, Research Paper
Maya R. Colston
A GROSS FORM OF DELIGHTFUL SATIRE
“The stoical scheme of supplying our wants by lopping off our desires, is like cutting off our feet when we want shoes.”
“We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love on another.”
Like all true satirists, Swift was predominantly a moralist, one who chastises the vices and follies of humankind in the name of virtue and common sense. Throughout his writing, Swift constantly raised the question of whether the achievements of civilization-its advancing technology, its institutions, its refinement of manners-cannot be seen as complex forms of barbarism. With this theme in mind, Swift wrote some of his best works: A Modest Proposal, Gulliver?s Travels, and A Tale of a Tub. Although he is mastery at prose, he is also known for his poetry. It can be said that the subjects within his writings could be taken from his religious belief in the non-perfection of man. Swift believed that human reason was necessary to divine guidance. According to Herbert Read, Swift was the first poet who dared to describe nature as it is with all its deformities, and to give exact expression to a turn of thought no matter the subject. And because his life was one long mutiny-mutiny against darkness of fate, the injustice of men, the indignity of our bodily functions-his work is one long scrutiny into dark depths. Therefore, he attacks the idealistic idea of feminine beauty by ironically drawing attention to the female body?s excretory functions.
Unfortunately, Swift emphasizes women, despite his deep love and friendship for individual women, as a symbol of man?s bestiality. He victimizes women by his own secret over-idealization of her. This is seen in his poems, The Lady?s Dressing-Room, Strephon and Chloe, and A Beautiful Young Nymph Going to Bed. Swift becomes obsessed by the morbidly physical. The gap between spirit and flesh cannot bridge, for flesh has become uncleansable to him. With Swift being seen by Robert Ellis–quoted by Herbert Read-as having neurasthenia, anything that comes regularly and in routine is liable to become intolerable, it is easier to understand some of his writings. This idea gained him much ridicule from critics because thinkers of his day stressed the essential goodness and rationality of humans. Swift, certainly, shares this idealistic, deeply emotional devotion to Reason. Perhaps it would be safer to say that Reason is the faculty in man that enables God to reveal religion to him. In Swift?s conception, then, this highest, purest aspect of Reason is really intuition; it is above and distinct from what is ordinarily regarded as intellectual process. For that reason, comparing Swift to Shakespeare?s Hamlet is conceivable. W.B.C Watkins says the extent of this extreme disillusion, this revulsion from anything physical while still being morbidly attracted to it is largely similar to Hamlet transferring his hatred of his mother?s sin to Ophelia, with his unhappy faculty of generalizations, to all womankind (461). Scholars claimed that through scientific advancement and reason society could achieve a high degree of moral righteousness. Throughout his lifetime critics rejected and even attacked Swift?s writing due to his treatment of women. Critics, including William Makepeace Mchackery, attacked the immorality of Swift?s life, concentrating on what he perceived about his treatment of women to be detestable to the era?s sentimental visions of love and virtue.
Women in their dressing rooms were for Swift a symbol of humankind?s vanity, hypocrisy, and imperfection. The Lady?s Dressing-Room provides a good example of their typical structure. Here, Swift opens creating the image of Celia to be perfect and divine.
Five Hours, (and who can do it less in?)
By haughty Celia spent in Dressing;
The Goddess from her chamber issues,
Array?d in Lace, Brocades, and Tissues. (1-4)
Swift uses this poem as an indirect satire. It is a fictional narrative in which characters that represent particular points of view are made ridiculous by their own behavior and thoughts, and by the narrator’s usually ironic commentary. And away this divine image, the plot quickly turns to illustrate the disgusting imperfection of Celia. The naive Strephon sneaks in to take a look at whatever remains. To his surprise he soon realizes that Celia is a human, and not a perfect or divine creature. As seen clearly after line 10, ?And first a dirty Smock appear?d? Strephon isn?t exactly happy with his discovery, but he is still optimistic. Next, he finds her comb, ??various Combs for various Uses/ Fill?d up with Dirt so closely fixt,/No Brush could force a way betwixt.? Here Strephon is just beginning to feel appalled, but this is just the beginning of several disgusting images. The images keep coming, becoming more and more sickening
The Virtues we must not let pass,
Of Celia?s magnifiying Glass.
