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Reviews of Gulliver's Travels (1726)

Review by philipspires (2007-09-20)
It’s a good read and probably every bit the masterpiece its reputation claims. The problem with satire, however, is that it doesn’t stand alone. Parody, on the other hand, ought to make sense in itself, but obviously more sense if the object of the parody is understood and familiar. Satire only seems to make sense if you know the original.

The section in Lilliput describing the bloke with different sized heels on his shoes, for instance, is very funny, but only when the footnote has provided the context. He is described as having to negotiate a political line between the faction that likes high heels and the other that likes low ones. He makes awkward progress with both groups, since he can barely walk or stand up straight in a pair of shoes made up so he can have a foot in each camp. The reference is beautiful. It refers to High Church and Low Church in the Anglican tradition, and therefore to Whig and Tory, the opposing political parties of the time. To stay sweet with both, certain royals kept a foot in both camps, making their progress as ridiculous as the rough-shod Lilliputian.

In the books three sections, Gulliver is too big, then too small, then everyone is a horse except for the noxious Yahoos, of course. It was still a lot of fun and, probably, hard witting. The trouble, again, was knowing the targets. If today’s Yahoos are considered… perhaps Swift might have googled his yahoos if he had been writing today.

One last observation is about well-known classics in general. The most famous scene from Gulliver’s Travels, at least the one most depicted, is of Gulliver strapped to the ground by Lilliputian string and twine, while the little blighters run all over him. In Don Quixote, an equally quintessential scene is the tilting at windmills, mistaken by the knight for giants. It is interesting that both of these much quoted scenes appear very early in their respective books. I wonder if that might have something to do with certain people never getting very far through them!

Review by spiphany (2003-11-22)
This is one of Swift's most accessible works today (although "A Modest Proposal" is pretty good too). I have read some of his other satires and it is very difficult to understand just exactly what he is satirizing - or sometimes even what he's writing about - without a fair amount of knowledge about the politics and culture of the time. I have the feeling that I have missed a great deal in "Gulliver's Travels" as well, but it isn't necessary to know upon what exactly he's commenting to appreciate the story, which is entertaining in its own right (if sometimes rather quaint).

If possible, find a copy of this book which uses Swift's original spelling and makes reading the story a bit more difficult at first, but for anyone at all interested in language, it is absolutely fascinating. Punctuation and spelling conventions are slightly different, and Swift capitalizes all his nouns. (Proper nouns are in italics.) There are also some words which he uses in a quite different sense than we do today, and others which have fallen out of use.

©Steven Jeffery /, 2017
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