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(14) Jonathan Swift (1667 - 1745)

Life and Career

- born in Dublin of newly settled English parents and educated according to Anglican principles in Ireland

- ordained a priest of the Irish Church, consistently but unsuccessfully sought promotion in the English Church

- dedicated to the cause of Irish independence from English interference, was considered the quintessential voice of the 18th century Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland, but felt himself a stranger in the land of his birth and was equally awkward in identifying himself with England

- the severe disruption of Irish affairs attendant upon James II's attempt to rally Catholics to his cause obliged him to seek refuge in England (1690), where he lived in the house of the diplomat and essayist Sir William Temple

- originally associated with the Whigs, but abandoned them (1710) for their indifference to the welfare of the Anglican Church in Ireland, and turned to Tories for whom he served as a political journalist and editor of the party organ, the Examiner

- devoted his energies and talents to politics and religion, which were not clearly separated at the time

- supported the Anglican Church and was hostile to all who seemed to threaten it, including Deists, Roman Catholics, Non-Conformists, or merely Whig politicians

Social Intercourse

- acquainted with many distinguished personalities of the time, including the fellow writers Alexander Pope, John Arbuthnot, Joseph Addison, and John Gay, or the politicians Lord Oxford and Lord Bolingbroke

- most likely never married, but was deeply devoted to the young daughter of Temple's steward, Esther Johnson (whom he called Stella), and unsuccessfully pursued by the younger woman Hester Vanhomrigh (called Vanessa)

> The Journal to Stella (1766): collected letters written to Esther Johnson

> "Cadenus and Vanessa" (1713): a poem accounting his relations with Hester Vanhomrigh


- for his satires, especially for the savage Gulliver's Travels, was called by many a misanthrope, a hater of humanity

- as he explained in a letter to Pope, he loved individuals but hated mankind in general, that is he was constantly provoked by the spectacle of human beings capable of reason and of reasonable conduct, but refusing to act on it

- opposed the current optimistic view that human nature was essentially good by accepting a much older belief that human nature is deeply and permanently flawed and nothing can be done against it unless we recognize our moral and intellectual limitations

- professed to write his satires to vex the world rather than to divert it, and employed his writing to serve to the opening of the broad vista of real freedom of self-knowledge, independence, and responsibility to humanity as a whole


- his prose style is clear and simple, uses concrete diction, uncomplicated syntax, economic and concise language

> A Tale of a Tub (written c. 1696, published 1704, revised 1710):

- contrasts the opinions of three brothers who represent Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism, and Calvinist Dissent

- uses multiple narrators and editors, subversions, gaps, disjunctions, and long digressions on criticism, ancient and modern literature, and madness

- attacks the Catholic additions to and Protestant detractions from the fundamental doctrines of the Church, which are metaphorically represented as a coat which the brothers alter according to the whims and fashions they justify


> The Battle of the Books (1704, revised 1710):

- originated as a complement to Temple's defence of classical literature as opposed to its modern vernacular rival

- features the character of Aesop who meditates between the claims of a pro-modern spider, who spins his webs out of his own entrails, and a pro-ancient bee, who goes to nature in order to produce noble 'sweetness and light'

- concludes with no solution, but a farcically confused disorder among the characters and an aborted new paragraph

> Meditation on a Broomstick (1710):

- introduces the device of a narrator who assumes a mask in order to strip masks from the objects of his satire

- imitates the solemn style and manner of a pious moral essayist, but undermines the serious tone by the apparent ridiculousness of the chosen subject

> The Drapier's Letters (1724):

- a series of five public letters purporting to be the work of 'M.B.', a Dublin draper

- aroused Ireland to refuse to accept the new copper coins, which would only further debase the coinage of Ireland

- enjoyed great popularity stemming not only from the general assent of the Irish to his opposition to the relatively petty injustice, but also from the carefully constructed narrating voice attuned to please a broad Irish audience

> Travels Into Several Remote Nations of the World (known as Gulliver's Travels, 1726):

- assumes the persona of Lemuel Gulliver, an English surgeon turned a ship's captain, who is well-educated, proud of his national origins, both professionally and politically informed, but essentially too easily 'gulled'

- presents himself as oblivious to the parallels between the pettiness of the affairs of Lilliput and those of Europe, is unshaken by the king of Brobdingnag's condemnation of the English after he has defended their achievements, etc.

- the first two voyages deal with physical disproportion, the third with mental imbalance, while the fourth serves both to replay themes of physical and mental disorder and to demand a reordering of all preconceptions

- when facing the unreasonable creatures in human form, the Yahoos, and the reasoning creatures in animal form, the Houyhnhnms, he seeks to be considered an honorary Houyhnhnm-horse rather than an honourable Yahoo

- his desperate attempts to associate himself with real, if extraordinarily endowed, animals lead to his failure, his final rejection of human society, and his eventual disastrous disjointing of both mind and body, reason and passion

> A Modest Proposal (1729):

- presents a monstrous proposal for the human consumption of surplus infants in a similar tone as in his Meditation

- a political dimension is added by his proposing specifically Irish infants of the poor to feed the rich Englishmen


- wrote poetry devoid of and often satirizing romantic love, cosmetic beauty, or conventional poetic language

> "The Lady's Dressing Room" (1730) or "A Beautiful Young Nymph Going to Bed" (1731):

- extremely harsh, scatological poems of distaste for the human body and for female sexuality

- intermingles beauty and disease and the human and the animal form similarly as in the Gulliver's Travels

Základní údaje

  • Předmět

    Britská literatura 3.
  • Semestr

    Zimní semestr 2008/09.
  • Přednášející

    Ema Jelínková.
  • Status

    Povinná přednáška pro III. blok.


Abrams, M. H., ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 7th ed. Vol. 1. New York: Norton, 1999.

Sanders, Andrew. The Short Oxford History of English Literature. New York: Clarendon Press, 1994.


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