Gulliver’s Travels is Swift’s most famous work published on October 28, 1726. The full title of Swift’s work was “Gulliver’s Travels or Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, in Four Parts, by Lemuel Gulliver, first a surgeon, and then a captain of several ships”.
The original version is surely NOT a children’s book
Most readers will lovingly remember Gulliver as a children’s book, but the unexpurgated version is full of brutality. The unfeelingly logical Houyhnhnms – highly intelligent horse-like creatures – plan to wipe out the bestial humanoid Yahoos by castrating them all. This plan is stimulated by Gulliver’s description of how horses are treated in England.
There is a particularly disagreeable scene in the Lilliput voyage where Gulliver urinates on the queen’s home to quench a overwhelming fire. This is routinely included in the children’s edition, albeit in sanitised form. And then there’s the scene in one of Gulliver’s final adventures where our hero has to fend off a highly libidinous female Yahoo who appears intent on raping him.
Making up new words
Gulliver’s Travels has given the English language a number of prominent words, not least Houyhnhnm (move your lips like a horse when saying it). There’s also Yahoo, an uneducated ruffian; brobdingnagian, meaning huge, after the giants in the second voyage; and lilliputian, meaning small, after the miniature humans of the first voyage.
A man of many puns
Swift also loved puns. Lindalino, a most unusual place, is another name for Dublin (double “lin”). The flying city of Laputa is a harsh allegory of England and its colonial dominion over Ireland – the name means “the whore” in Spanish (la puta). As for the kingdom of Tribnia, it is an anagram of Britain. Its residents call it Langden, an anagram of England.
A novel in which real persons or events figure under disguise
Like any effective satirist, Swift had many enemies. Britain’s first prime minister, Robert Walpole, is recreated as Flimnap, who as the pompous Lord High Treasurer of Lilliput has an equivalent role in their society. Either the Duke of Marlborough or Earl of Nottingham is the inspiration for his war-hungry governmental counterpart Skyresh Bolgolam, the Lord High Admiral of Lilliput.
Other authority figures are roundly mocked throughout the book. The pettiness of politicians – Whigs and Tories alike – is compellingly conveyed by rendering them small. That moment where Gulliver urinates on the palace is sometimes interpreted as a reference to the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713, which ceded Gibraltar to the UK – and by which the Tories put out the fire of the War of Spanish Succession with some very ungentlemanly conduct.
Gulliver goes to Mars and Shift gets a moon
The book jokingly mentions the presence of moons around Mars. After Phobos and Deimos were discovered by astronomers in 1872, Swift crater on Deimos was named in the Irishman’s honour.
MISC Conflict and Themes
On the surface, Gulliver strives to understand the various societies with which he comes into contact and to have these societies understand his native England. Below the surface, Swift is engaged in a conflict with the English society he is satirizing. Might versus right; the individual versus society; the limits of human understanding.
7 thoughts on “The Satirist Tale of Swift in Gulliver’s Travels published 1726 October 28th”
Not to mention Swift’s preface, where he commends his old schoolmaster, Master Bates.
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Interesting to know the real people behind these characters. We need another Swift to be writing something now with the characters in British Politics and Brexit. That would also not be a tale suitable for children I suspect.
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I hear the speaker in Parliament is retiring. Nobody can say ORDER ORDER as he does.
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I love him! He has overseen a tumultuous time in the British Parliament and you are right no one could call ORDER as he does. Yesterday I saw him reprimanding an MP and putting them back in line. It was on a tv in a pub so no sound but I still knew what he was doing!!
Absolutely fascinating. Must confess, I hadn’t given the book, or Swift for that matter, much thought since childhood. I’ve got an old copy somewhere..!
Thank you. I had to do a bit of re-reading too.