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Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels as a Utopia

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Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels as a Utopia

Jonathan Swift was born in 1667, Dublin . He was one of the biggest representative of the English enlightenment. Dryden the poet was his cousin. His father died before his birth, and right after finishing the University of Dublin , he also lost his uncle who paid his education. In 1689 Swift got into the house of the scientist, Sir William Temple. Here he started his literatural work: he wrote odes, but Dryden did not like them. He returned to Ireland , he became a priest there. In 1696 he returned to the Temple family. He wrote The Battle of the Books in 1697, but it was only published in 1704, together with his famous satire, A Tale of a Tub, in which he exposes every religiousness.
He met his first love, Esther Johnson, whom he called Stella. During his numberous visit in London he got to know the best spirits of his age: Addison, Steele, Congreve, and others.

In 1711 he wrote The Conduct of the Allies , which is a pacifist pamphlet. Between 1710 and 1713 he published his letters in the Journal to Stella . In 1724 he wrote his famous political work, The Drapier's Letters , and in 1726 he wrote Gulliver's Travels , his work that assured him his immortality.

Swift became very sick in his last years; the disease also infected his mind in 1738. He died in 1745 and was buried next to Stella, in the Saint Patrick Cathedral.

Just like Defoe's Robinson, Swift's Gulliver is also was served for the readers as an adventurous record of a journey. For real it is not a kind of that, but it's parody. But nut just that: a satire of the English and European conditions at that period. This is still not enough for the centuries old fame. The giant Gulliver among the elfs, the elf Gulliver among the giants, Gulliver of common sense between the pretending scientists and magicians - with the tools of making smaller ang bigger, distortion Swift gave a satire about mankind for ever. Swift's opposites, allegories are not just totally true, but are suggestive and humorous in such a way, that they became frequently repeated.

Gulliver's Travels fits nicely into a course on utopias and dystopias. A formal definition of the genre utopia is rather easier to come by and to maintain than a definition of dystopia.

In the late eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries there grew a legend that Gulliver's Travels was the product of a lonely and bitter man, half crazed with anger at a world which had denied him success in Church or in politics, and writing his book as a kind of revenge. To the Victorians especially, with their optimistic view of human perfectibility, their pride in human achievements, and their sentimentalism, the book was comprehensible only if one assumed that Swift was misanthropic to the point of insanity. The novelist Thackeray

cautioned his readers against the fourth voyage in particular, which he found it deeply disturbing.

Even in our century many readers have found it deeply disturbing. Aldous Huxley's novel Brave New World and George Orwell's 1984 can both be compared to Gulliver's Travels in the way they offer despairing visions of what the human race may come to, yet both writers were shocked by Swift's vision of what man actually is. Huxley found Swift guilty of hatred of mankind, and bases his view on Gulliver's and Swift's obsession with excrement: 'Swift's greatness lies in the intensity, the almost insane violence of that "hatred of the bowels" which is the essence of misantrophy, and which underlies the whole of his work.' Orwell, whose 1984 imagined a world divided into warring totalitarian blocks in which all liberties have perished, found Swift's concept of liberty disturbing. Despite the fact that 'Laputa' is clearly a satire on tyranny, and despite recognising Swift's contempt for absolutist authority, Orwell was disturbed by his feeling that Book 4 is recommending a totalitarian state.

These responses reveal something about Gulliver's Travels. There have been very few books which have left so many readers feeling that though it is a great book there must have been something wrong with the man who wrote it. His personality troubles them, and what he says about man disgusts or angers them. Could he have read these criticisms Swift might have taken a grim pleasure in such responses, for as he wrote to his friend Pope, while revising the manuscript: 'the chief and I propose to myself in all my labours is to vex the world rather than divert it'. And in a later letter he added 'I would anger it if I could with safety'.

In fact he seems to have failed with most people in his own day, for the book was a huge success immediately it was published, but there were exceptions, of course. Lord Bolingbroke, Swift's Tory friend who had turned philosopher, was distressed at Swift's disparagement of human nature, and many felt that to criticise society too generally was to criticise the Creator.

In some ways Gulliver's Travels is a unique work: there is nothing quite like it in world literature. But it shares certain features with many famous works, from serious travel books to comic fiction.

Books of travel are one of mankind's favourite kinds of reading, and imaginative literature often takes this form. Classical epics, which developed in the eighteenth century - after Gulliver's Travels -, both consists of travel adventures, either fabulous or at least improbable. Lucian's True History , in the second century a.d., was probably the first parody of the traveller's tale as such.

