Monday, May 28, 2012

Classic Lit: Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift

Publisher: Washington Square Press
Date: 1726 (1968)
Format: paperback
Source: one of my dad's books of his teenage years
Read: as part of the pre-college TBR cleanout
Pages: 300
Reading time: ten days

From GoodReads: Shipwrecked castaway Lemuel Gulliver’s encounters with the petty, diminutive Lilliputians, the crude giants of Brobdingnag, the abstracted scientists of Laputa, the philosophical Houyhnhnms, and the brutish Yahoos give him new, bitter insights into human behavior. Swift’s fantastic and subversive book remains supremely relevant in our own age of distortion, hypocrisy, and irony. 

My review: I am somewhat familiar with Swift's work, having read "A Modest Proposal" and part of the fourth section of Gulliver's Travels in British Lit last year. I very much enjoyed both of these, finding Swift's writing to be bitingly satirical in a generally humorous way, but was disappointed in that the rest of Gulliver's Travels does not match this quality of writing.

For much of the book, I found the satire unclear. Maybe it's just because the novel hasn't aged well and I do not have enough background in early 18th century British society and culture, but I usually wasn't sure where Swift was pointing his satirical words. There were some very clear subjects, however, that Swift seems to dislike: politicians, lawyers, physicians, other travel writers, nobility and royalty, common criminals, and women. I think the author just dislikes people in general, but he was perhaps most satirical of women.

There were some humorous parts to the novel - sporadic and usually brief, but some funny times. Other than these interludes, though, the book was slow. I was usually forcing myself to meet my daily goal of half a section (about 40 pages). I was really just sick of Gulliver's voice and wanted him to stop talking and for something exciting to happen. Considering what other "classic" narrator's dialogue-driven novels I've read, this is quite surprising. Normally I'm not bored by the older books, but this time I found reading one generally unenjoyable and soporific. It's a shame, really, because usually a classic satirical tale of fantastic voyages is what I love to read.

Join the Classic Bribe 2012 at Quirky Girls Read!

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