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Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” ENGL 203 Dr. Fike. Reading Questions ENGL%20203/203%2018th%20Century% 20Handout.htm

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Presentation on theme: "Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” ENGL 203 Dr. Fike. Reading Questions ENGL%20203/203%2018th%20Century% 20Handout.htm"— Presentation transcript:

1 Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” ENGL 203 Dr. Fike

2 Reading Questions ENGL%20203/203%2018th%20Century% 20Handout.htm ENGL%20203/203%2018th%20Century% 20Handout.htm Some of the information on the following slides is compressed from: ENGL%20203/203%2018th%20C%20(Ko ster).htm ENGL%20203/203%2018th%20C%20(Ko ster).htm

3 The Neoclassical Period, a.k.a. The 18 th Century The period spans 1660-1798 (the accession of Charles II to the publication by Wordsworth and Coleridge of Lyrical Ballads). It is called the Neoclassical period because of reverence for the works of classical antiquity. The period is often called the Age of Reason, and science was used to glorify God and his creation. Be sure to get familiar with the terms Restoration (of the Stuarts to the monarchy) and Augustan Period (named after Emperor Augustus—because of the emphasis on the classics). See Harmon and Holman for these terms.

4 Major Events Earlier in the 17th century the Puritans had overthrown King Charles I; in 1700 the Act of Settlement prohibited a Catholic from being king or queen. Shift from kingdom to empire. Rise of the middle class. The Great Fire of London in 1666 enabled Londoners to remake their city. And in 1662 the Royal Society was created to further scientific study. [We will see reason's role evaluated in Swift's works.] Development of scientific instruments.

5 Major Currents This was a period of political and military unrest, British naval supremacy, economic growth, the rise of the middle class, colonial expansion, the rise of literacy, the birth of the novel and periodicals, the invention of marketing, the rise of the Prime Minister, and social reforms. Key names include Mary Wollstonecraft (a champion of the rights of women; marriage was still an economic transaction; women were still considered property) and John Wesley (the founder of Methodism). Key words to describe the period include "façade," "complacency," and "decorum." Appearances mattered. [Keep this in mind as we study The Rape of the Lock.]

6 Literary Developments Wit was a key concept as well (Harmon and Holman, pages 538-39), which is related to sprezzatura, the art of concealing art as well as humor. H&H: –Pope: “fancy and judgment” –Dryden: “‘propriety of thought and words’” –Locke: “an agreeable and prompt assemblage of ideas, an ability to see comparisons” –Hume: “wit is what pleases” –Also, “the notion of wit as a social grace that gives pleasure led to its comparison with humor” H&H: “It is for the most part agreed that wit is primarily intellectual, the perception of similarities in seemingly dissimilar things—the ‘swift play and flash of mind’—and is expressed in skillful phraseology, plays on words, surprising contrasts, paradoxes, epigrams, and so forth, whereas humor implies a sympathetic recognition of human values and deals with the foibles and incongruities of human nature, good-naturedly exhibited.”

7 Further Literary Developments In this period people also emphasized studying the English language (grammar, the history of the language, dictionaries). A key work: Samuel Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language. Literature was didactic, self-examination was important (hence diaries and letters); as Pope says, "the proper study of mankind is man" (see Essay on Man, Epistle II, section I, line 2). Satire was an important genre. Other good terms to know: epistolary novel and heroic couplet.

8 A Heroic Couplet O say what stranger cause, yet unexplored, Could make a gentle Belle reject a Lord? --Pope, Rape I.9-10 A rhymed, usually end-stopped iambic pentameter couplet

9 Types of Satire Horatian: “Satire in which the voice is indulgent, tolerant, amused, and witty. The speaker holds up to gentle ridicule the absurdities and follies of human beings, aiming at producing in the reader not the anger of a Juvenal but a wry smile.” Juvenalian: “Formal satire in which the speaker attacks vice and error with contempt and indignation. It is so called because it is like the dignified satires of Juvenal. Samuel Johnson’s ‘The Vanity of Human Wishes’ is a well-known example. Juvenalian satire in its realism and its harshness is in strong contrast to Horatian satire, the other principal type of formal satire.”

10 Question What type of satire is Swift’s “A Modest Proposal”? What type of satire is The Rape of the Lock? Gulliver’s Travels?

11 Surface vs. Depth Key words to describe the period include: –"façade“ (“saying one thing and doing another”), –"complacency” (esp. related to comfort in assumed superiority) –"decorum”: looking and acting right (self-control, self- governance, balance) –POINT: Appearances mattered. Authors are critical of adhering to superficial truths. –“A Modest Proposal” –Gulliver’s Travels –The Rape of the Lock For a development of this idea, see the next slide.

12 Swift’s A Tale of a Tub Swift’s goal: to satirize abuses in religion and learning. Re. learning, see: 1752-53/206-07. Madness = –Imagination/fancy > reason/memory –Fiction > truth –Surface > depth –Credulity > curiosity –Embracing the things in the left position leads to “being well deceived.” –And “being well deceived” = happiness.

13 Definition of Madness Extreme self-interest and self-deception Wish-fulfillment Alienation from reality Insistence on one’s own opinions Superficiality of thought and inquiry

14 Author vs. Persona The previous slide sums up what the Tub’s PERSONA (H&H: “Literally, a mask”) is saying. Swift himself, of course, holds just the opposite: –Reason/memory > Imagination/fancy –Truth > fiction –Depth > surface –Curiosity > Credulity –Embracing the things in the left position leads to being well informed. –And being well informed leads to happiness and virtue. Saying the opposite of what you mean is one of the characteristics of his satire.

