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Gulliver's Travels, or Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World. In Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of Several Ships (which is the full title), is a prose satire by Irish writer and clergyman Jonathan Swift, that is both a satire on human nature and the "travellers' tales" literary subgenre. It is Swift's best known full-length work, and a classic of English literature. He himself claimed that he wrote Gulliver's Travels "to vex the world rather than divert it".
The book became popular as soon as it was published. John Gay wrote in a 1726 letter to Swift that "It is universally read, from the cabinet council to the nursery."
In 2015, Robert McCrum released his selection list of 100 best novels of all time where Gulliver’s Travels, a satirical masterpiece, is listed.
Part I: A Voyage to Lilliput
The travel begins with a short preamble in which Lemuel Gulliver gives a brief outline of his life and history before his voyages.
During his first voyage, Gulliver is washed ashore after a shipwreck and finds himself a prisoner of a race of tiny people, less than 6 inches (15 cm) tall, who are inhabitants of the island country of Lilliput. After giving assurances of his good behaviour, he is given a residence in Lilliput and becomes a favourite of the Lilliput Royal Court. He is also given permission by the King of Lilliput to go around the city on condition that he must not harm their subjects.
At first, the Lilliputians are hospitable to Gulliver, but they are also wary of the threat that his size poses to them. The Lilliputians reveal themselves to be a people who put great emphasis on trivial matters. For example, which end of an egg a person cracks becomes the basis of a deep political rift within that nation. They are a people who revel in displays of authority and performances of power. Gulliver assists the Lilliputians to subdue their neighbours the Blefuscudians by stealing their fleet. However, he refuses to reduce the island nation of Blefuscu to a province of Lilliput, displeasing the King and the royal court.
Gulliver is charged with treason for, among other crimes, urinating in the capital though he was putting out a fire. He is convicted and sentenced to be blinded. With the assistance of a kind friend, "a considerable person at court", he escapes to Blefuscu. Here, he spots and retrieves an abandoned boat and sails out to be rescued by a passing ship, which safely takes him back home.
Part II: A Voyage to Brobdingnag
Gulliver soon sets out again. When the sailing ship Adventure is blown off course by storms and forced to sail for land in search of fresh water, Gulliver is abandoned by his companions and is left on a peninsula on the western coast of the North American continent.
The grass of that land is as tall as a tree. He is then found by a farmer who was about 72 ft (22 m) tall, judging from Gulliver estimating a man's step being 10 yards (9 m). He brings Gulliver home and the farmer's daughter Glumdalclitch cares for Gulliver. The giant-sized farmer treats him as a curiosity and exhibits him for money. After a while the constant shows make Gulliver sick, and the farmer sells him to the queen of the realm. Glumdalclitch (who accompanied her father while exhibiting Gulliver) is taken into the Queen of Brobdingnag's service to take care of the tiny man. Since Gulliver is too small to use their huge chairs, beds, knives and forks, the Queen of Brobdingnag commissions a small house to be built for him so that he can be carried around in it; this is referred to as his "travelling box".
Between small adventures such as fighting giant wasps and being carried to the roof by a monkey, he discusses the state of Europe with the King of Brobdingnag. The King is not happy with Gulliver's accounts of Europe, especially upon learning of the use of guns and cannons. On a trip to the seaside, his traveling box is seized by a giant eagle which drops Gulliver and his box into the sea where he is picked up by some sailors who return him to England.
Part III: A Voyage to Laputa, Balnibarbi, Luggnagg, Glubbdubdrib and Japan
Setting out again, Gulliver's ship is attacked by pirates and he is marooned close to a desolate rocky island near India. He is rescued by the flying island of Laputa, a kingdom devoted to the arts of music, mathematics, and astronomy but unable to use them for practical ends. Rather than use armies, Laputa has a custom of throwing rocks down at rebellious cities on the ground.
