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Swift, Jonathan

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionBooks & Authors: Award-Winning Fiction (Sc-Tr)

(Irish, 1667–1745)

Born in Dublin, and a cousin of the poet John Dryden, Swift was educated at Trinity College. After working in various positions for the household of Sir William Temple in England and Ireland, he was ordained and given the prebend of St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin, where he later became dean. The author of numerous political pamphlets, he is best remembered for Gulliver's Travels (1726) which follows the fantastical journeys of its eponymous narrator, Lemuel Gulliver, a shipwrecked surgeon. These travels take him to Lilliput (an island of six-inch-high people), Brobdingnag (a land of giants), the flying island of Laputa (occupied by impractical philosophers), and eventually to the land of the Houyhnhnms (a society ruled by horses endowed with reason). These societies force Gulliver, and the reader, to re-evaluate our human world. Both the pomp of the Lilliputian emperor and the civil feuds among his people are made to look ridiculous in their diminutive scale. And compared to the rational, clean, and simple lives of the Houyhnhnm horses, the humans of Europe seem filthy and positively ‘beastly’. So alienated is Gulliver from his own species that by the time he returns to Europe he recoils from his own family in disgust. Although it is widely known as a simplified story retold to children, Gulliver's Travels is most powerful as a stinging moral satire which was originally read, as Alexander Pope put it, ‘from the cabinet council to the nursery’.

François-Marie Arouet Voltaire, Charles Dickens, Aldous Huxley.


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