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Critical Reception

Gulliver's Travels has always been Swift's most discussed work. Critics have provided a wide variety of interpretations of each of the four voyages, of Swift's satiric targets, and of the narrative voice. But scholars agree that most crucial to an understanding of Gulliver's Travels is an understanding of the fourth voyage, to the land of the Houyhnhnms. Merrel D. Clubb has noted that "the longer that one studies Swift, the more obvious it becomes that the interpretations and verdict to be placed on the 'Voyage to the Houyhnhnms' is, after all, the central problem of Swift criticism." Much of the controversy surrounds three possible interpretations of the Houyhnhnms and the Yahoos. One school of thought has traditionally viewed the Yahoos as a satiric representation of debased humanity, while taking the Houyhnhnms as representatives of Swift's ideals of rationality and order. The two races are thus interpreted as symbols of the dual nature of humanity, with Gulliver's misanthropy based on his perception of the flaws of human nature and the failure of humanity to develop its potential for reason, harmony, and order. Another critical position considers both the Houyhnhnms and Yahoos to be the subject of satire, with the Yahoos representing the physical baseness of humans and the Houyhnhnms representing the fatuousness of the idea that humans will ever achieve a rationally-ordered existence. The ultimate satiric intent of the work to critics who accept this interpretation is that the only truly rational or enlightened beings in existence are not humans, but another species altogether. Since the 1950s, however, a variety of critics have tempered these readings by illuminating the complexity of purpose in the fourth voyage. The Houyhnhnms and Yahoos are now most often discussed as both satiric objects and representatives of the duality of human nature. The nature of Gulliver is another much-debated element of the Travels. Early critics generally viewed him as the mouthpiece of Swift. Modern critics, who recognize the subtlety of Swift's creation of Gulliver, have discredited that position. The most significant contemporary debate is concerned with Swift's intentions regarding the creation of Gulliver—whether he is meant to be a consistently realized character, a reliable narrator, or a satiric object whose opinions are the object of Swift's ridicule. This debate over the nature of Gulliver is important because critics seek to determine whether Gulliver is intended to be a man with definite character traits who undergoes a transformation, or an allegorical representative of humanity. In general, Gulliver is now considered a flexible persona manipulated by Swift to present a diversity of views or satirical situations and to indicate the complexity, the ultimate indefinability, of human nature. Many scholars have suggested that Gulliver's Travels has no ultimate meaning but to demand that readers regard humanity without the prejudices of pessimism or optimism, and accept human beings as a mixture of good and evil. Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century critics of Swift were primarily interested in aspects of his character, although a few did actually discuss the meaning and merits of his work at length. The eighteenth-century critics were most concerned with depicting Swift's perceived immorality and misanthropy, and they often argued their case with the help of misrepresentations, or deliberate fabrications of facts. Swift's defenders, in attacking these critics, provided the first real criticism of Swift, in particular pointing out the misrepresentations of his life. Twentieth-century critics have been confronted with the task of sifting through the misconceptions to reevaluate Swift's total achievement. There are many psychological examinations of Swift's character; the psychoanalysts, however, have often been criticized for neglecting the literary or intellectual traditions of Swift's age when associating his works with supposed neurotic tendencies. Some commentators believed that psychoanalytic critics also make an obvious mistake when they identify Swift with his characters, assuming, for example, that Gulliver's comments reflect the opinions of his creator. Close textual analysis has demonstrated the complicated elements of Swift's works and proven that they do not always reflect his personal opinions, but are carefully written to reflect the opinions of Swift's created narrators. A master of simple yet vividly descriptive prose and of a style so direct that if often masks the complexity of his irony, Swift is praised for his ability to craft his satires entirely through the eyes of a created persona. He is now regarded as a complex though not mysterious man who created works of art which will permit no single interpretation. The massive amount of criticism devoted to Swift each year reflects his continued literary importance: his work is valuable not for any statement of ultimate meaning, but for its potential for raising questions in the mind of the reader.

