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Jonathan Swift
Dublin 30 Nov. 1667 - Dublin 19 Oct. 1745 • Irish poet and prose writer

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Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver's Travels, is widely recognized as one of the greatest satirists in the English language.
Swift was born in 1667, in Dublin. Since his father, an Englishman who had settled in Ireland, died before his birth and his mother deserted him for some time, young Jonathan was dependent upon an uncle for his education. He was sent first to Kilkenny School and then to Trinity College, Dublin, where he managed, in spite of his rebellious behavior, to obtain a degree. In 1689 he became secretary to Sir William Temple at Moor Park, Surrey, where he formed his lifelong attachment to Esther Johnson, the 'Stella' of his famous journal. Disappointed of church preferment in England, Swift returned to Ireland, where he was ordained an Anglican priest and in 1695 was given the small prebend of Kilroot.

Unable to make a success in Ireland, Swift returned to Moor Park the following year, remaining until Temple’s death in 1699. During this period he wrote The Battle of the Books, in which he defended Temple’s contention that the ancients were superior to the moderns in literature and learning, and A Tale of a Tub, a satire on religious excesses. These works were not published, however, until 1704. Again disappointment with his advancement sent him back to Ireland, where he was given the living of Laracor.

In the course of numerous visits to London he became friendly with Addison and Steele and active in Whig politics. His Whig sympathies were severed, however, when that party demonstrated its unfriendliness to the Anglican Church. In 1708 he began a series of pamphlets on ecclesiastical issues with his ironic Argument against Abolishing Christianity. He joined the Tories in 1710, edited the Tory Examiner
for a year, and wrote various political pamphlets, notably The Conduct of the Allies (1711), Remarks on the Barrier Treaty (1712), and The Public Spirit of the Whigs (1714), in reply to Steele’s Crisis.

In 1713 Swift joined Pope, Arbuthnot, Gay, and others in forming the celebrated Scriblerus Club. About this time Swift became involved with another woman, Esther Vanhomrigh, the 'Vanessa' of his poem 'Cadenus and Vanessa'. The intensity of his relationship with her, as with Stella, is questionable, but Vanessa died a few weeks after his final rupture with her in 1723. Swift became a national hero of the Irish with his Drapier Letters (1724) and his bitterly ironical pamphlet A Modest Proposal (1729), which propounds that the children of the poor be sold as food for the tables of the rich.

Swift’s satirical masterpiece Gulliver’s Travels appeared in 1726. Written in four parts, it describes the travels of Lemuel Gulliver to Lilliput, a land inhabited by tiny people whose diminutive size renders all their pompous activities absurd; to Brobdingnag, a land populated by giants who are amused when Gulliver tells them about the glories of England; to Laputa and its neighbor Lagado, peopled by quack philosophers and scientists; and to the land of the Houhynhnms, where horses behave with reason and men, called Yahoos, behave as beasts. Ironically, this ruthless satire of human follies subsequently was turned into an expurgated story for children. In his last years Swift was paralyzed and afflicted with a brain disorder, and by 1742 he was declared unsound of mind. He was buried in St. Patrick’s, Dublin, beside Stella.


Robinson Crusoe
Daniel Defoe, 1719
Robinson Crusoe is the sole survivor of a shipwreck and struggles for many years on an uninhabited island with no hope of rescue. With patience, ingenuity and optimism he begins to transform the island and soon his only lack is human company.

Sir Thomas More, 1516
First published in 1516, Saint Thomas More's Utopia is one of the most important works of European humanism. Through the voice of the mysterious traveller Raphael Hythloday, More describes a pagan, communist city-state governed by reason.

Other worlds: The comical history of the states and empires of the moon and the sun
Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac, 1657-1662
Bergerac's two volumes of science fiction ('Sun' and 'Moon') are often published together, as in the English translation by Geoffrey Strachan.

The Greek Alexander Romance
Anonymous, 3rd or 2nd century BC
Begun soon after the real Alexander's death and expanded in the centuries that followed, the Greek Alexander myth depicts the life and adventures of one of history's greatest heroes.

Horace (Quintus Horatius Flaccus), 1 BC
Horace's first book of verse satires is the earliest fully extant example of the genre in European literature; it not only handles moral topics with a persuasive air of sweet reason but also reveals much of poet's own engaging personality and way of life.

The Sixteen Satires
Juvenal (Decimus Junius Juvenalis),
The complexity of the Roman scene is presented by the satirist Juvenal in these verses, which were written during the reigns of Trajan and Hadrian.


Gulliver's Travels
In this 18th-century satire, Gulliver's adventures in Lilliput, Brobdingnag, Laputa and in the country of the Houyhnhnms, expose the absurdity and hypocrisy of intellectuals and governments the world over.

Reynard the Fox
Anonymous, 1275
A clever satire of feudal society. The tale uses animals to represent the members of various classes.

Voltaire, 1759
This tale begins with the hero, Candide, being expelled from the Westphalian castle of Baron Thunder-ten-tronckh for making love to the Baron's daughter, Cunegonde. So begins a series of disastrous misadventures on a fantastic odyssey for Candide, Cunegonde and Dr Pangloss.

Samuel Butler, 1872
Inspired by Samuel Butler's years in colonial New Zealand, and by his reading of Darwin's 'Origin of Species', Erewhon (1872) is a highly original, irreverent and humorous satire on conventional virtues, religious hypocrisy and the unthinking acceptance of beliefs.

The Time Machine
H.G. Wells, 1895
When a nineteenth-century scientist builds a time machine, his perilous journey into the far distant future leads to the discovery of a strange and terrifying new world.

Baron Munchausen’s narrative of his marvellous travels
Rudolf Erich Raspe, 1785 (Dover edition: 2005)
Tall tales of majestic proportion, like the Baron himself.

Invisible Cities
Italo Calvino, 1972
Each time he returns from his travels, Marco Polo is invited by Kublai Khan to describe the cities he has visited. The conqueror and the explorer exchange visions: for Kublai Khan the world is constantly expanding; for Marco Polo - who has seen so much of it - it is an ever-diminishing place.

[De fantastische reis]
J.P. Guépin & Arthur Kempenaar, 1996
In the second half of the 19th century, a Dutchman sets out on a miraculous journey.

A Modest Proposal
Jonathan Swift's satirical essay from 1729, in which he suggests that the Irish eat their own children.
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