15 Reason Is Key. Definition: the capacity for looking into the depth of things; the reality principle

16 Empiricism H&H: “In philosophy the drawing of rules of practice not from theory but from experience. Hence, an empirical method is sometimes equivalent to an ‘experimental’ method or scientific knowledge.”

17 Example of Embracing the Wrong Worldview Page 1754/208: “Last week I saw a woman flayed, and you will hardly believe how much it altered her person for the worse.”

18 From “A Modest Proposal” 1769-70/223-24: “Those who are more thrifty (as I must confess the times require) may flay the carcass; the skin of which, artificially dressed, will make admirable gloves for ladies, and summer-boots for fine gentlemen” (emphasis added).

19 Example of the Right Worldview From Pope’s An Essay on Man IV.391-98: That urg’d by thee, I turn’d the tuneful art From sounds to things, from fancy to the heart; For Wit’s false mirror held up Nature’s light; Show’d erring Pride, WHATEVER IS, IS RIGHT; That REASON, PASSION, answer one great aim; That true SELF-LOVE and SOCIAL are the same; That VIRTUE only makes our Bliss below; And all our Knowledge is, OURSELVES TO KNOW.

20 Digression Reader-response criticism: 1751/205, first complete paragraph. Key term: discourse communities or interpretive communities. H&H: “This type of criticism suggests that a piece of writing scarcely exists except as a text designed to be read; indeed, scarcely exists until somebody reads it [music analogy]. The reader- response approach does not so much analyze a reader’s responding apparatus as scrutinize those features of the text that shape and guide a reader’s reading.”

21 Summary Swift: –Surface vs. depth –The role of reason Pope: –Surface vs. depth –Decorum Swift & Pope: –Juvenalian: Swift –Horatian: Pope

22 Decorum From The American Heritage Dictionary: 1. Appropriateness of behavior or conduct; propriety. 2.The conventions of polite behavior. 3.In art and literature, something that is proper to the harmony, essence, or unity of a composition or to a subject, locale, time, or character being treated. [Cf. H&H.]

23 More Summary “Modest” Role of reason GT Surface > depth Rape Decorum (false values)

24 Swift An Irish Anglican (i.e., Protestant but not the “dissenting” Protestants on 1771/225, note 13) A Tory (Whigs favored absentee landlords in Ireland, which devalued the economy) 1713: became Dean of St. Patrick’s Dublin

25 Proposals Definition: A straightforward argument for a particular policy. A popular genre in Swift’s day Satire of the Royal Academy?

26 Do This Now Please number the paragraphs of “A Modest Proposal.” Activity re. next slide: 10-minute discussion: –Group 1: Start with Question 1 –Group 2: Start with Question 3 –Group 3: Start with Question 5 –Group 4: Start with Question 7 –Group 5: Start with Question 9

27 Questions on “A Modest Proposal” 1.Who is the speaker of this "proposal"? Is it Swift? Or is it a character he invents? What aspects of the speaker's character emerge? 2.To what audience does the proposal seem to be addressed? 3.To what "previous proposals" does the speaker refer? 4.What is the "modest proposal," exactly? 5.What advantages and disadvantages to the proposal emerge? 6.Near the end, what other proposals for solving the "Irish problem" does the speaker mention in passing? Are these sound? Why have they been rejected? 7.Where does Swift seem, in this piece, to lay the blame for Ireland's current conditions? 8.What problem(s) is Swift criticizing? 9.How does this essay work as satire?

28 From Swift’s Short View of the State of Ireland (1727) “Ireland is the only Kingdom I ever heard or read of, either in ancient or modern Story, which was denied the Liberty of exporting their native Commodities and Manufactures….” “One third part of the Rents of Ireland, is spent in England…. The Rise of our Rents is squeezed out of the very Blood, and Vitals, and Cloaths, and Swellings of the Tenants; who live worse than English Beggars.” POINT: England did not allow economic competition in industry or trade. And absentee landlords lived in England; they did not take care of their responsibilities in Ireland.

29 From “A Modest Proposal” 1769/223: “I grant this food will be somewhat dear, and therefore very proper for landlords, who, as they have already devoured most of the parents, seem to have the best title to the children.” 1771/225: “Secondly, the poorer tenants will have something valuable of their own, which by law may be made liable to distress, and help to pay their landlord’s rent; their corn and cattle being already seized, and money a thing unknown.” 1773/227: “…the oppression of landlords, the impossibility of paying rent without money or trade….”

30 Popular Aphorism in Swift’s Day The gist of it: A country’s riches were its people; therefore, population should be maintained and increased. Swift perverts this axiom: In Ireland, people can contribute only by dying. Even worse, the narrator insists that cannibalizing infants is both practical and humane.

31 From Swift’s Short View of the State of Ireland (date: 1727) “Both sexes [in Ireland], but especially the Women, despise and abhor to wear any of their own Manufactures, even those which are better made than in other countries….” From “MP” 1771/225: “And the money will circulate among ourselves, the goods being entirely of our own growth and manufacture.” POINT: Swift is criticizing the Irish for practices that they have the power but not the motivation to change. So he is attacking both the lousy conditions in Ireland and the attitudes of both the English and the Irish. See 1770/224, note 12: “Swift had sought an Irish boycott of all such foreign luxuries of dress or diet.”

32 Use of False Authority 1769/223: “a very knowing American” 1770/224: “the famous Psalmanazar”:

33 Swift’s Genuine Proposal 1772/226: “Therefore let no man talk to me of other expedients…till he hath at least some glimpse of hope that there will ever be some hearty and sincere attempt to put them in practice.” This page includes a list of things that Swift genuinely advocates. If persona:madness::Swift:reason, then it makes sense that the persona would knock what Swift favors. END

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