Gulliver’s Travels reveals a feature that is characteristic to some extent of much of Swift’s writing. This is its preoccupation with images of filth, disease, deformity, decay and defilement. Although Swift’s interest in these images has seemed compulsive to many readers of Gulliver’s Travels, they can be shown to serve a rational end. They are certainly intended to evoke a response that is, in part, affective; their aim is to arouse an aversion to what Swift finds most abhorrent in contemporary life. But they need to be understood not only in the emotional realm but in rational terms as well. No narrowly conceived historical or biographical approach can hope to comprehend them fully. They must be related to the basic structures of his satire in the narrative.


Moral Evil Natural Evil Imaginary World Biographical Approach Alien World 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    The classical statement of this position can be found in Deane Swift, An Essay upon the Life, Writings, and Character of Dr. Jonathan Swift (London, 1781), rpt. in A Casebook on Gulliver among the Houyhnhnms, ed. Milton P. Foster (New York: Crowell, 1961) pp. 74–6.Google Scholar
  2. Among modern interpretations of Swift from this perspective, one might cite T. O. Wedel, ‘On the Philosophical Background of Gulliver’s Travels’, SP, XXIII (1926) 434–50;Google Scholar
  3. and Louis A. Landa, ‘Jonathan Swift’, English Institute Essays: 1946 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1946) pp. 20–35Google Scholar
  4. The most extreme attempts to examine Gulliver’s Travels from a Christian point of view are Martin Kallich’s The Other Side of the Egg: Religious Satire in Gulliver’s Travels (Bridgeport, Conn.: Conference on British Studies, 1970);Google Scholar
  5. and L. J. Morrissey’s Gulliver’s Progress (Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1978)Google Scholar
  6. 2.
    This argument can be traced back to John Boyle, fifth Earl of Orrery, Remarks on the Life and Writings of Dr. Jonathan Swift (London: 1752), rpt. in A Casebook on Gulliver among the Houyhnhnms, pp. 71–3;Google Scholar
  7. and William Makepeace Thackeray, English Humourists of the Eighteenth Century, eds. J. W. Cunliffe and H. A. Watt (Chicago and New York: Scott Foresman, 1911) pp. 50–8.Google Scholar
  8. Influential modern versions of this perspective are those of Aldous Huxley, Do What You Will (Garden City, New York: Doubleday Doran, 1911) pp. 99–114;Google Scholar
  9. and John Middleton Murry, Jonathan Swift: a Critical Biography (New York: Noonday Press, 1955) pp. 432–8Google Scholar
  10. 3.
    Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger: an Analysis of the Concepts of Pollution and Taboo (London, [etc.]: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1966) p. 41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Peter Steele remarks in passing that Mary Douglas’s study ‘might furnish us with matter for a great deal of speculation’ in connection with Swift, Jonathan Swift: Preacher and Jester (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978) p. 27.Google Scholar
  12. 4.
    Paul Ricoeur, The Symbolism of Evil (New York, [etc.]: Harper & Row, 1967) p. 27.Google Scholar
  13. 5.
    F. R. Leavis, ‘Swift’s Negative Irony’, The Common Pursuit (London: Chatto & Windus, 1952), rpt. in Gulliver’s Travels, ed. Robert A. Greenberg (New York: Norton, 1970) p. 422.Google Scholar
  14. 6.
    Jean Alexander, ‘Yeats and the Rhetoric of Defilement’, REL, VI (1965) 44–57, locates Swift in a tradition of defilement that includes Spenser, Milton, Marvell, and Baudelaire, but while her approach shifts the focus from an expressive to a rhetorical perspective, it still confirms the conventional view, i.e. Swift’s intention ‘is to inspire disgust for the human body and acts of the body.Google Scholar
  15. 7.
    Gulliver’s Travels, 1726 (rev. edn, 1959), ed. Herbert Davis, in The Prose Works of Jonathan Swift, 14 vols (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1939–68) xi, 29.Google Scholar
  16. 8.
    William Dampier, A New Voyage Around the World (London, 1703);Google Scholar
  17. Edward Cooke, A Voyage to the South Sea, and Around the World (London, 1712)Google Scholar
  18. and Woodes Rogers, A Cruising Voyage Round the World (London, 1712), all rpt. in Robinson Crusoe, ed. Michael Shinagle (New York: Norton, 1975) pp. 245–53Google Scholar
  19. R. W. Frantz, The English Traveller and the Movement of Ideas, 1660–1732 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1967) pp. 67–8, distinguishes broadly between the narrative of detached observation and the ‘narrative of authentic adventure’.Google Scholar
  20. 11.
    For an example of the former, see Paul Fussell, Jr., ‘The Frailty of Lemuel Gulliver’, in Essays in Literary History, eds Rudolf Kirk and C. F. Main (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1960) pp. 113–25.Google Scholar
  21. For examples of the latter, see Hugo M. Reichard, ‘Gulliver the Pretender’, PLL, I (1965) 316–22;Google Scholar
  22. Jon S. Lawry, ‘Dr. Lemuel Gulliver and “the Thing which was not”’, JEGP, LXVII (1968) 212–34;Google Scholar
  23. and Robert M. Philmus, ‘Swift, Gulliver and the Thing which was not’, ELH, XXXVIII (1971) 62–79CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. See, e. g. John H. Sutherland, ‘A Reconsideration of Gulliver’s Third Voyage’, SP, LIV (1957) 45–52;Google Scholar
  25. and Edmund Reiss, ‘The Importance of Swift’s Glubbdubdrib Episode’, JEGP, LIX (1960) 223–8Google Scholar
  26. 12.
    Swift: Poetical Works, ed. Herbert Davis (London, [etc.]: Oxford University Press, 1967) p. 86.Google Scholar
  27. 13.
    Claude Lévi-Strauss, From Honey to Ashes: Introduction to a Science of Mythology, II (London: Cape, 1973) p. 383.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Charles H. Hinnant 1987

Authors and Affiliations

  • Charles H. Hinnant
    • 1
  1. 1.University of MissouriUSA

Personalised recommendations