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Notes on Gulliver's Travels

6 Septembre 2016 , Rédigé par JF Mopin Publié dans #LELE

1719 Robinson Crusoe

1726 Gulliver’s Travels

1754 Tristram Shandy…


It was a time of sea exploration (James Cook) and the problem of Longitude at sea.


Robinson Crusoe was modeled on Selkirk, a real mariner who was shipwrecked.


The name Gulliver is derived from « gullible ».


Jonathan Swift was the dean of Dubin cathedral. He wrote many pamphlets, the most famous of which being « A tale of a Tub ». He was opposed to English monarchy and mocked it in Gulliver’s Travels. As a result, he was excomunicated by the king.







This text is an extract from a novel entitled Gulliver’s Travels, written by Jonathan Swift and published in 1726.

Swift was the dean of Dublin Cathedral and a strong opposent to the king of England, who ruled over Ireland. He wrote many pamphlets, the most famous of which A tale of a tub.

At the time, seafaring novels were trendy. After Robinson Crusoe, every book of the time was about shipwrecks.

Doctor Lemuel Gulliver (a name derived from the adjective “gullible”, copied a few years later by Voltaire for his Candide) enlisted as a surgeon. His ship was wrecked on an Island peopled with tiny inhabitants. For Swift this is a metaphor for English arrogance.

Gulliver managed his way back to England, begot a child, and scampered back to sea, where he was shipwrecked again (three times/thrice). On Broadmignac, peopled by giants, Swift mocks the feeling of inferiority of the Irish. On Laputa, a flying island, he derides scientists, and in the Whouyhmnmns’, he asserts that horses are more intelligent than men.


The passage opens when Gulliver was stranded on Lilliput. He had befriended the Emperor, whose daughter had fallen in love with him.

One night, the palace was on fire, because a maid had dropped a candle when she fell asleep after reading a romance (Swift means that women should not read).

People ran to wake Gulliver and ask his help. He walked carefully (not to squash/crush anyone). When he arrived, his first reflex was to stifle the fire with his coat, but he had forgotten it behind. He tried using buckets, but they were too small (the size of thimble).

Fortunately, he had drunk a lot of wine the previous night/on the eve, and had not yet relieved himself. So, he passed water on the fire and stubbed it out.

Swift’s choice of words is important: we can see Gulliver considered himself as a Lilliputian because he called the Lilliputian wine “ours”. (They were at war with Blefuscudians because they ate their soft-boiled eggs through the wrong end. The war between little-enders and big-enders is as legitimate as any war in Europe). And at the end, there are sexual hints to say Gulliver was aroused by his action. This cost Swift an excommunication from the English king.


On the other islands, the emperors’s daughters also fell in love with him. Swift lets us think that women are superficial and drawn to impossible romance. At the time, women started writing and proponing philosophy, which was very ill perceived, especially by the Church. 


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