The hero Robinson Crusoe, which is an attempt at realist fiction on this theme, shares many of Gulliver's characteristics. Daniel Defoe based his hero on Alexander Selkirk who has actually been rescued from the island of Juan Fernandez in 1711 by the explorer William Dampier. Swift is engaged in deliberate parody both of Defoe's fiction and of Dampier's accounts of genuine travels. He not only parodies the style of Dampier's records, but arranges the dates of Gulliver's discoveries of Lilliput, Brobdingnag, Laputa and Houyhnhnmland to coincide with Dampier's presence in the appropriate latitudes. The painstaking way in which Swift mimics the style of such writers in the narrative parts of the Travels is illustrated by the storm scene at the start of Book 2, which Swift took word for word from a sailor's publication. Except that it seems funnier, because more densely packed with nautical jargon, on would scarcely detect any difference from Gulliver's usual manner of narration.

Accounts of travels are also associated with the Utopian genre. The opening of Sir Thomas More's Utopia, and that of Cyrano de Bergerac's Histoire Comique contenant les états et empires de la Lune are parodies of similar kind. But Gulliver's Travels is both a thorough parody of the travel tale and a book of several competing Utopias. Man's restless search for the perfect society is a perpetual theme of literature. Swift's book gives us four or five to choose from, with he added spice that because of his ironic technique we can never be sure whether we are in utopia or not.

Finally what we have in Gulliver's Travels is an extended analysis of the political and intellectual world of man, an 'anatomy' of society by means of allegory, and an investigation of moral issues by means of many short parables embedded in the book.
Swift and Utopia

Every so often in Gulliver's Travels, amid chapters of innocent narrative, flights of invention, and satirical attacks, we catch a glimpse of something that reminds us of man's perpetual quest for Utopia. Part of the challenge of reading the book is trying to detect which Utopia is the real one. The more ambitious examples of the ideal social structure often turn out to be a satire on man's grandiose dreams: a perfect world is not a possibility for man, and Swift knows it. Some of his more obvious utopian touches, like the various rational schemes for bringing up children, may strike us as coldly repellent, reminiscent of the inhuman economic 'projectors' Swift parodied in A modest proposal . In the Travels it is usually the more moderate proposals that carry most conviction, the appeals to common decency and common sense.

Indeed the one Swiftian ideal that one can confidently point to was well within the

grasp of his age. He believed in a well-ordered hierarchical state. When, in Chapter 7 of the second voyage, he comments on the former struggles between the king, the nobility, and the people of Brobdingnag, he is not criticising the existence of these three classes. A just balance of powers between the one, the few, and the many, was for Swift the natural order of things. It was the duty of every citizen to do what he could do to maintain this balance, and to cooperate for the common good. If Swift 'served human liberty' it was not because he was an egalitarian, but because he opposed so courageously any form of absolute power, whether exercised by monarchs or by their ministers.

Consequently he despised political factions. Despite his own fiercely partisan activities he believed that he was lending his support to those who stood for common sense and common interests, against Tory Jacobites at one stage of his career, and against the power of Whig financial interests later on. His hatred of war and of standing armies is similarly based. For armies can be made the instruments either of internal tyranny or of imperial conquests, and both tyranny and empire are powerfully criticised in this work. Conservative though he was, there are several issues of this kind where Swift seems to stand in the vanguard of progressive opinion. His views on the education of women, and his attack on the exploitation of the many to enrich the few (Book 4, Chapters 8 and 6) mark him as a radical spirit, ahead of his time. Yet twice in the book he displays a fierce intolerance towards religious dissenters, and his Commonwealth of horses (as Orwell complained) has as rigid a class structure, and as little tolerance of diversity of thought, as the most reactionary of regimes.

Intolerance, however, is a natural quality in a genius devoted to irony, especially in an age which firmly believed that there was such a thing as normal commonsensical human conduct, and that the task of the satirist was to scorn all kinds of deviation from that norm (the idea that diversity of opinion and behaviour are creative and should be encouraged was a creation of the Romantic age). Swift's 'norm' assumes that man is capable of rational conduct, that man is quite aware of what his conduct ought to be. Deviations from good sense and decency, whether caused by self-seeking, or by following individual convictions rather than what men have always and everywhere known to be right, deserve the severest censure. The violence of Swift's attacks on every kind of intellectual and moral perversion is an expression of his belief in our common humanity. As he said in a letter to Bolingbroke, 19 December 1719 , 'providence, which designed the world should be governed by many heads, made it a business within the reach of common understanding'.