14Crusoe's fictional autobiographical account of his twenty-eight years shipwrecked on a remote island against incredible odds is continued in The Further Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1719) and Serious Reflections During the Life and Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1720). First published when he was almost sixty years old, Defoe is considered by many to have written the first English novel. He wrote Crusoe in the style of social realism in which he is the observant reporter, historian, humorist, and grand story teller. With his extraordinary bibliography comprising myriad historical, satirical and political writings, Defoe's most famous novel was an immediate success.

Many of Defoe's works are laden with irony, similar to how Jonathan Swift would write such works as Gulliver's Travels (1727). At various times writing under pseudonyms, Defoe also wrote essays on business; biographies; short stories; and poems including his famous The True-Born Englishman: A Satyr (1701)

Wherever God erects a house of prayer, The Devil always builds a chapel there; And 'twill be found, upon examination, The latter has the largest congregation.--Part I, l. 1.

which won him court favour with then King William III. However, upon publication of "The Shortest Way With Dissenters" in 1702 he was charged with sedition and libel and sent to Newgate prison the following year.

Alas, the Church of England! What with Popery on one hand, and Schismatics on the other, how has She been crucified between two thieves. NOW, LET US CRUCIFY THE THIEVES!

Let her foundations be established upon the destruction of her enemies! The doors of Mercy being always open to the returning part of the deluded people, let the obstinate be ruled with the rod of iron!

Let all true sons of so holy and oppressed a Mother, exasperated by her afflictions, harden their hearts against those who have oppressed her!!

And may God Almighty put it into the hearts of all the friends of Truth, to lift up a Standard against Pride and ANTICHRIST! that the Posterity of the Sons of Error may be rooted out from the face of this land, for ever!

During his imprisonment he wrote "Hymn to the Pillory" which won him much favour with the crowds;

...let all the statesmen stand; Who guide us with unsteady hand; Who armies, fleets, and men betray; And ruin all the shortest way. Let all those soldiers stand in sight. Who're willing to be paid and not to fight. Agents, and Colonels, who false musters bring, To cheat their country first, then their King.

In 1685 Defoe had participated in the Monmouth Rebellion against James II and he also served time in prison for debts incurred after failed speculative business ventures. Although Defoe was actively involved in the dissenting politics of his time, he is best remembered for his fictional works. They have inspired countless authors including Jules Verne and Robert Louis Stevenson, authors who also had fantastic tales to tell.

Not much is known of his early years, but Daniel Defoe was born sometime in the year 1659 or 1660 in the Cripplegate Parish of London, England, the youngest of three children born to Alice and James Foe, a tallow chandler. He began to preface his name with De sometime during the mid-to late 1690's. His parents being Presbyterian dissenters, Daniel attended Charles Morton's Dissenting Academy in Newington Green for four years, with plans to enter the ministry. But it was not to be, for as his non-Conformist father, he too decided to enter the business world. Settling in Cornhill, he became a merchant in various woolen goods as well as tobacco, wine, and wood. Religious upheaval and Plague did not stop Defoe as importer-exporter from also becoming involved with many social, political and religious causes including freedom of religion and the press. His first foray into the publishing world was his series of essays on business and banking collected in An Essay Upon Projects (1697).

Dickory Cronke (1719) was followed by The Life of Captain Singleton (1720) and Memoirs of a Cavalier (1720). Defoe's next major work is Moll Flanders (1722), sub-titled Who was Born in Newgate, and during a Life of continu'd Variety for Threescore Years, besides her Childhood, was Twelve Year a Whore, five times a Wife (whereof once to her own Brother), Twelve Year a Thief, Eight Year a Transported Felon in Virginia, at last grew Rich, liv'd Honest, and dies a Penitent. Written from her own Memorandums . . . Colonel Jack (1722) was published the same year as Defoe's convincing journalistic History of the Plague in London (1722). Other titles by Defoe include Roxana: The Fortunate Mistress (1724), The Complete English Tradesman (1726), and Military Memoirs of Capt. George Carleton (1728).

In 1684 Defoe married Mary Tuffley, with whom he would have eight children, five surviving to adulthood. In his later years Defoe suffered much strain from debt. He died of a stroke in April of 1731 at his home in London and now rests in the Nonconformist cemetery of Bunhill Fields, London, England. His wife Mary was buried beside him in 1732. A large memorial now stands there in his honour.