Gulliver tours Balnibarbi, the kingdom ruled from Laputa, as the guest of a low-ranking courtier and sees the ruin brought about by the blind pursuit of science without practical results, in a satire on bureaucracy and on the Royal Society and its experiments. At the Grand Academy of Lagado in Balnibarbi, great resources and manpower are employed on researching completely preposterous schemes such as extracting sunbeams from cucumbers, softening marble for use in pillows, learning how to mix paint by smell, and uncovering political conspiracies by examining the excrement of suspicious persons (see muckraking). Gulliver is then taken to Maldonada, the main port of Balnibarbi, to await a trader who can take him on to Japan.
While waiting for a passage, Gulliver takes a short side-trip to the island of Glubbdubdrib which is southwest of Balnibarbi. On Glubbdubdrib, he visits a magician's dwelling and discusses history with the ghosts of historical figures, the most obvious restatement of the "ancients versus moderns" theme in the book. The ghosts consist of Julius Caesar, Brutus, Homer, Aristotle, René Descartes, and Pierre Gassendi.
On the island of Luggnagg, he encounters the struldbrugs, people who are immortal. They do not have the gift of eternal youth, but suffer the infirmities of old age and are considered legally dead at the age of eighty.
After reaching Japan, Gulliver asks the Emperor "to excuse my performing the ceremony imposed upon my countrymen of trampling upon the crucifix", which the Emperor does. Gulliver returns home, determined to stay there for the rest of his days.
Part IV: A Voyage to the Land of the Houyhnhnms
Despite his earlier intention of remaining at home, Gulliver returns to sea as the captain of a merchantman, as he is bored with his employment as a surgeon. On this voyage, he is forced to find new additions to his crew whom he believes to have turned the rest of the crew against him. His crew then commits mutiny. After keeping him contained for some time, they resolve to leave him on the first piece of land they come across, and continue as pirates. He is abandoned in a landing boat and comes upon a race of hideous, deformed and savage humanoid creatures to which he conceives a violent antipathy. Shortly afterwards, he meets the Houyhnhnms, a race of talking horses. They are the rulers while the deformed creatures that resemble human beings are called Yahoos.
Gulliver becomes a member of a horse's household and comes to both admire and emulate the Houyhnhnms and their way of life, rejecting his fellow humans as merely Yahoos endowed with some semblance of reason which they only use to exacerbate and add to the vices Nature gave them. However, an Assembly of the Houyhnhnms rules that Gulliver, a Yahoo with some semblance of reason, is a danger to their civilization and commands him to swim back to the land that he came from. Gulliver's "Master," the Houyhnhnm who took him into his household, buys him time to create a canoe to make his departure easier. After another disastrous voyage, he is rescued against his will by a Portuguese ship. He is disgusted to see that Captain Pedro de Mendez, whom he considers a Yahoo, is a wise, courteous, and generous person.
He returns to his home in England, but he is unable to reconcile himself to living among "Yahoos" and becomes a recluse, remaining in his house, largely avoiding his family and his wife, and spending several hours a day speaking with the horses in his stables.
Composition and history
It is uncertain exactly when Swift started writing Gulliver's Travels (much of the writing was done at Loughry Manor in Cookstown, County Tyrone, whilst Swift stayed there) but some sources suggest as early as 1713 when Swift, Gay, Pope, Arbuthnot and others formed the Scriblerus Club with the aim of satirising popular literary genres. According to these accounts, Swift was charged with writing the memoirs of the club's imaginary author, Martinus Scriblerus, and also with satirising the "travellers' tales" literary subgenre. It is known from Swift's correspondence that the composition proper began in 1720 with the mirror-themed Parts I and II written first, Part IV next in 1723 and Part III written in 1724; but amendments were made even while Swift was writing Drapier's Letters. By August 1725 the book was complete; and as Gulliver's Travels was a transparently anti-Whig satire, it is likely that Swift had the manuscript copied so that his handwriting could not be used as evidence if a prosecution should arise, as had happened in the case of some of his Irish pamphlets (the Drapier's Letters). In March 1726 Swift travelled to London to have his work published; the manuscript was secretly delivered to the publisher Benjamin Motte, who used five printing houses to speed production and avoid piracy. Motte, recognising a best-seller but fearing prosecution, cut or altered the worst offending passages (such as the descriptions of the court contests in Lilliput and the rebellion of Lindalino), added some material in defence of Queen Anne to Part II, and published it. The first edition was released in two volumes on 28 October 1726, priced at 8s. 6d.
