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Jonathan Swift


Jonathan Swift has been one of the most important English writers of the XVIII century; his family was English, but he was born in Ireland, where he lived during his first year of life, until the Glorious Revolution (1688).
In England, encouraged from a scholar called Sir William Temple, who was a member of the Whig, he started writing his first satirical work.
In a moment of his life, he decided to become a man of the Church: so he returned to Ireland, where he became an Anglican priest (1694).
After returning in England from Ireland, he met a lot of other English writers, and wrote a lot of works for the Tory administration; the fact that he had wrote both for the Whigs and for the Tories, shows the main characteristic of his personality: he was able to see reality from different points of view, in fact even if his attitude was conservative, he could put himself in the shoes of people which opinion was different from his one.
In 1713 he went again to Ireland because he was made Dean of the Cathedral in Dublin: he stayed there during 30 years.
In 1726 he published his masterpiece, “Gulliver’s travels”, while in 1729 he wrote an assay called “A modest proposal”, where he criticise using irony the behaviour of England towards Ireland: rich English people were exploiting Ireland’s resources, and for this reason while England grew economically, Ireland continued to be poor. Swift suggested like solution that Irish people could sell their children as food for the English and rich ones.
Swift was a very controversial man; many people have labelled him like a misanthrope because they believe (that) he hated humans, but many other ones think that he was a philanthropist because he criticised humans for the correction of their bad attitudes.
He didn’t see with optimism the period in which he lived as his contemporaries, because he realized (that) it was a good period only for a small part of the people, while others lived fighting with some difficulties, particularly in Ireland.
Swift used satire to express his disappointment with the society and the policy of that time, because it permitted him to describe ironically bad things; satire is what differences the Swift’s novel from the realistic one.
Finally, Jonathan Swift used satire also to criticise realism: he used it too, but he thought that if it’s used exaggeratedly, it became unreasonable and it could become the cause of errors, too. Use a common-sense was very important, because human people had to use both their mind and their heart.

Gulliver’s Travels
Gulliver’s Travels was printed in London in 1726, but it was written between 1721 and 1726. It consist of four books, each dealing with the various adventures of the ship’s surgeon, Lemuel Gulliver, and illustrated by maps of the places he visited.
Gulliver’s Travels is a travel book, with an episodical structure. While realistic novels supported the values of human reason (progress…), satirical novels criticised those values, and mainly showed that progress is an illusion. Satire often uses the technic of enlarge or degrease some aspects of the situation or of the person.
In Book 1 Gulliver sails from Bristol, and after six months, he shipwrecked somewhere in South Pacific. He is cast upon the shore of Lilliput, whose inhabitants (Lilliputians) are only six inches tall. In Book 2 Gulliver sails for India, but finds himself in Brobdingnag, a country that Swift located in Alaska. Here the natives are giants twelve times as tall as Gulliver. His size causes him many misadventures and he finally becomes the King’s pet, kept in a cage. One day his cage is lifted up by a huge bird and dropped in the middle of the ocean; he’s rescued by a ship and returns to England. In Book 3 Gulliver’s ship is attacked by pirates who set him adrift on a small boat. He finds himself on the flying island of Laputa, whose inhabitants are absent-minded astronomers, philosophers and scientists who carry out absurd experiments. The island drops Gulliver on Japan and he manages to go back to England. In Book 4 Gulliver’s last voyage leads him to the island inhabited by the Houyhnhnms, rational horses that rule over the Yahoos, a vile species of animal resembling human beings. When the horses banish him, he builds a canoe and leaves for England. Once back in civilisation, he joins his wife and children but cannot stand their human smell. He therefore goes to live in the stable, among the animals that remind him of the nobility of the Houyhnhnms.

Swift looked to the extensive literature of travel, both real and imaginary. The scientific projects described in Book 3 display an acquaintance with the work ok the Royal Society. There are also recognisable elements of political allegory through allusions to people and events in the England of Swift’s period. Throughout the 17th century the imaginary voyage had been used by French writers as a vehicle for their theories. In addition, there are more general themes of moral satire: man’s concern with unimportant matters and greed (Book 1), his pride (Book 2), the absurdities and evils of the various professions (Book 3)
the representation of pure reason (Book 4).
Gulliver is middle-aged, well educated, sensible and a careful observer. He takes care of his family and runs his business prudently. He has experience of the world and he fully supports the culture which has produced him. During the four voyages he’s the reader’s contact, and by the end he is completely different from the person he was at the beginning. Gulliver differs from typical traveller because the people he meets during his voyages are in no sense children of nature. They all live in highly organised societies and are governed by institutions. If in the end he is disgusted by everything at home, it is because Europe is losing its civilisation and falling into a state of corruption, expressed in the novel by the constant opposition between rationality and animality. Swift’s originality lies in his creating a series of experiences, of which the latest is in contrast with those which preceded it. Gulliver tells his experiences in the first person, in a prose style which is matter-of-fact and free of literary colouring, and records observed details with the precision of a scientific instrument. Gulliver is an invented character, an object as much as an instrument of satire. Swift’s masterpiece can be read on different levels. It has been widely read as a tale for children, but it can also can be read as a political allegory of Swift’s time, as a parody of voyage literature or as a masterpiece of misanthropy and a reflection on the aberrations of human reason.
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