON’S TRANSLATION OF The Mysterious Island
First came the true story of Alexander Selkirk who was abandoned from 1704 to 1709
on the desert island of Juan Fernandez, some 450 miles off the coast of Valparaiso,
Chile. Daniel Defoe heard his story and in 1719 he published the famous Robinson
Crusoe. It became an instant success and started the robinsonade genre
In 1813 Johann Wyss published Swiss Family Robinson and in 1841 Captain
Frederick Marryat produced Masterman Ready also involving a family and
the most accurate of the robinsonade since Marryat was a professional seaman before
becoming a writer. I believe that Verne read Masterman Ready because his
Uncle Robinson is so close in characters and opening plot. Verne’s
publisher Hetzel, refused to publish Uncle Robinson and it was only released
to the public in 1992. Verne later rewrote Uncle Robinson and it became
Part I of The Mysterious Island with the characters changed from a family
to five escaped Civil War prisoners.
I’ve read the Kingston translation of The Mysterious Island at least
ten times and I consider it a good translation. To those who are familiar only with
that version here is a hodge podge of what I consider to be some of its deficiencies.
First, I feel that the worst feature of the Kingston translation is his censorship
of Verne’s feelings about the British occupation of India. The following is
an example. In Part III, Chapter XVI, Verne wrote, “The English yoke weighed
heavily on the Hindu population. Prince Dakkar became the spokesman for the malcontents.
He instilled them with all the hatred he felt against the foreigner. He scoured
not only the still independent areas on the Indian Peninsula but also the regions
directly subject to English administration. He remembered the great days of Tippo-Saib
who died heroically at Seringapatam in the defense of his country.” In the
place of this paragraph, Kingston substituted the following, “Instigated by
princes equally ambitious and less sagacious and more unscrupulous than he was,
the people of India were persuaded that they might successfully rise against their
English rulers, who had brought them out of a state of anarchy and constant warfare
and misery, and had established peace and prosperity in their country. Their ignorance
and gross superstition made them the facile tools of their designing chiefs.”
As an Englishman, Kingston evidently tried to make his readers feel proud rather
than guilty. (The full horror of the Sepoy revolt against the British is described
by Verne in Chapter 3 of the first part of The Steam House. An uncensored
translation of this chapter by Swati Dasgupta appears on the web page of The Jules
Second, on almost every page Kingston felt free to omit words, phrases, sentences
and even paragraphs from Verne’s text for no apparent reason. Fortunately,
these omissions do not alter the plot or the development of the mystery. The worst
example of this occurs early in Chapter X of Part II, where there is a large paragraph
dealing with the details of the construction of the vessel, the Bonadventure.
Kingston begins his translation of Chapter X of Part II of The Mysterious Island
as follows: “When Pencroff had once got a plan into his head, he had no peace
till it was executed. Now he wished to visit Tabor Island, and as a boat of a certain
size was necessary for this voyage, he determined to build one.”
“This is the plan which was drawn up by the engineer in agreement with the
“The keel of the boat would measure thirty five feet and the beam nine feet
— which would make it a fast sailer provided its bottom and underwater lines
were well made — and it would not draw more than six feet, a level of water
sufficient to maintain it against the drift. It would be decked along its entire
length, pierced by two hatchways which would give access to two cabins separated
by a partition, and rigged as a sloop with a spanker, a staysail, a foresail, a
forestaysail, and a jib. These are very manageable sails conducting themselves well
against squalls and holding on firmly when close-hauled. Finally, its hull would
be carvel-built, that is to say that the planking would be flush instead of overlapped.
As to its ribs, they would heat press them into place after adjusting the planking,
which would be mounted on dummy frames.
“What wood should be employed? Elm or fir, both of which abounded in the island?
They decided for the fir, a wood which is a little ‘cracked,’ as the
carpenters would say, but which is easy to work and which stands the water as well
as the elm.”
Why should Kingston omit so much material from his translation? My first conjectures
were that Kingston had no knowledge of sailing and had wisely decided to avoid translating
what would result in embarrassing errors or he thought that it would take him too
much time to translate correctly and it wasn’t worth what he was getting paid.
Imagine my surprise when I consulted the Encyclopedia Britannica. I quote, “Kingston
retired from business, and within 30 years he wrote upwards of 130 tales of adventure
for boys. He had a practical knowledge of seamanship, and his stories of the sea,
full of thrilling adventures and hairbreadth escapes, exactly hit the tastes of
his boy readers.”
Third, in his very first editions, Kingston called the engineer Cyrus Smith just
as Verne had named him and his translation of the title of the first part was “Wrecked
in the Air. ” However in subsequent editions he called the engineer Cyrus
Harding and his title for the first part became “Dropped from the Clouds.
” The name Harding is Kingston’s invention. “Dropped from the
Clouds ” is a phrase from the first part of Shakespeare’s “Henry
IV,” Act IV, Scene I, Line 108.
Fourth, keeping in mind that he was translating for boys, he omitted any reference
to drinking. In Chapter XIII of Part II he writes, “Captain Pencroft was perfectly
satisfied with his crew.” What Verne actually wrote was, “Captain Pencroff
was perfectly satisfied with his crew and spoke of rewarding them with nothing less
than ‘a quart of wine with which to go on a spree!’”
(There is a second translation of The Mysterious Island which was published
by The Evening Telegraph of Philadelphia in 1876 and never republished. The Jules
Verne Encyclopedia attributes this translation to Stephen W. White, and
I happen to own a copy!)
The editor of Extraordinary Voyages
at the time, Andrew Nash writes: the following info was provided by James D. Keeline
in response to part of Sid’s above message which appeared in an Internet discussion:
“W.H.G. (William Henry Giles) Kingston (1814-1880) was a well-known author
of stories for boys mostly published in England but many were known in the U.S.
as well. Below are some sources where biographical information on him may be found
which may shed additional light on the contradiction Sidney Kravitz has presented
over his translation of The Mysterious Island
- — Allibone, S. Austin. A Critical Dictionary Of English Literature
And British And American Authors Living And Deceased From The Earliest Accounts
To The Latter Half Of The Nineteenth Century. (Lippincott, 1858-71; Gale Research
- — Doyle, Brian. Who’s Who Of Children’s Literature
(Schocken Books, 1968).
- — Kirk, John Foster A Supplement To Allibone’s Critical
Dictionary Of English Literature And British And American Authors (Lippincott,
1891; Gale Research, 1965).
- — Kunitz, Stanley J. British Authors Of The Nineteenth Century.
(H.W. Wilson, 1936).
- — Lofts, W.O.G.; Adley, D.J. The Men Behind Boys’ Fiction.
(Lon: Howard Baker, 1970).
- — Patrick, David. Chambers’s Cyclopaedia Of English
Literature: A History Critical And Biographical Of Authors In The English Tongue
From The Earliest Times Till The Present Day With Specimens Of Their Writings.
(Lippincott, 1938; Gale Research, 1978). 3 vols.
-- Review by Sidney Kravitz, originally published in
Extraordinary Voyages, Vol. 5, No. 1 (May 1999).
review obtained 12 Jan 2009
The Mysterious Island (Scribner’s Illustrated
Translator: W.H.G. Kingston. Illustrator: N.C. Wyeth. New York, NY, Antheum, 1988.
508 pages, 14 ill.
Hardcover — ISBN-10: 0684189577, ISBN-13: 978-0684189574
NOT RECOMMENDED (read why below)
The only reason to get this book would be for the N.C. Wyeth illustrations. Otherwise
it the Kingston translation that you read about above.