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Literature

Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels
1726

Irish Protestant clergyman and satirist Jonathan Swift publishes Gulliver's Travels anonymously in 1726. The four-part novel relates ship captain Lemuel Gulliver's voyages to fanciful countries such as Lilliput and Brobdingnag, where he meets both tiny and giant inhabitants.

The work's satirical attacks on English politicians and social practices, as well as its coarse descriptions of bodily functions, provoke much comment and controversy among the reading public. Even the first publisher of the book fears that it is too critical of English society and expurgates the text slightly, over Swift's objections.

The first printing sells out in a week, and the book is never thereafter out of print. However, Gulliver's Travels is often published in expurgated versions, both in England and abroad. In the 19th century, Victorian critics charge that Swift's view of human nature is too pessimistic.

Although Swift intends the book for an adult audience, Gulliver's Travels imaginative storyline and clear writing help make the book a children's classic, generally in abridged editions. To this day, publishers of school versions, even at the college level, struggle with how much of the book may be printed. Gulliver's Travels is perhaps most frequently encountered today in adaptations for film, stage, or television, many of which are aimed toward children and lack large sections of the story and Swift's satirical tone.

Victorian novelist William Makepeace Thackeray judged Gulliver's Travels "filthy in thought, furious, raging, and obscene." Read excerpts?


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