When frighted Strephon cast Eye on?t (59-60).
A Glass that can to Sight disclose,
The smallest Worm in Celia?s Nose,
And faithfully direct her Nail
To squeeze it out from Head to Tail;
For catch it nicely by the Head,
It must come out alive or dead (63-68).
With that quote, there is no surprise that Swift?s eighteenth century friend stated that her mother threw up her dinner when she read the poem and that has almost been the reaction from several others (Brown 122). It is clear that The Lady?s Dressing-Room has a totally different purpose because it does not supply tables or beds, just a vivid description of an inventory of undergarments and dressing room paraphernalia. The poem was said to be a warning to inexperienced youth. This is seen in the ending with the mock-advice to Strephon, ?I pity wretched Strephon blind/To all the Charms of Female Kind?(129-30). D.H. Lawrence and Aldous Huxley both found the poem shocking, but also felt it should be celebrated because it shows bodily functions. Within this poem it is obvious that Swift has no taboo words, and he shocked readers because he manifested that so clearly in this poem and others.
Also, he was always so willing to bring so much at any rate of the physical into consciousness. A Beautiful Nymph Going to Bed is another poem that discusses the vital grossness of a female?s body. This poem also gained him much criticism. Aldous Huxley says that this poem is worse than the Yahoo?s of Gulliver?s Travels, ?Swift?s poems about women are more ferocious even than his prose about the Yahoos; his resentment against women for being warm-blooded mammifers was incredibly bitter.? And George Orwell describes it almost to that same account. Orwell describes A Beautiful Nymph Going to Bed as one of Swift?s most characteristic works, and a prime example of how Swift ?falsifies his picture of the world by refusing to see anything in human life except dirt, folly and wickedness.? These poem illustrate his wit, as his experiments with certain ideas and repeated phrases show. For example, ?Oh! Celia, Celia, Celia *censored*s!? with only slight alterations appears in, The Lady?s Dressing-Room, Cassinus and Peter, and Strephon and Chloe. In its context in each poem the line is more impressive and more shocked than shocking. It represents a part of Swift?s attempt in poetry to state on of the fundamental moral and emotional problems of civilized people, though in this it is too specialized to succeed wholly (Johnson 502).
The concluding line of A Beautiful Nymph Going to Bed, ?who sees, will spew; who smells be poison?d? can easily serve as the conclusion of The Lady?s Dressing-Room, because the poems are so similar. They contain the same idea of a beautiful woman turned into a grotesque animal upon the observer becoming aware of the truth behind the ideal woman, as she appears to the public. Throughout the poem, Swift creates a vivid image using precise details. The young Corrina is viewed as a machine and not human, and her bedroom is her factory that shuts down when she goes to bed. The image of Corrina taking off her wig and removing her eye-brows, glass eye, and false teeth is very lively and comical because of all of these parts are detachable-like a machine. Then, Corrina delicately places all of the items so that she may lie down for rest
Now, picking out a Crystal Eye,
She wipes it clean, and lays it by.
Her Eye-Brows from a Mouse?s Hide,
Stuck on with Art on either Side,
Pulls off with Care, and first displays ?em,
Then in a Play-Book smoothly lays ?em.
