AP English 3, Period 2
17 April 2012
More Than Just a Children’s Story
Gulliver’s Travels took Europe by storm as it circulated through the general public. The story captivated the imaginative minds of both children and adults as it detailed a man’s journey through many fantasy worlds, containing tiny dwarves, intimidating giants, floating islands, and talking horses. Although the story entertained countless families, Swift had a larger vision for his literary piece. He uses the childish dream of Gulliver’s Travels as a tool to satirize the larger aspects of his society at the time, including political rival Sir John Vanbrugh, science and the Age of Reason, and modern philosophers. Although Swift had many political enemies, he uniquely targeted Sir John Vanbrugh and his architecture in Gulliver’s Travels. Hart records the history of the two men’s political rivalry beginning with the reign of Queen Anne of England in the eighteenth century. Swift, who tended to share her Anglican religious views, played an active role in the Tory government. After Queen Anne’s death, the Whigs, the political rival of the Tories, ascended into power and persecuted the Tories for treason against the English nation. The conflict between the low-heels and high-heels can be seen as a direct parallel to the conflict between the Tories and Whigs. With the collapse of the Tory government, Swift’s political ambitions and hopes collapsed as well. Leading the new Whig government was Swift’s great enemy, Sir John Vanbrugh. Swift despised the fact that while his political power declined, Vanbrugh’s was rapidly growing. As Vanbrugh went on to become a prominent architect in England by constructing the estates of powerful politicians, his architecture consequently became a target for Swift’s satire.
Hart notes, “As an architect, Vanbrugh was unique in receiving direct criticism from Swift, attacks which continued throughout his career. Superficially both men were similar…However, Swift was a Tory and Vanbrugh a Whig.” The two men’s political differences led Swift to target Vanbrugh and his work in the story. At the time Gulliver’s Travels was circulating around England, only the elite were aware of the satirical attacks on Vanbrugh and his architecture, which had become extremely popular throughout the country as a symbol of the Whigs’ power. One of the main criticisms of Vanbrugh’s architecture was its small achievements compared to the past. Swift held the past and all of its great achievements in high regard and felt that the modern achievements were simply inadequate. This concept of “big” and “small” houses in Gulliver’s Travels can be read as a ridicule of Vanbrugh’s insufficient architecture in comparison to his predecessors (Hart). In regard to Vanbrugh’s architecture, the concept of “big” and “small” houses may also be a direct attack on his personal house. Hart notes that Vanbrugh had constructed his own house after a fire, but “Vanbrugh’s house appears to have vainly tried to look larger than it was.” Swift had nicknamed the house “Goose-pie” to mock its smallness. Vanbrugh’s “Goose-pie” can be seen as a direct parallel to Gulliver’s little house, as Hart points out. In the second book, Swift describes Gulliver’s little house as “not much bigger than what I [Gulliver] have seen in a London toy-shop” in comparison to those of the giants, while also noting that “my [Gulliver’s] little chair and table were placed at his [the King’s] left hand, before one of the salt-cellars” (II, iii). The absurdity of Gulliver’s little house and furniture plays as a recurrent image throughout Book II. Both Gulliver’s and Vanbrugh’s houses share the same comical comparison of being seen as toy buildings by Swift. Swift takes a more direct attack at Vanbrugh himself in Book III of Gulliver’s Travels. “There was a most ingenious architect, who had contrived a new method...