by Jonathan Swift
edited by Robert Demaria, Jr.
Swift is ridiculing the sort of travel story that he is at the same time imitating.
Moreover, the satire targets more than one particular act of reading; it also takes aim at most of the assumptions that make up the mentality of a reader - assumptions about discourse, reason, and human nature.
Gulliver’s Travels is not a novel or a story, primarily, it belongs instead to the more difficult literary genre of the satire. It is a parody of a travel book.
Gulliver’s Travels treats all the standard topics of classical satire. … It makes fun of the vanity of the most common of human wishes: money, power, fame, long life, learning (especially without effort), beauty, and so on. Like most great satires, it cannot be said to urge a particular virtuous course of life on its readers.
The fact that the perspective changes from Part to Part is a salient and delightful feature of the work.
The enormity of Gulliver tends more often to show the moral smallness, or meanness, rather than the fineness or delicacy of the Lilliputians.
Perhaps the most overt and continued satirical passage in the whole book occurs after Gulliver has described European culture and European history to the Brobdingnag king. His response puts Gulliver and his brethren (us, that is) into his perspective, as he sums up: ‘I cannot but conclude the Bulk of your Natives, to be the most pernicious Race of little odious Vermin that Nature eve suffered to crawl upon the Surface of the Earth.’
Classical satires could be grand and philosophical, but they also were often aimed at specific contemporary targets. Likewise, Gulliver’s Travels, for all its philosophic scope, is steeped in the politics of its time.
He wrote Gulliver’s Travels in Ireland from about 1721 to 1725, and published it in 1726.
As the monarchy shifted, so did the laws affecting the various religious sects whom they ruled.
When Spanish, Dutch, or Portuguese characters appear in Gulliver’s Travels, their colouring reflects Swift’s partisan view of these countries’ politics and religion.
The considerable anti-war sentiment in Gulliver’s Travels is traceable not only to Tory rhetoric about the Treaty of Utrecht but also to a traditional view held by great humanists such as Erasmus and Sir Thomas More.
Nearly every section of Gulliver’s Travels bears the marks of recent British political history, and nearly every section also escapes those politics to rest secure in a world of fiction and fantasy, where readers do not need an editor’s notes to appreciate books.
Even when there is no verbal parallel, there are many moments where readers must feel the correspondence between Swift and Gulliver tightens, as it does any time Gulliver notices the vanity of human (or Lilliputian) wishes for fame and glory, beauty and long life.
Most of the imaginary places in Gulliver’s Travels are tinged with resemblances to Swift’s home places of London and Dublin. Despite their variety, for example, the names for many of these places exhibit wordplay on the names Dublin and London.
Like other great humanistic works of art, Gulliver’s Travels is about finding oneself, and trying as we might to escape into its world of fantasy, it is impossible to ignore the satirical reflections of ourselves with which Swift has peopled all his realms.
For this particular edition, it seemed possible and appropriate to present a text that preserves a sense of what the book looked like to its first readers, while including changes in that test that seem to come from the original manuscript or clearly appear to be authorial corrections.
The editor of Gulliver’s Travels runs the additional risk of becoming part of Swift’s grand joke by providing glosses and interpretations of a text that is itself parodic and therefore turns sober interpretation of it into something silly, like ‘metaparody’.