Jonathan Swift: His Life & His World

Leo Damrosch. Yale Univ, $35 (568p) ISBN 978-0-300-16499-2
In his latest, Harvard literature professor and veteran biographer Damrosch (Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Restless Genius) recounts the life of satirist Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver’s Travels. The outlines of Swift’s life are more or less familiar. To render a novel account of Swift’s biography, then, Damrosch investigates myths and assumptions about such vexed questions as Swift’s disappointed political ambitions, his moral and religious views, and his love affairs. These last come in for special scrutiny, as Damrosch carefully weighs the evidence of Swift’s romantic attachments and possible marriages. Just as importantly, the author analyzes the political landscape of early 18th-century England in order to illuminate how Swift transmuted contemporary events into biting satire in an era in which wit could have fatal consequences. While Damrosch is to be credited for entertaining alternatives to outdated biographical shibboleths, his polemics against previous biographers and his reliance upon hypotheticals lead to a work rather academic in scope and occasionally needling in tone. Nonetheless, this is an impressive feat of scholarship filled with insightful readings of Swift’s work, as well as extensive illustrations that help to vivify the world of this satiric master. Illus. Agent: Tina Bennett, William Morris. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 09/30/2013
Release date: 11/01/2013
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Paperback - 573 pages - 978-0-300-20541-1
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