Motte published Gulliver's Travels anonymously, and as was often the way with fashionable works, several follow-ups (Memoirs of the Court of Lilliput), parodies (Two Lilliputian Odes, The first on the Famous Engine With Which Captain Gulliver extinguish'd the Palace Fire...) and "keys" (Gulliver Decipher'd and Lemuel Gulliver's Travels into Several Remote Regions of the World Compendiously Methodiz'd, the second by Edmund Curll who had similarly written a "key" to Swift's Tale of a Tub in 1705) were swiftly produced. These were mostly printed anonymously (or occasionally pseudonymously) and were quickly forgotten. Swift had nothing to do with them and disavowed them in Faulkner's edition of 1735. Swift's friend Alexander Pope wrote a set of five Verses on Gulliver's Travels, which Swift liked so much that he added them to the second edition of the book, though they are rarely included.
Faulkner's 1735 edition
In 1735 an Irish publisher, George Faulkner, printed a set of Swift's works, Volume III of which was Gulliver's Travels. As revealed in Faulkner's "Advertisement to the Reader", Faulkner had access to an annotated copy of Motte's work by "a friend of the author" (generally believed to be Swift's friend Charles Ford) which reproduced most of the manuscript without Motte's amendments, the original manuscript having been destroyed. It is also believed that Swift at least reviewed proofs of Faulkner's edition before printing, but this cannot be proved. Generally, this is regarded as the Editio Princeps of Gulliver's Travels with one small exception. This edition had an added piece by Swift, A letter from Capt. Gulliver to his Cousin Sympson, which complained of Motte's alterations to the original text, saying he had so much altered it that "I do hardly know mine own work" and repudiating all of Motte's changes as well as all the keys, libels, parodies, second parts and continuations that had appeared in the intervening years. This letter now forms part of many standard texts.
The five-paragraph episode in Part III, telling of the rebellion of the surface city of Lindalino against the flying island of Laputa, was an obvious allegory to the affair of Drapier's Letters of which Swift was proud. Lindalino represented Dublin and the impositions of Laputa represented the British imposition of William Wood's poor-quality copper currency. Faulkner had omitted this passage, either because of political sensitivities raised by an Irish publisher printing an anti-British satire, or possibly because the text he worked from did not include the passage. In 1899 the passage was included in a new edition of the Collected Works. Modern editions derive from the Faulkner edition with the inclusion of this 1899 addendum.
Isaac Asimov notes in The Annotated Gulliver that Lindalino is generally taken to be Dublin, being composed of double lins; hence, Dublin.
Gulliver's Travels has been the recipient of several designations: from Menippean satire to a children's story, from proto-science fiction to a forerunner of the modern novel.
Published seven years after Daniel Defoe's wildly successful Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver's Travels may be read as a systematic rebuttal of Defoe's optimistic account of human capability. In The Unthinkable Swift: The Spontaneous Philosophy of a Church of England Man, Warren Montag argues that Swift was concerned to refute the notion that the individual precedes society, as Defoe's novel seems to suggest. Swift regarded such thought as a dangerous endorsement of Thomas Hobbes' radical political philosophy and for this reason Gulliver repeatedly encounters established societies rather than desolate islands. The captain who invites Gulliver to serve as a surgeon aboard his ship on the disastrous third voyage is named Robinson.
Scholar Allan Bloom points out that Swift's critique of science (the experiments of Laputa) is the first such questioning by a modern liberal democrat of the effects and cost on a society which embraces and celebrates policies pursuing scientific progress.
A possible reason for the book's classic status is that it can be seen as many things to many different people. Broadly, the book has three themes:
In storytelling and construction the parts follow a pattern:
Of equal interest is the character of Gulliver himself—he progresses from a cheery optimist at the start of the first part to the pompous misanthrope of the book's conclusion and we may well have to filter our understanding of the work if we are to believe the final misanthrope wrote the whole work. In this sense Gulliver's Travels is a very modern and complex novel. There are subtle shifts throughout the book, such as when Gulliver begins to see all humans, not just those in Houyhnhnm-land, as Yahoos. However, a feminist perspective of Gulliver's Travels argues that it is misogyny, and not misanthropy, that is shown in Gulliver.
