From Dryden to Blake
Hidden Messages of the Dressing Room Satires
On Jonathan Swift and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu
Jonathan Swift is one of the most famous poets from the eighteenth century. He has written many satires including “The Lady’s Dressing Room”. This poem is about a man named Strephon and a woman named Celia. In the poem, Celia tries to make herself presentable to society while Strephon sneaks in her dressing room and there discovers what a vile and dirty creature she really is, altering his complete image of women in general. It could be said that Swift ridicules the relationship between all men and women, using his characters as a symbolisation. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu reacted to this poem with a poem of her own. In “The Reasons that Induced Dr. Swift to Write a Poem Called the Lady’s Dressing Room.” She portrays Swift as her version of all men and converts his Lady Celia into Betty the prostitute. In her poem, Swift tries to seduce Betty, but the only way he can succeed is to pay her for her services. Their act of coitus is a disappointment. Swift blames Betty for this and they end up quarreling. This calls into question how these two poems relate to each other in the message they are conveying. This essay will portray these messages regarding the role of the man in Swift’s poem, the role of the man in Montagu’s poem, the role of the woman in Swift’s poem and the role of the woman in Montagu’s poem. In Swift’s poem the role of the man is represented by Strephon. Strephon secretly slips into Celia’s dressing room at the beginning of the poem. In lines 3 to 4 it is suggested that he catches a glimpse of Celia whom is getting dressed. “The goddess from het chamber issues, Arrayed in lace brocade, and tissues.” These lines portray really well how Strephon sees women. He idealises them as goddess-like creatures, near to perfection. The lack of clothing suggests his lust for women. However his perception drastically changes after he “took a strict survey” (l. 7) of Celia’s room. He now thinks badly of women in general suggested by the line “All women his description fits” (l. 125). However the ending of the poem mentions Swift’s own opinion of women rather than that of Strephon saying: “He soon would learn to think like me,/And bless his ravished eyes to see/Such order from confusion sprung,/Such gaudy tulips raised from dung.” (l.141-145) “He” referring to Strephon and “me” referring to the writer, Swift. It could be said that Swift likes women when reading these lines, but it is more likely (Especially because he refers to ‘blessing your ravishing eyes’) that Swift only thinks well of women regarding their sexual appeal. Some even say that “From the very beginning “The Lady’s Dressing Room” is marked by masculine spectatorship, and woman’s role as fetish is made implicit[.]” (Weise). Montagu used Swift to represent the role of the man in her poem. In the introduction to her poem it says that she “did not like Swift. She objected to his politics , His friendship with Pope , his vanity (especially at knowing important people), and his defiant indecency (which she considered not only inappropriate for a clergyman but also a sign of low breeding).” (Norton) Taking these reasons for dislike into account it becomes apparent she is referring to Swift portraying the role of the man in her poem even though she never mentions his name directly except for the title. Therefore, the title suggests that the reason Swift wrote a women unfriendly poem is because of a regrettable encounter he had with a woman himself. Furthermore, Montagu shows her dislike for Swift’s picture of women, who all pretend to be something they are not by mentioning men pretend just as much, or even more. This becomes apparent in the lines “And men their talants still mistaking/The stutterer fancies his speaking./ With admiration oft we see/Hard features heightened by toupée.”...
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