Thursday, October 07, 2010

Book Review : Gulliver's Travels - Jonathan Swift 6*

I suspect, that like many people, I knew a little of the Lilliputians, the Yahoos and perhaps even the Brobdingnagians, without understanding their proper context. Gulliver's Travels was published in 1726, only seven years after the publication of the first proper English novel Robinson Crusoe, and Swift intended it as a novel, a political satire, a re-stating of the "ancients versus moderns" arguments that he had already published in The Battle Of The Books and a discussion of the inherent corruptible nature of man.

Unless you have a fairly in depth knowledge of 18th Century British church affairs and politics, then you could probably read the book without noticing most of the political references, I had to rely on the notes and annotations in the Wordsworth Classic edition to glean any sense at all of Swift's thoughts.

Much like other early authors, Swift tends not to use a few words where three or four paragraphs of dense prose would do the same job, this is evident from the book's original title, Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, in Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of several Ships, which in itself seems to be almost an intentional parody of the original title of Robinson Crusoe, The Life And Strange Adventures of Robinson Crusoe of York (Mariner). I must admit, I found Swift's dense prose, and Gulliver's endless internal monologues, quite wearing, I didn't find this an easy book to read at all.

Gulliver is perhaps Britain's unluckiest seaman, in fact judging by his numerous shipwrecks, pirate attacks and abandonings, you could go so far as to say the man is a Jonah.  Each of Gulliver's misadventures lands him on a different shore inhabited by a different people, the tiny Lilliputians and Blefuscans, the towering and grotesque Brobdingnagians, the inward and outward looking Laputans and the gentle and noble horse people the Houyhnhnms.  In the last travel, to the horse people, Gulliver seems to rather easily shake off the shackles of what it is to be human, indeed he ends up rejecting all human vices (as embodied in the Yahoos) and eventually returns home unable to comfortably exist in human society.

Not an easy book, nor a greatly enjoyable one, of the early English novels, I much preferred Crusoe to Gulliver.

71 of 1001.

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