Jonathan Swift was born in Ireland in 1667 and educated at Trinity College in Dublin. In 1689 he went in England and for the next ten years he served as secretary to Sir William Temple, a prominent English statesman. In 1694 Swift became an ordained Anglican priest. He moved back to Ireland after Sir William’s death and he published anonymously his first major satirical work. In 1710 he returned to England and became editor of The Examiner, the journal of the Tory party, but with the fall of the Tories he accepted a post as Dean of St. Patrick’s, Dublin. In the 1720s Swift formed the group of Tory satirists known as the Scriblerians, along with Alexander Pope and John Gay. He published his masterpiece, Gulliver’s Travels and A Modest Proposal, a grotesque satire of Irish problems and the indifference of the English towards them. In this funny text, Swift suggested that babies make a succulent dish, especially when boiled, and that could be the solution to overpopulation and to starvation in Ireland. Sift spent the last years if his life in ill health and was eventually declared insane. He died in 1745.
Gulliver’s Travels (novel)
Gulliver’s Travels has been considered for a long time a children’s classic, but its dense mixture of fantasy, political satire and moral fable render it a highly complex work. It’s divided into four books.
Book 1 represents cruelty, pettiness and provincialism of men (the way Swift saw the England of his times). Lemuel Gulliver tells of his shipwreck off the island of Lilliput, where he meets the Lilliputians (tiny people) and learns about their customs, culture, and political system. He offers to help these people in their war against the island of Blefuscu, after which he returns to England.
Book 2 represents human vanity and self-love. Gulliver faces a series of misadventures, after which he finds himself abandoned on the island of Brobdingnag, whose inhabitants are all giants. The situation of Book 1 is reversed, as Gulliver is regarded as something like a living doll for children to play with. He’s sold to the Queen, before returning once again to England.
Book 3 is a parody of the pretentions of abstract intellectual thinking, which has no connections to reality. Gulliver lands on the amazing flying island of Laputa, which is populated by philosophers and scientists, all involved in bizarre and futile scientific researches. From there he journeys to two other islands, each with its own absurdities.
Book 4 finds Gulliver in a land ruled by intelligent horses, who are served by a bestial race called the Yahoos. Again, Gulliver tries to learn the language and ways of the inhabitants of the island. He assimilates them so well that when he returns home he finds himself disgusted by his normal life. In this last Book Swift reveals his own vision of the human society through the point of view of the intelligent horses, who regard humans like the savage Yahoos.