Jonathan Swift was a popular 18th century author who was a strong satirist of many aspects of 18th century English culture. He was very good at using literature, such as ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ and ‘A Modest Proposal’ to point out and satirise feelings he had about, what he considered, ‘problems’ of the society in his time. Originally Swift had written “Gulliver’s Travels” so he could explain and demonstrate his disgust of British society, although in the modern day it is a popular children’s novel. Throughout ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ he very subtly shows his disgust of English culture using the different voyages in ‘Gulliver’s Travels’.
In particular he focuses his satire on travelogues of his time, politics, legal terms, religion and the church, women and the human physical body. Travelogues were a very popular style of writing in the 18th century. Swift felt that travelogues were over used and written in a pedantic way. He felt the way in which many authors wrote travelogues made themselves sound a lot better, perhaps more heroic, than they really were. They would be written in first person, and more often than not be filled with dramatic events, for example ‘I did this, then I did this after’.
It’s ironic then that Swift chose to write ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ in the same style as famous travelogues, such as Daniel Defoe’s ‘A tour thro’ the Whole Island of Great Britain’, he did this to satirise and mock the style. To achieve his desired effect Swift used very long dramatic sentences made up by lots of short clauses, such as, ‘Six of the crew, of whom I was one, having let down the boat into the sea, made a shift to get clear of the ship, and the rock’. Using short clauses increases the tempo and suspense of the writing and gives the reader the urge to continue reading.
Short clauses also convey ideas clearly to the reader and keep the reader interested because he/she doesn’t have to read very long, unbroken sentences. Another way in which Swift satirises travel writing is emphasizing and exaggerating things he did himself, making it sound like the writer did everything single-handedly. The text is very precise, for example ‘we found ourselves in the latitude of 30 degrees’, this is mocking the style of travel writing by pointing out the unnecessary detail. Swift continues to satirise the un-necessary detail and length of sentences when he is satirising the legal side of Britain.
This is demonstrated in the laws of Lilliput and Brobdingnag. Like today, the laws in 18th century Britain were very long complicated things to read. Swift satirises the ridiculous length and the long-windedness of British laws using the Articles in ‘A voyage to Lilliput’ chapter 7. He uses formal language avoiding using slang and contractions, including long, complex sentences with several long clauses in each, for example article 1 which is made up of only one sentence but consisting of 113 words.
Instead of breaking sentences up with full stops Swift joins them together using commas, this adds lots of unneeded detail to the articles. This is what Swift was trying to ridicule, that laws were ridiculously long and detailed. Swift felt that the British government spent too long wasting their time worrying pedantically about the little details of laws, and that they should be spending more time on the more serious issues. Swift avoids being emotional when writing the articles, this makes it more formal because it doesn’t include bias.
A lot of complex language, including many polysyllabic words and the repeated use of the words ‘and’ and ‘said’, are used in the articles, ‘That the said Quinbus Flestrin’, ‘of the said royal palace’ and ‘you should be put to the most painful and ignominious death’ are all examples of this. ‘Painful and ignominious’ is also an interesting description, for me it brings images of fire and destruction, yet still in a serious sense because of the word ignominious, which is rarely used in society today.