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Reading Group

Jonathan Swift: Master of Satire with Jane Mallison (April 19 session)

Wednesday, April 19, 2017 - 11:00 AM | For Members Only | Whitridge Room | $60 for all four sessions (recommended); $15 per session | Advance registration required

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) wrote his own epitaph. Being a man of his times, he wrote it in Latin, but a translation of the opening reads, “Here lies Jonathan Swift, who has gone where savage indignation can no longer lacerate his heart.” In short, only death can give him peace from the spectacle of mankind running mad. The concept of outrage leading to the writing of satire comes from one of Swift’s inspirations: the Roman poet Juvenal, who tells us it’s difficult not to write satire when “indignatio” fills the brain and the heart.

Born of English parents, Swift lived most of his life in Ireland. His indignation overflowed when he reflected on the English treatment of the Irish—and to some extent it boiled up at the spectacle of Irish passivity in the face of oppression. But, from a larger perspective, Swift was always aware that human beings might organize themselves into a confederacy of dunces.

This seminar will start with a number of brief examples of Swift’s range as a writer. These will include two of his satires: the gentle “Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift” (What will people say about me after I’m dead?) and the contrastingly fierce “A Modest Proposal” (Let’s eat babies!). Then it’s on to his major work, Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World by Lemuel Gulliver (1726). Far from being a beguiling fantasy for the young, Gulliver’s Travels is a powerful combination of attack and humor that addresses both historical and timeless targets. There are plenty of yahoos—Swift coined the word—around in every century.

A reading list and copies of the items for discussion will be available for registrants to purchase.

This seminar takes place over four Wednesdays:

March 29
April 19
May 31
and June 21

all at 11:00 AM in the Whitridge Room.

To register, click below and log in or contact the Events Office at 212.288.6900 x230 or events@nysoclib.org.