English 245 with Dr. G @ SUNY TC3   

 

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Lessons

1. Classical Britain

2. Beowulf 1

3. Beowulf 2

4. Middle Ages

5. Romance

6. Sir Gawain

7. Malory

8. Chaucer's Miller

9. Wife of Bath

10. Religious Protest

11. Biblical Drama

12. Play of Mankind

13. Early Modern Period

14. Thomas More

15. Philip Sidney

16. Print Culture

17. Walter Raleigh

18. Twelfth Night 1

19. Twelfth Night  2

20. Civil War

21. An Age of Irreverence

22. Aphra Behn

23. Reading Papers

24. Gulliver

25. Rape of the Lock

26. School for Scandal

27. New God

28. Revolution

Final Exam

 

 

 

            24. Gulliver's Travels

 

READINGS FOR THIS LESSON

Of Yahoo and Houyhnhnm
 
Vol. 1C pages 498-2500 & 2507-2512 &
2531-2587 from Longman 3rd ed

"Swift," "Lady's Dressing Room," and "Gulliver"

An annotated internet text of Gulliver's Travels
is available from University of Toronto at
http://www.library.utoronto.ca/utel/fiction_u/swiftj_gt/gt_titlepage.html

Another online text is available from Lee Jaffe at
http://www.jaffebros.com/lee/gulliver/contents.html

ASSIGNMENTS FOR THIS LESSON

The lesson includes both a quiz and a journal writing assignment to be submitted on the interactive course site at  SUNY Learning Network.  

Journal

Write for an hour (or more if you have time). Summarize the readings or make notes you will find useful on the final essay. Some other journaling ideas for today include:

The foreign place (real or imagined) seems to be an often-recurring element in British Literature.  How do you compare Houyhnhnm society to that in More's Utopia? in Sidney's "golden world" of poetry? in Raleigh's Guiana? in Arthur Barlow or John Smith's Virginia? in Behn's Surinam or Shakespeare's Illyria?

Is Gulliver insane? Is he meant to be a wise fool in the tradition of Hythlodaeus and Feste? Is Swift serious or simply clowning?

In "Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift," Swift ironically criticizes himself:

Perhaps I may allow the Dean
Had too much satire in his vein;
And seemed determined not to starve it,
Because no age could more deserve it.
Yet malice never was his aim;
He lashed the vice but spared the name.
                 
(Damrosch 2526, ll 459-464)

What vices are lashed in Gulliver's Travels?  For what does it satirize the age?

 

 

The devolution of mankind.

 

 

 

 

 

 

See General instructions on Journaling for this course. For a sample journal, see Dr. G's 2007 Brit Lit 1 Journal.

NOTES AND COMMENTARY
Adapted by Dr. G from David Damrosch, et al.,
Teaching British Literature (New York: Longman, 2003)

Poems:
The art of Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) is a corollary to the project of the Royal Society to observe the world more closely in order to reveal its actuality. Of course, Swift's observations are satiric, not scientific, and their objectivity often can be questioned, but the satirist like the scientist is disillusioning. Both take hard new looks at common physical reality to see what is really there; both assume  that what we normally perceive or commonly think is not accurate.

A few of Swift's poems make the quickest introduction to his art. A Description of a City Shower (2501) observes London through disgusting physical details: venting spleens, vomiting clouds, dust indistinguishable from rain, Tories cowering with Whigs. All of the city is thrown together in the gutter, an open sewer for anyone to see: “Here various kinds by various fortunes led, / Commence acquaintance underneath a shed” (ll. 39–40). The kennel itself “in huge confluent” carries the whole mess that can no longer pretend to any distinction (“Filths of all hues and odors, seem to tell / What streets they sailed from by the sight and smell” [ll. 55–56]) The final triplet in the poem, despised by Swift as a cheap trick of prosody (he observes his own poem with disgust in his footnotes), pushes the sense of overflow. The Alexandrine hexameter (as opposed to the loose heroic couplets of the rest of the poem) gives extra rhyme, extra sounds, extra room, extra time to all these things.