Throughout, Gulliver is presented as being gullible; he believes what he is told, never perceives deeper meanings, is an honest man, and expects others to be honest. This makes for fun and irony; what Gulliver says can be trusted to be accurate, and he does not always understand the meaning of what he perceives.
Also, although Gulliver is presented as a commonplace "everyman", lacking higher education, he possesses a remarkable natural gift for language. He quickly becomes fluent in the native tongue of any strange land in which he finds himself, a literary device that adds verisimilitude and humour to Swift's work.
Despite the depth and subtlety of the book, it is often classified as a children's story because of the popularity of the Lilliput section (frequently bowdlerised) as a book for children. One can still buy books entitled Gulliver's Travels which contain only parts of the Lilliput voyage.
A well-known underlying theme in Gulliver's Travels is misogyny. Swift uses satire to openly mock misogyny throughout the book, with one of the most cited examples of this coming from Gulliver's description of a Brobdingnagian woman:
"I must confess no Object ever disgusted me so much as the Sight of her monstrous Breast, which I cannot tell what to compare with, so as to give the curious Reader an Idea of its Bulk, Shape, and Colour.... This made me reflect upon the fair Skins of our English Ladies, who appear so beautiful to us, only because they are of our own Size, and their Defects not to be seen but through a magnifying glass...."
This open critic towards aspects of the female body is something that Swift often brings up in other works of his, particularly in poems such as The Lady's Dressing Room and A Beautiful Young Nymph Going To Bed.
A well known criticism of Swift's use of misogyny by Felicity A. Nussbaum proposes the idea that “Gulliver himself is a gendered object of satire, and his antifeminist sentiments may be among those mocked.” Gulliver’s own masculinity is often mocked, seen in how he is made to be a coward among the Brobdingnag people, repressed by the people of Lilliput, and viewed as an inferior Yahoo among the Houyhnhnms.
Another criticism of Swift's use of misogyny delves into Gulliver's repeated use of the word 'nauseous,' and the way that Gulliver is fighting his emasculation by commenting on how he thinks the women of Brobdingnag are disgusting.
"Swift has Gulliver frequently invoke the sensory (as opposed to reflective) word "nauseous" to describe this and other magnified images in Brobdingnag not only to reveal the neurotic depths of Gulliver's misogyny, but also to show how male nausea can be used as a pathetic countermeasure against the perceived threat of female consumption. Swift has Gulliver associate these magnified acts of female consumption with the act of "throwing-up" — the opposite of and antidote to the act of gastronomic consumption."
This commentary of Deborah Needleman Armintor relies upon the way that the giant women do with Gulliver as they please, in much the same way as one might play with a toy, and get it to do everything one can think of. Armintor's comparison focuses on the pocket microscopes that were popular in Swift's time. She talks about how this instrument of science was transitioned to something toy-like and accessible, so it shifted into something that women favored, and thus men lose interest. This is similar to the progression of Gulliver's time in Brobdingnag, from man of science to women's plaything.
Misanthropy is a theme that scholars have identified in Gulliver's Travels. Arthur Case, R.S. Crane, and Edward Stone discuss Gulliver's development of misanthropy and come to the consensus that this theme ought to be viewed as comical rather than cynical.
