Monday, July 1, 2013

Gulliver's Travels Notes

Gulliver's Travels is a one-of-a-kind comedy that broke many barriers. It's strange and juvenile, but also daring and a lot of fun. Anyone who picks it up for the first time might be confused, and wonder what this story's all about. So, let's answer some questions:

1. What kind of story is Gulliver’s Travels?

v Proto-Science Fiction – Gulliver discovers many strange beings with strange customs and technologies, like flying towns, for example.

v A Children’s Story – Many parts of the story are considered suitable for children

v Proto-Modernist– Some consider the story to be more complex than it appears because the narrator, Gulliver, changes throughout the story. At the beginning of the story, he appears simple, trusting, and optimistic – a typical young man. But, as he grows older and more experienced, he becomes a cynical misanthrope (someone who hates the human race). But, since it’s the older version who writes the memoir, we realize he’s been writing contemptuously (pohŕdavé) of his earlier self the whole time.

v A Political Satire – This is the closest to what Jonathan Swift intended. The major themes of Gulliver’s Travels are political.

2. What are the themes?

1. Gulliver’s Travels is a parody of the travel writings of the time, which were sometimes unreliable.

2. The political situation in Europe is terrible. Specifically, it was anti-Whig, a political party in Britain.

3. It’s stupid for different religions to argue and fight over little differences.

4. Are people inherently corrupt or do they become corrupt under the wrong circumstances?

5. Connected with corruption, the book insinuates that government can never be ideal because people aren’t ideal.

6. Who is wiser, the “ancients or the moderns”. The ancients refer to Greek and Roman philosophers, such as Virgil, Cicero, Homer, and Aristotle. The moderns refer to whichever philosophers and scientists were active at the time. This was a big debate in Europe at the time, and Sir William Temple, whom Swift worked for, was of the mind that the moderns were, “dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants.” You can see how this influenced Swift. In Book 3, Gulliver speaks with the ghosts of the greatest minds in history and is most impressed (ohromený) with the ancients.

7. Be critical, but don’t be arrogant. Gulliver sees the Lilliputians as stupid little people, but then the giants of Brobdingnag see him as a stupid little person.

8. Just because a group or people may be bad, specific individuals may be very good people, as Gulliver makes friends wherever he goes.

3. Did Jonathan Swift get in trouble for writing this?

v No. Swift published this story anonymously, because he feared prosecution.

v Before Swift sent the manuscript for publication, he paid someone to copy it in different handwriting, so it couldn’t be traced back to him.

v The first publisher, Benjamin Motte, deleted some parts of Book 1, that he considered most insulting to Britain, and added material in Book II, in defense of Queen Anne, in order to avoid prosecution.

v Shortly after the first publication, several other authors continued the story, so it was difficult to say who the original author was. It became a popular way to criticize the government legally, talking about Lilliputians, etc, since there was strict censorship at the time.

v Swift’s friend, Alexander Pope, wrote some poems based on Gulliver’s travels that Swift liked so much, he added them to the second edition.

4. Why was Swift anti-Whig? What’s a Whig?

v The Whigs and Tories were the two major political parties in England at the time.

v Whigs supported a constitutional monarchy, opposing the absolute rule of a king. They were more middle-class. The Tories represented the aristocracy (šľachta).

v Whigs were anti-Catholic, and feared the idea of a Catholic Stuart king, but they tolerated various protestants. Their anti-Catholicism was based on the view that it had become corrupt.

v From 1715-1760 the Tories were expelled from the house of lords, creating the “Whig Supremacy”. Tories lost many jobs in government, law, the army, and the Church of England.

v This happened because Tories were blamed for the failed Jacobite Uprising of 1715, when they supported the Catholic King James of Scotlandas he tried to depose King George I.

v By 1760 the Whigs were so powerful that King George III allowed Tories back into government as a way to balance power.

v Swift was angry at the Whigs because he felt Irish clergy (cirkev? klérus?) like himself deserved more money. There was a special tax called“Queen Anne’s Bounty”. It was raised through income taxes on the wealthiest churches and was given to poorer clergy in England. He didn’t understand why people like himself – ministers of the church of England – shouldn’t get the same help in Ireland. The Whigs in Londondidn’t agree, but the Tories did.

v Swift was also anti-war, and it was the Tories who made the secret, and illegal Treaty of Utrecht, ending the Spanish War of Succession. Swift makes a reference to this in Gulliver’s Travels when Gulliver pisses on a fire to put it out.

5. Where did Swift get all his ideas for the funny names?

v It’s not certain, but some have an explanation. Lindalino, for example, in Book 3, was a city that rebelled against the flying city, Laputo. “La puto” means “the whore” in Spanish. This is a reference to Martin Luthor who called science “the great whore,” so the people of Laputo were exactly the kind that Martin Luthor would hate. The people of Laputo supported arts and sciences which were impractical, such as extracting sunbeams from cucumbers. Lindalino has “lin” written twice, or double, and "double lin" sounds like Dublin, which had recently complained of an inferior copper currency imposed on it by Britain.

v Some names are obvious. Gulliver sounds like Gullible. Lilliputian sounds like little putian, and "put" comes from the Latin word "putus" for boy. And the Houyhnhnms, or horses, get their name from the sound a horse makes.

v Brobdingnag is an anagram of the words, grand, big, and noble, minus the "le."

v Struldbrug is an anagram of dust and grub (larva), with a couple extra letters added in.

But, many of the names and places in Gulliver's Travels are mysterious. It's not confirmed if they have any hidden meanings whatsoever. These include:

Reldresal: Gulliver's best friend in Lilliput
Flimnap: a Lilliputian who hates Gulliver very much.
Glumdalclitch: Gulliver's friend and protector in Brobdingnag. She's the young daughter of a farmer.

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