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Considered the greatest satire ever written in English, Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels chronicles the fantastic voyages of Lemuel Gulliver, principally to four marvelous realms: Lilliput, where the people are six inches tall; Brobdingnag, a land inhabited by giants; Laputa, a wondrous flying island; and a country where the Houyhnhnms, a race of intelligent horses, are served by savage humanoid creatures called Yahoos.
Beneath the surface of this enchanting fantasy lurks a devastating critique of human malevolence, stupidity, greed, vanity, and short-sightedness. A brilliant combination of adventure, humor, and philosophy, Gulliver’s Travels is one of literature’s most durable masterpieces.
Michael Seidel is Jesse and George Siegel Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University. He has written widely on eighteenth-century literature. His books include Satiric Inheritance: Rabelais to Sterne (1979), Exile and the Narrative Imagination (1986), and Robinson Crusoe: Island Myths and the Novel (1991).
From Michael Seidel’s Introduction to Gulliver’s Travels
When pressed to write up his own account of his travels by the captain who rescued him from Brobdingnag, Lemuel Gulliver says, “I thought we were already overstocked with books of travels: that nothing could now pass which was not extraordinary”. Gulliver has an odd sense of his experiences if he thinks they would pass for anything but extraordinary, and extraordinary they certainly are. Gulliver’s Travels was a phenomenal success upon its publication in October 1726, read as eagerly and voraciously by all classes of English society as Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe had been a few years before, in 1719. The poet and dramatist John Gay wrote Swift about the reception of the Travels in London: “From the highest to the lowest it is universally read, from the cabinet-council to the nursery” (October 28, 1726). Within a year of its publication, editions of Gulliver’s Travels were pirated and translated on the European continent. Its famous episodes and its nomenclature—Lilliputians, Brobdingnagians, Yahoos—are to this day recognized all over the world, from Gulliver theme parks in Japan to the most up-to-date dictionaries of modern slang.
How did Gulliver’s Travels get written and what were Jonathan Swift’s motives in writing it? In the first decade of the eighteenth century, Swift shared certain obsessions with others, namely a group of writers, statesmen, and professionals who called themselves the Scriblerus Club, consisting of the poets Alexander Pope, Thomas Parnell, and John Gay, the Queen’s physician, John Arbuthnot, and the chief minister of state, Robert Harley. Under the general direction of Pope, one of the club’s primary projects was a volume of memoirs written purportedly by the invented character who gave the club its name, Martin Scriblerus, a modern hack-writer or scribbler (the terms were interchangeable) who embodied all the cultural, intellectual, and political vacuities of the early eighteenth century as Pope, Swift, and their friends saw them.
In 1713 Pope assigned Swift the sixteenth chapter of a proposed satiric memoir on Scriblerus’s various journeys, intending to capitalize on the immensely popular genre of travel writing. He encouraged Swift to detail Martin’s travels to four different lands, mapping voyages to distant continents along the sea-lanes of known and unknown worlds: “to the Remains of the Pygmaean Empire,” to “the Land of the Giants,” to the “Kingdom of Philosophers, who govern by the Mathematicks,” and to a land in which “he discovers a Vein of Melancholy proceeding almost to a Disgust of his Species” (Pope, The Memoirs of the Extraordinary Life, Works, and Discoveries of Martinus Scriblerus, p. 165).
Pope must have sensed he had assigned Swift what amounted to a labor of love in parodying the travel literature of the time because, as is often true for satirists, Swift thrilled at making fun of those things that he found appalling. And there is little doubt Swift found appalling the sorry lot of characters Gulliver describes in the Travels as crisscrossing the world: “fellows of desperate fortunes,” some of whom “were undone by lawsuits; others spent all they had in drinking, whoring, and gaming; others fled for treason; many for murder, theft, poisoning, robbery, perjury, forgery, coining false money; for committing rapes or sodomy; for flying from their colours, or deserting to the enemy; and most of them had broken prison”. Memoirs by these sorts and their more sanitized brethren filled Swift’s personal library, which, in lots cataloged at his death, contained more than 600 travel accounts.
When Swift began the assignment given him by Pope, he sketched out some material for what would become the first and third books of the Travels, the Lilliputian and Laputian voyages. But he shelved the rest of the assignment before the end of 1713 at a time when the high-ranking political ministers for whom he worked in England fell out of power. Swift felt it prudent to abscond to Ireland, and although he held the position of Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin—which seemed to him a booby prize for his larger ambitions—he considered himself a virtual exile in Ireland for the rest of his life.