In terms of Gulliver's development of misanthropy, these three scholars point to the fourth voyage. According to Case, Gulliver is at first averse to identifying with the Yahoos, but, after he deems the Houyhnhnms superior, he comes to believe that humans (including his fellow Europeans) are Yahoos due to their shortcomings. Perceiving the Houyhnhnms as perfect, Gulliver thus begins to perceive himself and the rest of humanity as imperfect. According to Crane, when Gulliver develops his misanthropic mindset, he becomes ashamed of humans and views them more in line with animals. This new perception of Gulliver's, Stone claims, comes about because the Houyhnhnms' judgement pushes Gulliver to identify with the Yahoos. Along similar lines, Crane holds that Gulliver's misanthropy is developed in part when he talks to the Houyhnhnms about mankind because the discussions lead him to reflect on his previously held notion of humanity. Specifically, Gulliver’s master, who is a Houyhnhnm, provides questions and commentary that contribute to Gulliver’s reflectiveness and subsequent development of misanthropy. However, Case points out that Gulliver's dwindling opinion of humans may be blown out of proportion due to the fact that he is no longer able to see the good qualities that humans are capable of possessing. Gulliver’s new view of humanity, then, creates his repulsive attitude towards his fellow humans after leaving Houyhnhnmland. But in Stone's view, Gulliver’s actions and attitude upon his return can be interpreted as misanthropy that is exaggerated for comic effect rather than for a cynical effect. Stone further suggests that Gulliver goes mentally mad and believes that this is what leads Gulliver to exaggerate the shortcomings of humankind. Over time, though, Gulliver is able to get used to humanity again.
Another aspect that Crane attributes to Gulliver’s development of misanthropy is that when in Houyhnhnmland, it is the animal-like beings (the Houyhnhnms) who exhibit reason and the human-like beings (the Yahoos) who seem devoid of reason; Crane argues that it is this switch from Gulliver’s perceived norm that leads the way for him to question his view of humanity. As a result, Gulliver begins to identify humans as a type of Yahoo. To this point, Crane brings up the fact that a traditional definition of man – Homo est animal rationale (Humans are rational animals) – was prominent in academia around Swift’s time. Furthermore, Crane argues that Swift had to study this type of logic (see Porphyrian Tree) in college, so it is highly likely that he intentionally inverted this logic by placing the typically given example of irrational beings – horses – in the place of humans and vice versa.
Stone points out that Gulliver's Travels takes a cue from the genre of the travel book, which was popular during Swift's time period. From reading travel books, Swift’s contemporaries were accustomed to beast-like figures of foreign places; thus, Stone holds that the creation of the Yahoos was not out of the ordinary for the time period. From this playing off of familiar genre expectations, Stone deduces that the parallels that Swift draws between the Yahoos and humans is meant to be humorous rather than cynical. Even though Gulliver sees Yahoos and humans as if they are one and the same, Stone argues that Swift did not intend for readers to take on Gulliver’s view; Stone states that the Yahoos’ behaviors and characteristics that set them apart from humans further supports the notion that Gulliver's identification with Yahoos is not meant to be taken to heart. Thus, Stone sees Gulliver’s perceived superiority of the Houyhnhnms and subsequent misanthropy as features that Swift used to employ the satirical and humorous elements characteristic of the Beast Fables of travel books that were popular with his contemporaries; as Swift did, these Beast Fables placed animals above humans in terms of morals and reason, but they were not meant to be taken literally.
Pedro de Mendez is the name of the Portuguese captain who rescues Gulliver in Book IV. When Gulliver is forced to leave the Island of the Houyhnhnms, his plan is "to discover some small Island uninhabited" where he can live in solitude. Instead, he is picked up by Don Pedro's crew. Despite Gulliver's appearance—he is dressed in skins and speaks like a horse—Don Pedro treats him compassionately and returns him to Lisbon.
Though Don Pedro appears only briefly, he has become an important figure in the debate between so-called soft school and hard school readers of Gulliver's Travels. Some critics contend that Gulliver is a target of Swift's satire and that Don Pedro represents an ideal of human kindness and generosity. Gulliver believes humans are similar to Yahoos in the sense that they make "no other use of reason, than to improve and multiply...vices" Captain Pedro provides a contrast to Gulliver's reasoning, proving humans are able to reason, be kind, and most of all: civilized. Gulliver sees the bleak fallenness at the center of human nature, and Don Pedro is merely a minor character who, in Gulliver's words, is "an Animal which had some little Portion of Reason."
