Titel: History and its relevance for understanding Jonathan Swift's satirical works
Autoren/Herausgeber: Stefan Ruhnke
Ausgabe: 1., Auflage
Seminar paper from the year 2006 in the subject English Language and Literature Studies - Literature, grade: 2,0, Ernst Moritz Arndt University of Greifswald (Institut für Anglistik / Amerikanistik), course: 18th Century Satire, 14 entries in the bibliography, language: English, abstract: In his great and exceptionally well-researched book Jonathan Swift. Political Writer, James Allen Downie writes that “true satire condemns society by reference to an ideal” and that “such is Swift’s satire”. This statement by Downie not only serves as a good beginning for defining satire but also hints at an important aspect that should not be forgotten in any analysis of Swift’s satirical works. Swift, as any satirist in fact, needed and used certain occasions and persons in his times to trigger his satirical writing and refer to another ideal. Because of his “fixation with politics and his temperamental inability to ignore public affairs”, his writings, and especially his pamphlets and satires, reflect prominent issues of his times. For a satirical writer who wants to expose human flaws it is, of course, essential to use examples that he expects his audience to know. It was therefore necessary that Swift in his satires referred to prominent persons or recent developments and issues of his days to make sure that his satirical messages were understood by the English and Irish readers of the early 18th century.
For this reason it is important to have at least a fundamental knowledge about political, but also cultural, religious and economic aspects of England’s and Ireland’s histories in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, the time in which Swift lived and by whose historical developments he was influenced. Historical knowledge about his times will certainly help to understand which contemporary problems and persons Swift thought worth satirizing and will also make it much clearer what Swift believed to be more general problems or flaws of humankind that he tried to expose using contemporary examples.
Before I will point out historical references in two of Swift’s satirical works, Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift and A Modest Proposal, and show in which way historical knowledge can help to understand these satires, I want to take a look at some developments in England and Ireland in the late 17th and early 18th centuries that are essential to an understanding of Swift’s work.