In this episode of Literary Tales we fast forward to the great English poet, writer, and clergyman Jonathan Swift and examine his monumental and enduring satirical travel-book Gulliver’s Travels. Far from a fanciful and funny children’s story (which we have inherited due to several films very much detached from the work), we realize Swift’s profound criticism of the Enlightenment, modern philosophy, and emerging philosophies of materialism, imperialism, and scientism.

1200px-Jonathan_Swift_by_Charles_Jervas_detail
The Reverend Jonathan Swift, the famous portrait by Charles Jervis.
Gullivers-Travels_03-e1546444068551-1
Jehan-Georges Vibert, “Gulliver and the Lilliputians, 1870. The Lilliputians are a satirical representation of the English in Gulliver’s Travels. Blefescu, the rival of Lilliput, is a satire of France. The rivalry between the two is also a satire on the British-French rivalry. Swift was an anti-militarist and anti-imperialist during his life and an ardent opponent of Whig expansionism.
Szene_aus_Gulliver's_Reisen_-_Gulliver_in_Brobdingnag
Richard Redgrave, “Gulliver Exhibited to the Brobdingnagian Farmer,” 1836.
PW2013-12-criticalpoint-frontis
Gulliver discovering the flying city of Laputa. Laputa is a mock composite of several facets of modern European and British society. Swift extensively critiques the prevailing materialist, scientistic, and mathematical disposition of the Laputans. He also suggests that such a materialistic lifestyle leads to sexual degeneracy, especially among women.
gulliver-taking-his-final-leave-of-the-land-of-the-houyhnhnms-sawrey-gilpin
Sawrey Gilpin, “Gulliver Taking his Final Leave of the Land of the Houyhnhnms,” 1769. The Houyhnhnm are a genocidal race of “horses” who wish to destroy the humanoid “Yahoos” because of their stupidity. Swift, here, is mocking the “rationalist” attitudes of modern Europeans who think the extermination of irrational passions will lead to a paradise.

 

Leave a Reply