From 1738 to 1746, Edward Cave published in occasional issues of The Gentleman's Magazine semi-fictionalized accounts of contemporary debates in the two Houses of Parliament under the title of Debates in the Senate of Lilliput. The names of the speakers in the debates, other individuals mentioned, politicians and monarchs present and past, and most other countries and cities of Europe ("Degulia") and America ("Columbia") were thinly disguised under a variety of Swiftian pseudonyms. The disguised names, and the pretence that the accounts were really translations of speeches by Lilliputian politicians, were a reaction to an Act of Parliament forbidding the publication of accounts of its debates. Cave employed several writers on this series: William Guthrie (June 1738 – November 1740), Samuel Johnson (November 1740 – February 1743), and John Hawkesworth (February 1743 – December 1746).
The astronomers of Laputa have discovered "two lesser stars, or satellites, which revolve about Mars". This may have influenced Voltaire, whose 1750 story Micromégas also refers to two moons of Mars. In 1877, Asaph Hall discovered the two real moons of Mars, Deimos and Phobos; in 1973 craters on Deimos were named Swift and Voltaire, and from 2006 numerous features on Phobos were named after elements from Gulliver's Travels, including Laputa Regio, Lagado Planitia, and several craters.
The term Lilliputian has entered many languages as an adjective meaning "small and delicate". There is even a brand of small cigar called Lilliput. There is a series of collectable model houses known as "Lilliput Lane". The smallest light bulb fitting (5mm diameter) in the Edison screw series is called the "Lilliput Edison screw". In Dutch and Czech, the words Lilliputter and liliput(á)n respectively are used for adults shorter than 1.30 meters. Conversely, Brobdingnagian appears in the Oxford English Dictionary as a synonym for very large or gigantic.
In like vein, the term yahoo is often encountered as a synonym for ruffian or thug. In the Oxford English Dictionary it is considered a definition for "a rude, noisy, or violent person" and its origins attributed to Swift's Gulliver's Travels.
In the discipline of computer architecture, the terms big-endian and little-endian are used to describe two possible ways of laying out bytes in memory. The terms derive from one of the satirical conflicts in the book, in which two religious sects of Lilliputians are divided between those who crack open their soft-boiled eggs from the little end, and those who use the big end, the "Big-endians".
Dostoevsky references Gulliver's Travels in his novel Demons (1872): 'In an English satire of the last century, Gulliver, returning from the land of the Lilliputians where the people were only three or four inches high, had grown so accustomed to consider himself a giant among them, that as he walked along the Streets of London he could not help crying out to carriages and passers-by to be careful and get out of his way for fear he should crush them, imagining that they were little and he was still a giant....'
The book was very popular upon release and was commonly discussed within social circles. Public reception widely varied, with the book receiving an initially enthusiastic reaction with readers praising its satire, and some reporting that the satire's cleverness sounded like a realistic account of a man's travels. James Beattie commended Swift’s work for its “truth” regarding the narration and claims that “the statesman, the philosopher, and the critick, will admire his keenness of satire, energy of description, and vivacity of language,” noting that even children can enjoy the novel. As popularity increased, critics came to appreciate the deeper aspects of Gulliver’s Travels. It became known for its insightful take on morality, expanding its reputation beyond just humorous satire.
Despite its initial positive reception, the book faced backlash. One of the first critics of the book, referred to as Lord Bolingbroke, criticized Swift for his overt use of misanthropy. Other negative responses to the novel also looked towards its portrayal of humanity, which was considered inaccurate. Swifts’s peers rejected the novel on claims that its themes of misanthropy were harmful and offensive. They criticized its satire for exceeding what was deemed acceptable and appropriate, including the Houyhnhnms and Yahoos’s similarities to humans. There was also controversy surrounding the political allegories. Readers enjoyed the political references, finding them humorous. However, members of the Whig party were offended, believing that Swift mocked their politics.
British journalist William Makepeace Thackeray described Swift’s novel as “blasphemous,” citing its critical view of mankind as ludicrous and overly harsh. He concludes his critique by remarking that he cannot understand the origins of Swift’s critiques on humanity.
In other works
Sequels and imitations
"Polygondwanaland" 13th studio album by King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard draws many connections among thematic interpretations thought the book and album.
Film, television and radio
Gulliver's Travels has been adapted several times for film, television and radio. Most film versions avoid the satire completely.
The standard edition of Jonathan Swift's prose works as of 2005 is the Prose Writings in 16 volumes, edited by Herbert Davis et al.