Of course Gulliver's Travels is so constructed that we do not really need to share a single one of Swift's beliefs to enjoy his satire. Swift could be narrow and intolerant, but his genius for corrosive irony and his pugnacious spirit brought him into conflict with every element of the 'establishment' of his day. He could pour scorn on his fellow clerics, the leaders of both parties, fashionable www.antiskola.euwriters and philosophers, and all the follies of which man - Whig or Tory - is capable. The greatest quality of the Reverend Dr. Swift was surely his irreverence, the one indispensable trait of an ironist.

Swift's irony

As Swift said in his preface to The Battle of the Books: 'Satire is a sort of glass wherein beholders do generally discover everybody's face but their own; which is the chief reason. that so very few are offended with it'.

Gulliver's Travels comes as close as any work in English literature to disproving Swift's ironic comments on the limits of his art. Reading it is like participating in a game in which the satirist is manipulating the mirror and the reader is constantly trying to avoid seeing his own reflection. The moments in which we are 'diverted' by seeing in that mirror comic ir libellous distortions of everyone about us will always outnumber the fleeting moments of vexation when we catch sight of ourselves. But Swift is not easy to outwit. He is as agile a player of the satire game as any man, and this section can only outline some of the tricks of which he is capable.

We all know that irony means saying one thing while meaning another. But of course the irony is wasted unless the reader in fact grasps what is meant as well as what is said. Irony is one of the ways we communicate with each other, either for mutual entertainment, or in jokes at the expense of a third party, or sometimes with genuine hostility. Dramatists use a version of irony in which author and audience are in possession of knowledge which at least one of the characters on stage does not have. In a work of satire written in fictional form, that is, with a plot and a hero, we can expect to find many refinements of both verbal and situational (or dramatic) irony. In Gulliver's Travels, where allegory and parable are also employed, the range of possible ironic effects is almost infinite.

Gulliver as an ironic device

Gulliver himself is Swift's most versatile device. His narration is so apparently innocent of malice that our guard is weakened from the outset. His polite and agreeable manner insures us against betrayal, yet he is the cause of most of our confusion. His shortcomings are always involving us in absurdities. The innocent pleasure with which he records that his 'clemency' to the Lilliputians in Chapter 2 was 'represented very much to my advantage at court' identifies us with his ludicrous anxiety to be well thought of in that quarter, just as his surprise at the King of Brobdingnag's 'unnecessary scruple' about gunpowder shows how Swift takes for granted our indifference to human life. Sometimes Swift betrays Gulliver alone for comic effect, sometimes he betrays us through Gulliver. His tendency to make Gulliver give us a superficial view of things, like the political games in the Lilliputian court, accuses the reader of superficial understanding, by exploiting the time-lag, perhaps only a split-second, between reading Gulliver's words and detecting Swift's meaning. At other times Gulliver is liable to defend us so ineptly against some monstrous criticism that his defence only underlines the criticism, for instance when he says in Book 4 that he was unable to prove that human beings are relatively clean since there were no pigs in that country to compare us with!

The author and his mask

The shifting relation between Swift and Gulliver is never quite predictable. In Chapter 3 of of Brobdingnag the king clearly speaks for Swift as he contemplates Gulliver: 'and yet, said he, I dare engage, these creatures have their titles and distinctions of honour, they contrive little nests and burrows. they love, they fight, they cheat, they betray'. We share Gulliver's blushes at this point. We too resent such contempt: perhaps more deeply than we regret the vices named by the king. Sometimes Swift exploits his mask in a joke about himself, as he does near the end of the work when Gulliver claims that 'I meddle not the least with any party, but write without passion prejudice or ill-will against any man or number of man whatsoever'. More often Gulliver is made to reverse his moral stance too quickly for us to evade the trap, as in the transition from Chapter 5 to Chapter 6 to Laputa. If we look carefully at this passage we will see that there is in fact a double trap. It takes a moment to realise that Gulliver has involved us in a contemptuous rejection of what is most desirable. And it takes a further moment to realise that when these excellent projects are dismissed as 'wild impossible chimeras that never entered before into the heart of man' Swift may well be suggesting that man is so incorrigible that such sensible proposals really are too wild to engage out hearts.

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