Archive for May, 2005

Jonathan Swift, ‘Gulliver’s Travels’

Gulliver’s TravelsDon hosted Gulliver’s Travels by Johnathon Swift.

We chose this one because we were looking for a classic that wasn’t too long and it seemed to fit the bill. We agreed to only do one of the four stories each. I did the horse one, i think peter did lilliput, don and leanne did the the giants, libby did the other one, and mark read the lot.

For a bit of background into the life of the author try this. My understanding is that he was the anglican (Church of Ireland) Bishop of Dublin and wrote heaps of books – many political.

Given the irish/english problem and the dubious role of the churches in politics in ireland, its interesting that a guy in his position felt it appropriate to both satirise and pontificate on politics.

This is particularly stunning as the conflict was at its height in his time. For example, the most famous catholic/protestant battle of all, the battle of the boyne, occurred during his lifetime. It is such a famous and controversial battle that protestants in Northern Ireland still march every year to celebrate the win 300+ years later.

There was quite a difference of opinion on the book. Views were very polarised from great enthusiasm about his visionary anticipation of more modern progressive movements, for example Peter, Dave and Trish, to great antipathy to his verbose misogynistic satire of 18th century britain, for example Mark and Leanne.

The historic context was also both fascinating and confusing. For example, Gulliver finds a place that seems very much to fit the description of Western Australia but the book was written a century before Captain Cook supposedly discovered oz in 1770?

Some now say the chinese found Oz in the 1400s and the portugese found us in the 1600s. Maybe Swift had been talking to them and on their information decided that paradise was on Rottnest Island, just of the west coast?

I suspect the great west aussie authour, tim winton, would agree with Swift.

One amazing thing was that, apart from being a complete prude, Swift was amazingly humane and well ahead of his time. (Although he certainly was not prudish about bodily functions. There are plenty of graphic descriptions of how Gulliver went to the toilet.)

Swift seems to have anticipated or perhaps started many of the progressive campaigns undertaken ever since the book was written – anti-racism etc. However, he certainly did not anticipate feminism, misogyny appears to be absolutely fine for our man Swift.

Peter seemed to sum it up pretty neatly saying the lilliput chapter was an attempted analolgy of rule by the working class, the giants chapter was an attempted analogy of rule by the upper class, flying island rule by science, and the horse chapter a kind of utopian vision of rule by so called Reason and the laws of nature.

So, a tip for those with limited patience. If you are looking for the punch line, the final chapter is actually a Conclusion or Summary of all the Travels. It looks like a Chapter of the Hounyhymn Story (the one where the horses are the ruling class) but its actually a summary/conclusion of the Whole Book.


May 1, 2005 at 7:17 am Leave a comment


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