The Lady’s Dressing Room (2507) is another comic revelation of the truth. What is attractive about the disgusting? The question applies not only to Strephon, but also to the narrator, and by implication, that appalled but fascinated voyeur, the reader (“Strephon bids us guess the rest” [l. 16]). It’s useful to ask: can things really be this disgusting? Or, as “Celia’s magnifying glass” (l. 60) suggests, is the poem playing on the psychological implications of perspective? Neither the worm nor the squeezing of it, for example, is really there—thing and act are extrapolated by Strephon or the narrator (ll. 63-68). The voyeurism magnifies the horror; the very act of seeing what one’s not supposed to see lends a darker luster to things that would probably shift to some extent into ordinariness if openly offered. Is Strephon exaggerating? Or is Celia particularly filthy in her personal habits; if so, why generalize to all women? Do we think Strephon keeps his own room any better?

The missing motive is turned back against the satirist by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu's "The Reasons that Induced Dr. S to write a Poem called 'The Lady's Dressing Room.'" Montagu makes out Dr. S to be an old lecher, blaming his whore for his impotence. Both Swift's poem and Montagu's reply brilliantly juxtapose polite refined poetic form with mean subject matter.

Swift's masterpiece in poetry may be "Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift" (2513) which is a great meditation for any budding poet to imitate. What will happen after you die? What will people say? What should they say? Note how the focus has shifted from the medieval afterlife of spiritual journey to the 18th century afterlife of continued gossip and slander.

 

 

Image left: Jonathan Swift [cartooned by Dr G]. 18th century fashion exposed the vanity and artifice of the wearer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First edition of Gulliver's Travels, complete with portrait of Lemuel Gulliver.

 

The Age of Irreverence is the great age of British satire, and few seem to have been as disgusted in it as Swift.  Gulliver's Travels (book 3, excerpts) is a send up of the Royal Society's useless experiments and designs for language reform (recall Lesson 21). Swift's academics busy themselves in isolation from one another, and from everyone else, with impossible or pointless projects, such as the extraction of light from cucumbers and the creation of food from dung. The professors are beggars dependent on charity since their work has no real value to anybody but themselves. The broken sentence machine (2534-2535) is the advanced high tech printing press no longer requiring intelligent human input. Writing can be produced through random generation of words without the need for content. The linguistic project to eliminate verbs and participles from the language (2535) is not only an echo of Sprat's History but a criticism of materialism. When nothing is left for us to say but but nouns, we can describe the London gutter, the lady's dressing room, or even the academy itself only as a picture of things stripped of all purpose. We can't show why anything is, nor where it came from nor where it is going. Reason has gone missing.

Book 4 of Gulliver's Travels provides the ideals of rationality against which Swift criticizes English and European society. The ideal is manifested in the society of the Houyhnhnms, who have no words for "the thing which is not" and who show no malice toward one another since all are guided by a better or more evolved reason than is to be found in mankind. Darwin's discovery of evolution still lay more than 100 years in the future, but it is hard to resist the application of the theory to the species discovered by Gulliver, especially the apelike Yahoos and fully evolved horses of book 4.

With its pretentious language and reasoning hypocrisy stripped away, humanity is imaged physically in the Yahoo. The animal body of the Yahoo is more adapted for survival than Gulliver's body: it can climb trees better, swim better, claw better, better withstand cold. Gulliver has a compensating ability to learn the Houyhnhnm language, however, and this mutation makes him a prodigy among Yahoos, from the Houyhnhnm point of view: he is teachable. It is this little bit of reasoning in him, however, that they understand poses a danger to their race, so ultimately they exile him.

Though in a sense less sophisticated, Houyhnhnm language is superior to English in that it cannot be used to deceive. Houyhnhnms know nothing of war, lawyering, money, trade, medicine or hierarchical order based on nobility of birth, and these are the general objects of Swift's attack. Gulliver has difficulty in explaining these aspects of European society to a sentient being who is unfamiliar with lying and unfriendliness. Reductionist aspects have made the book a classic of children's literature, though its full meaning is not childish. Among its many ironies, not the least is the development of Gulliver's character through the book from a simple outgoing adventurer to an arrogant misanthrope.

 

 

 

OTHER RESOURCES & AMUSEMENTS

Gulliver's Travels Online by Lee Jaffe (includes texts, biographies, etc.)

Jonathan Swift at Bartleby.  A Tale of a Tub from Oxford University. Gulliver's Travels at Project Gutenberg.

Jonathan Swift at Victorianweb

Gulliver's Travels Page: http://kastalia.free.fr/GT.html

Luis Quintanilla's Illustrations for Gulliver's Travels

Letters of Lady Montague at Bartleby.

Henry Fielding (includes Tom Jones) at Bartleby.

 

Know of an excellent website that would wonderfully  complement this lesson? Please send it to Dr. G.

Copyright 2008 by Gary Homer Gutchess.