Concerning pineapples

Today has been a day filled with pineapple-related delights. There were pineapples and papaya for lunch. There was (via Felix Gilman, whose books you should read) this amazing piece about the effects of pineapples and Pinkwater when applied to standardised tests.  And then.

I’m working on something that has necessitated my reading Wyss’ The Swiss Family Robinson. I say Wyss, but it’s more complex than that – see here for an account of the various additions and deletions that accompanied the text’s translation into English. I read this version on Project Gutenberg, which I think is largely based on the W.H. Kingston translation from 1849 – the foreword is worded in a way that makes this a bit confusing. This is a pity because my favourite thing about reading this book have been the occasional interpolations by the editor, whoever s/he may be. At one point the narrator of the book chastises his son for lying, even in jest (the son has pretended to have an unsuccessful hunt in order to give his family a surprise). When the narrator does something similar later, the editor complains, ” He has forgotten his dictum about truth even in jest”. But far better than this is our editor’s increasing frustration over the book’s misrepresentation of pineapples.

In chapter 4:

We forced our way through with difficulty, so thick and tangled were the reeds. Beyond this, the landscape was most lovely. Rich tropical vegetation flourished on every side: the tall stately palms, surrounded by luxuriant ferns; brilliant flowers and graceful creepers; the prickly cactus, shooting up amidst them; aloe, jasmine and sweet-scented vanilla; the Indian pea and, above all, the regal pineapple*, loaded the breath of the evening breeze with their rich perfume. The boys were delighted with the pineapple, and so eagerly did they fall to, that my wife had to caution them that there were no doctors on our territory, and that if they became ill, they would have to cure themselves as best they might.

* At this point the author seems to assume that pineapples grow on trees. They do not.

And in chapter 6:

`The ground is light and easy to dig hereabouts,’ she replied. `I have planted potatoes, and cassava-roots, there is space for sugar-canes, and the young fruit trees, and I shall want you to contrive to irrigate them, by leading water from the cascades in hollow bamboos. Up by the sheltering rocks I mean to have pineapples* and melons, they will look splendid when they spread there. To shelter the beds of European vegetables from the heat of the sun, I have planted seeds of maize round them. The shadow of the tall plants will afford protection from the burning rays. Do you think that is a good plan?’

* The author now thinks pineapples grow on vines. They do not.


Pineapples are only mentioned once more in the book and they’re on a plate, so we cannot know if the narrator would have eventually turned them into roots, and if this would have caused the editor to give up in despair.


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