The observer is not as obvious as Strephon in The Lady?s Dressing-Room; nevertheless, the same principals apply. Celia waking to find her factory destroyed-the crystal eye is gone, a rat has stolen the plaster, and all the other parts are a mess-is an symbol of man finding out about her personal functions and having his divine image of her immortality is destroyed. According to Denis Donoghue, Strephon?s in The Lady?s Dressing-Room and Cassinus? in Cassinus and Peter problem comes from failure to use common sense before he had the chance to involve his passions (307). Donoghue says that they did not take that opportunity and now it is too late (307), as opposed to Peter who is a sensible man that never runs to extremes. Now upon knowing that the fact woman is not a goddess and that they have loved an image, thus their emotions collide with their passions; they turn its force into disgust and hatred. Strephon and Cassinus hate Celia; thus, they hate all women. Peter is thinking that Celia has been killed or caught small pox, ?Is Celia dead?/ Has she contracted the small or greater pox?? But it is neither, in fact, Cassinus is idealistically na?ve by believing that Celia was not capable of a necessary human bodily function. In these poems the male lovers of the women did not take the first opportunity of modifying their passions and it is forever lost. Now, they must pay the price in universal disgust. Consequently, Cassinus is driven mad by the thought of excrement, ?Nor wonder how I lost my wits;/Oh! Celia, Celia, Celia *censored*s.? What is so tragic about Cassinus is that both he and Peter are very intelligent, as seen in the opening lines ?Two College Sophs of Cambridge Growth,/ Both special Wits, and Lovers both?; yet, Cassinus is still able to be deceived.
The peculiar twist in Swift?s theme is that ?Celia *censored*s? is the notion that there is some contradiction between the state of being in love and an awareness of the excremental function of the beloved. Before we dismiss this idea, it is important to remember that Freud said the same thing. In Civilization and its Discoveries, an essay surveying the disorder in the sexual life of man, he concludes that the deepest trouble is an unresolved ambivalence in the human attitude toward anality, ?Excremental things are all too intimately and inseparably bound up with sexual things? due to their position on the body. Also, Freud mentions that the physical appearance of the genitals has not undergone the development of beauty; therefore, remains animalistic. And because they are animalistic they relate directly to its bestiality. Thus, within Swift?s writings it is the repression of the anal factor that creates the romantic illusions of Strephon and Cassinus and makes the breakthrough of the truth so traumatic. These men would rather keep their divine image, ?O may she better learn to keep/Those Secrets of the hoary Deep!? (97-98). And again in
Authorities both old and recent
Direct that women must be decent:
And, from the Spouse each Blemish hide
More than from all the World beside?
On Sense and Wit your Passion found,
By Decency cemented round.
Hence, Swift?s ultimate horror of these poems is at the thought that sublimation is a lie and cannot survive. But with the conclusions, Swift?s reasons say that sublimation is still possible. In this quote the second guessing is apparent, ?Should I the Queen of Love refuse,/ Because she rose from stinking ooze?? (131-32). The poem ends with a return to the narrator giving consolation to Strephon and tries to reconcile with Strephon what he has seen
He soon would learn to think like me,
And bless his ravisht Sight to see
Such Order from Confusion sprung,
Such gaudy Tulips rais?d from Dung. (141-45)
The narrator is saying that Strephon must meet Celia at the middle, if Celia looks like a goddess then that is good enough for him to treat her like a goddess.
Some people have a natural gift with words, using them to initiate and enforce new ideas, Swift was truly one of these people. It is true that the literary quality of a book is to some small extent separable from its subject-matter. Swift writes from the point-of-view that he can and will say anything he pleases. And because of this, in his writings probably lies the most remarkable expression of negative feelings and attitudes that literature can offer. What else can you expect for a man that proposed seasoning and eating babies, sacrificing first borns, and using young children for leather boots, and gloves as he does in his short essay, A Modest Proposal? Using children for these goods is by no means ?modest.? Nevertheless, Swift submits this piece under the title of ?modest.? It?s almost like Swift wants to gain that sort of attention because of the pretentious attitudes of writers that wrote during his same time period. Despite all of the criticism that Swift has received, Gulliver?s Travels is still a very popular read in British Literature classes. His ?obscene and vulgar? poems now provide a grimy; yet, comical and light-hearted read. Studying Jonathan Swift?s writings help to understand the period which he was writing and the subjects that were generally written about. Because his descriptions are so detailed, and the imagery is so deep, Jonathan Swift proves himself as a writer to be studied and admired.
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