The political situation soured for Swift to an even greater extent in the early 1720s. With his patrons dead, still out of power, or in exile, and with some of his friends under scrutiny for treason, he decided to reprise his notes for the Scriblerus project and convert them into a four-part book. He completed the first and third voyages and supplemented them by composing what is now the fourth voyage to the land of horses, Houyhnhnmland, and then returning to what is now the second voyage, to the land of giants, Brobdingnag. By 1725 he was boasting in letters to Pope that he thought he had something truly splendid on his hands, and he asked his friend to arrange for publication. Pope handled all the necessary details in England. After a decade and a half, Swift made good on his original commitment, though Martinus Scriblerus fell out and Lemuel Gulliver dropped in.
Posted July 12, 2006
This is a geat classic story. Yes, some of the satire is lost to us now, but it makes wonderful statements about humanity that are still pertinent today. Truly wonderful!
10 out of 11 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 1, 2004
A work of incredible genius. Every section provides new insight into human folly and idiocy- and whether one is a Houhnymn or a Yahoo, Big -Ender or Little-Ender one must delight at the human capacity to bring the human down to its proper size. The brilliance of Swift is evident everywhere most poignantly perhaps in those creatures who go on living forever while continuing to physically and mentally age- perhaps modern medicine should have read this section. A remarkable work but not especially for those who love mankind and wish to be optimistic about human life.
7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 25, 2010
On the eve of a new movie release based on Gulliver's Travels I was asked to review the book being re-released to coincide with the new Jack Black movie. I accepted the challenge fully expecting to receive a modernized, cannibalized carcass of the original work. When the book arrived, I was surprised and delighted to see it's the entire work in its original form. However, now I had a dilemma on my hands: What does one say about a true classic masterwork that has survived for centuries? As I began re-reading the book I hadn't read in better than thirty years, I was still in a quandary as to what this usually less than humble reviewer could say about a brilliant masterwork that hadn't been said hundreds of times before. The fact is, I can't improve on what was said before, but I could remind people of the enjoyment such a book can bring to the reader. In this soundbite world, I imagine few have read and enjoyed the original work. Avid readers know what the rest of the world seems to have forgotten, the pure joy of a brilliant masterwork. Granted, I have enjoyed the many previous movies based on Gulliver's Travels and fully expect to enjoy the new Jack Black movie, but having been on movie sets, and in the cutting room, I know that a movie can rarely do a complete novel justice, unless they want to make a movie six to eight hours long. For time reasons, it simply isn't possible to include everything in a movie that's in a book. I urge everyone that enjoys a great story to both get and enjoy the book version of Gulliver's Travels, and go see the movie, but not necessarily in that order. Enjoy the book for the literary masterwork it is, and the movie for the comedic genius that is Mr. Black.
6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 28, 2012
The book itself is great. However, this prticuklar ebook is absolutely unreadable. More words are misspelled than are spelled correctly, and it's not just unimportant misspellings either. It's so bad you often cannot even tell what word it was supposed to say.
2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 9, 2011
Posted October 23, 2003
This review is not for this particular title (Gulliver's Travels), but rather Barnes and Noble's creation of this series of books (Barnes & Noble Classics). I just wanted to praise this new series because it provides authentication to the original texts, insights from new and better authors, and it is surprisingly cheaper. Whatever you do, B&N, don't stop with this series, but expand it for it is a job well done.
2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 25, 2012
Posted August 6, 2012
Posted March 3, 2011
Gulliver's Travels is a satirical novel written by Jonathan Swift that was first published in 1726. Gulliver's Travels is divided into four parts: A Voyage to Lilliput and Blefuscu, A Voyage to Laputa, A Voyage to Balnibarbi, Luggnagg, Glubbdubdrib, and Japan, and finally A Voyage to the Country of the Houyhnhnms.
Before reading Gulliver's Travels I knew of the Voyage to Lilliput and the Voyage to Brobdingnag; Lilliput is the home of the tiny people and Brobdingnag the home of the giant people. However I was not aware of the last two voyages; the Voyage to Laputa and the Voyage to the country of the Houyhnhnms. Laputa is a land ruled by philosophers, musicians, artists, mathematicians, and scientists who are so lost in thought they can't see how to apply their knowledge to a practical use. In the Country of the Houyhnhnms, the land is ruled by wise and gentle horses and inhabited by wild, beastly human-like creatures called Yahoos.
Jonathan Swift satirizes social issues that were important in his time, and still remain important social issues currently such as: politics, religion, gender, science, progress, government, family and our basic ideas of humanity.
Gulliver's Travels is full of humor and Swift's exploration of imaginary societies and countries is satire at its best.
Overall, I give Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels a well deserved five stars.
1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 27, 2004
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Posted April 8, 2013
Guess what? I know that you saw and all but i have my memories back!! I remember everything now but i dont think it stopped the pther part of the problem. All she did was giv me my memories back but not fix the whole dieing from the inside out part. Are you sure that you wont be able to heal me? Could you just try? Or at least permanatly turn me into a pile of sand? I would be fine as a pile of sand for the rest of my life, because its better than dieing slowly.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
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