Novels

His novels include:

  • Robinson Crusoe (1719)

  • The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1719)

  • Serious reflections during the life and surprising adventures of Robinson Crusoe: with his Vision of the angelick world (1720)

  • Captain Singleton (1720)

  • Journal of the Plague Year (1722)

  • Colonel Jack (1722)

  • Moll Flanders (1722)

  • Roxana (1724)

  • Memoirs of a Cavalier

Fiction

  • The Consolidator or, Memoirs of Sundry Transactions from the World in the Moon (1705)

  • Atlantis Major (1711)

  • Robinson Crusoe (1719)

  • The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1719)

  • The King of Pirates (1719)

  • Captain Singleton (1720)

  • Memoirs of a Cavalier (1720)

  • A Journal of the Plague Year (1722)

  • Moll Flanders (1722)

  • Roxana: The Fortunate Mistress (1724)

  • The Pirate Gow, an account of John Gow

  • Colonel Jack

Non-fiction

  • The Storm (1704)

  • The Family Instructor (1715)

  • A General History of the Pyrates (1724), Defoe's authorship of this pseudonymous work is disputed

  • A tour thro' the whole island of Great Britain, divided into circuits or journies (1724–1727)

  • The Political History of the Devil (1726)

Essays

  • The Shortest Way with the Dissenters (1703)

  • Serious Reflections of Robinson Crusoe (1720)

  • The Complete English Tradesman

  • An Essay Upon Projects

  • An Essay Upon Literature (1726)

  • Mere Nature Delineated (1726)

  • Conjugal Lewdness (1727)

  • A Plan of the English Commerce (1728)

Poems

  • The True-Born Englishman: A Satyr (1701)

  • Hymn to the Pillory (1703)

15Henry Fielding (Sharpham, 22 April 1707 – near Lisbon, 8 October 1754) was an English novelist and dramatist known for his rich earthy humour and satirical prowess, and as the author of the novel Tom Jones.

Aside from his literary achievements, he has a significant place in the history of law-enforcement, having founded (with his half-brother John) what some have called London's first police force, the Bow Street Runners, using his authority as a magistrate. His younger sister, Sarah, also became a successful writer.[1]

Tobias George Smollett (19 March 1721 – 17 September 1771) was a Scottish poet and author. He was best known for his picaresque novels, such as The Adventures of Roderick Random (1748) and The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle (1751), which influenced later novelists such as Charles Dickens. His novels were amended liberally by printers; a definitive edition of each of his works was edited by Dr. O. M. Brack, jr. to correct variants. Samuel Richardson (19 August 1689 – 4 July 1761) was an 18th-century English writer and printer. He is best known for his three epistolary novels: Pamela: Or, Virtue Rewarded (1740), Clarissa: Or the History of a Young Lady (1748) and The History of Sir Charles Grandison (1753). Richardson was an established printer and publisher for most of his life and printed almost 500 different works, with journals and magazines.

Richardson lost his first wife along with their five sons, and eventually remarried. Although with his second wife he had four daughters who lived to become adults, they had no male heir to continue running the printing business. While his print shop slowly ran down, at the age of 51 he wrote his first novel and immediately became one of the most popular and admired writers of his time.

He knew leading figures in 18th century England, including Samuel Johnson and Sarah Fielding. In the London literary world, he was a rival of Henry Fielding, and the two responded to each other's literary styles in their own novels.

European literature of the 18th century refers to literature (poetry, drama and novels) produced in Europe during this period. The 18th century saw the development of the modern novel as literary genre, in fact many candidates for the first novel in English date from this period, of which Daniel Defoe's 1719 Robinson Crusoe is probably the best known. Subgenres of the novel during the 18th century were the epistolary novel, the sentimental novel, histories, the gothic novel and the libertine novel.

18th Century Europe started in the Age of Enlightenment and gradually moved towards Romanticism. In the visual arts, it was the period of Neoclassicism.

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