The first of two new unabridged translations of what Roland Barthes called Verne’s “almost perfect” novel, currently only available in its 19th-century incarnation. In 1865, a year before he invented the “scientific romance,” Verne’s castaway novel, Uncle Robinson, was rejected by his publisher. Ten years later, Verne, now renowned for Around the World in Eighty Days and From the Earth to the Moon, vastly expanded his castaway story as The Mysterious Island—a tale based on real-life Alexander Selkirk (1676–1721), a sailor who joined the South Sea buccaneers and, at his own request, was put ashore on an island in the Pacific off the coast of Chile (in 1704), where he survived alone until 1709, when he was discovered and brought back to Britain. Verne’s own story is a rousing summation of his optimistic expectation that, through the thoughtful uses of technology and the aid of good fellowship and a friendly dog, the human race could survive just about anything. When five Americans—an engineer, a journalist, a sailor, a freed African slave, a young boy and his faithful dog—find themselves stranded in Richmond, Virginia, during the closing days of the Civil War, they steal a balloon and drift into a storm that blows them thousands of miles westward, until the balloon falls apart near a volcanic island in the South Pacific. Though it takes a hundred pages for the group to reunite, another hundred and thirty to guess that they may not be alone, a few hundred more for them to be attacked by pirates and find the attack mysteriously repulsed (by the author’s most famous and enigmatic fictional villain, now tragically dying), Verne’s plot moves along breathlessly through scenes of the castaways surmounting danger through technology (e.g., a watch crystal focusing the sun’s rays to make fire) while having chatty lectures about flora and fauna.
Wide-eyed mid–19th-century humanistic optimism in a breezy, blissfully readable translation by Stump (French/Univ. of Nebraska). (75 b&w reproductions of original illustrations)