Journey to Mauritius
Bernardin de Saint-Pierre; translated by Jason Wilson
5 1/4” x 8” • 256 pages • b&w illus. • map
ISBN 9781566564472 • paperback • $15.00 •
“Jacques-Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre is best known for his romantic novel Paul et Virginie (1787), but his 1773 epistolary account of the 28 months he spent on Mauritius… has been re-translated by Jason Wilson and issued as Journey to Mauritius.
Wilson’s forty-four page introduction to Saint-Pierre's life and works… provides important context. The work itself consists of a series of letters and short essays covering Saint-Pierre's travels to and from Mauritius and his time on the island itself. Topics of particular focus include geography, natural history and observations on geology, agriculture, botany and zoology; remarks on commerce and colonialism, and a stinging indictment of plantation culture and chattel slavery…
The account itself is fascinating, and Bernardin's consciousness of his own educational shortcomings is refreshing… Wilson has… added annotations to expand on Saint-Pierre's comments…
In this re-translation of the text, Wilson has incorporated additions Saint-Pierre planned to incorporate in a second edition of his narrative… but which never saw print."
Paul et Virginie (1787), an adolescent love story set in an exotic Indian Ocean island, was one of the literary sensations of the age. Telling of a passion both chaste and doomed, the novel combined fashionable sentimentality with an evocatively tropical setting. It was a huge critical and commercial success in France and abroad, a precursor of the Romantic movement.
The novel’s author, Jacques-Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, had previously spent 28 months in the French colony of Ile de France (now Mauritius) in 1778–80. This extended exposure to the island not only inspired Paul et Virginie, but also led to one of the period’s fullest and most fascinating accounts of a colonial society and its daily life. First published in 1773, Voyage ˆ L’Isle de France is now available in this newly translated and annotated edition—Journey to Mauritius.
Structured into a series of letters, Bernardin’s survey of Mauritius includes a detailed description of the island’s geography, flora, and fauna. Describing the closed nature of colonial society, he also provides a chilling picture of the cruelties of plantation life and slavery. Mixing indignation with a lyrical appreciation of the island’s beauty, Bernardin provides us with one of the earliest examples of a walking guide as he details Mauritius’ sights and landscapes. From the disappearance of the dodo to the mosaic of multiracial Port Louis little escapes the author’s curious gaze.
An introduction sets this travel account in its historical context, discussing Bernardin’s life and ideas. It also explores its contribution to travel writing and its relevance to modern-day Mauritius. Illustrated with period engravings, Journey to Mauritius will be of interest to those visiting the island as well as students of anti-slavery movement, colonialism, and travel writing.
A friend and disciple of Rousseau, Bernardin de Saint-Pierre (1737–1814) was a naturalist and influential social critic as well as a successful author. A military engineer by training, he was instrumental in popularizing pastoral fiction with Paul et Virginie.
Jason Wilson, Professor of Latin American literature at University College, London, was born in Mauritius and is the author of books on Alexander von Humboldt and Octavio Paz, and Buenos Aires: A Cultural and Literary Companion.
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