vineri, 4 aprilie 2014


"A Tale of a Tub" is divided between various forms of digression and sections of a "tale." The "tale," or narrative, is an allegory that concerns the adventures of three brothers, Peter, Martin, and Jack, as they attempt to make their way in the world. Each of the brothers represents one of the primary branches of Christianity in the West. This part of the book is a pun on "tub," which Alexander Pope says was a common term for a Dissenter's pulpit, and a reference to Swift's own position as a clergyman. Peter (named for Saint Peter) stands in for the Roman Catholic Church. Jack (named for John Calvin, but whom Swift also connects to "Jack of Leyden") represents the various Dissenting Protestant churches such as Baptists, Presbyterians, Quakers, Congregationalists, or Anabaptists. The third brother, middle born and middle standing, is Martin (named for Martin Luther), whom Swift uses to represent the 'via media' of the Church of England. The brothers have inherited three wonderfully satisfactory coats (representing religious practice) by their father (representing God), and they have his will (representing the Bible) to guide them. Although the will says that the brothers are forbidden from making any changes to their coats, they do nearly nothing but alter their coats from the start. In as much as the will represents the Bible and the coat represents the practice of Christianity, the allegory of the narrative is supposed to be an apology for the Anglican church's refusal to alter its practice in accordance with Puritan demands and its continued resistance to alliance with the Roman church.

From its opening (once past the prolegomena, which comprises the first three sections), the book alternates between Digression and Tale. However, the digressions overwhelm the narrative, both in their length and in the forcefulness and imaginativeness of writing. Furthermore, after Chapter X (the commonly anthologised "Digression on Madness"), the labels for the sections are incorrect. Sections then called "Tale" are Digressions, and those called "Digression" are also Digressions.

A Tale of a Tub is an enormous parody with a number of smaller parodies within it. Many critics have followed Swift's biographer Irvin Ehrenpreis in arguing that there is no single, consistent narrator in the work. One difficulty with this position, however, is that if there is no single character posing as the author, then it is at least clear that nearly all of the "personae" employed by Swift for the parodies are so much alike that they function as a single identity. In general, whether a 20th-century reader would view the book as consisting of dozens of impersonations or a single one, Swift writes the Tale through the pose of a Modern or New Man. See the abridged discussion of the "Ancients and Moderns," below, for more on the nature of the "modern man" in Swift's day.

Swift's explanation for the title of the book is that the Ship of State was threatened by a whale (specifically, the Leviathan of Thomas Hobbes) and the new political societies (the Rota Club is mentioned). His book is intended to be a tub that the sailors of state (the nobles and ministers) might toss over the side to divert the attention of the beast (those who questioned the government and its right to rule). Hobbes was highly controversial in the Restoration, but Swift's invocation of Hobbes might well be ironic. The narrative of the brothers is a faulty allegory, and Swift's narrator is either a madman or a fool. The book is not one that could occupy the Leviathan, or preserve the Ship of State, so Swift may be intensifying the dangers of Hobbes's critique rather than allaying them to provoke a more rational response.

The digressions individually frustrate readers who expect a clear purpose. Each digression has its own topic, and each is an essay on its particular sidelight. In his biography of Swift, Ehrenpreis argued that each digression is an impersonation of a different contemporary author. This is the "persona theory," which holds that the Tale is not one parody, but rather a series of parodies, arising out of chamber performance in the Temple household. Prior to Ehrenpreis, some critics had argued that the narrator of the Tale is a character, just as the narrator of a novel would be. Given the evidence of A. C. Elias about the acrimony of Swift's departure from the Temple household, evidence from Swift's Journal to Stella about how uninvolved in the Temple household Swift had been, and the number of repeated observations about himself by the Tale's author, it seems reasonable to propose that the digressions reflect a single type of man, if not a particular character.

In any case, the digressions are each readerly tests; each tests whether or not the reader is intelligent and sceptical enough to detect nonsense. Some, such as the discussion of ears or of wisdom being like a nut, a cream sherry, a cackling hen, etc., are outlandish and require a militantly aware and thoughtful reader. Each is a trick, and together they train the reader to sniff out bunk and to reject the unacceptable.

Cultural setting[edit]
During the Restoration the print revolution began to change every aspect of British society. It became possible for anyone to spend a small amount of money and have his or her opinions published as a broadsheet, and to gain access to the latest discoveries in science, literature, and political theory, as books became less expensive and digests and "indexes" of the sciences grew more numerous. The difficulty lay in discerning truth from falsehood, credible claims from impossible one. Swift writes A Tale of a Tub in the guise of a narrator who is excited and gullible about what the new world has to offer, and feels that he is quite the equal or superior of any author who ever lived because he, unlike them, possesses 'technology' and newer opinions. Swift seemingly asks the question of what a person with no discernment but with a thirst for knowledge would be like, and the answer is the narrator of Tale of a Tub.

Swift was annoyed by people who were so eager to possess the newest knowledge that they failed to pose sceptical questions. If he was not a particular fan of the aristocracy, he was a sincere opponent of democracy, which was often viewed then as the sort of "mob rule" that led to the worst abuses of the English Interregnum. Swift's satire was intended to provide a genuine service by painting the portrait of conspiracy minded and injudicious writers.

At that time in England, politics, religion and education were unified in a way that they are not now. The monarch was the head of the state church. Each school (secondary and university) had a political tradition. Officially, there was no such thing as "Whig and Tory" at the time, but the labels are useful and were certainly employed by writers themselves. The two major parties were associated with religious and economic groups. The implications of this unification of politics, class, and religion are important. Although it is somewhat extreme and simplistic to put it this way, failing to be for the Church was failing to be for the monarch; having an interest in physics and trade was to be associated with dissenting religion and the Whig Party. When Swift attacks the lovers of all things modern, he is thereby attacking the new world of trade, of dissenting religious believers, and, to some degree, an emergent portion of the Whig Party.

Born of English parents in Ireland, Jonathan Swift was working as Sir William Temple's secretary at the time he composed A Tale of a Tub (1694–1697). The publication of the work coincided with Swift's striking out on his own, having despaired of getting a good "living" from Temple or Temple's influence. There is speculation about what caused the rift between Swift and his employer, but, as A. C. Elias persuasively argues, it seems that the final straw came with Swift's work on Temple's Letters. Swift had been engaged to translate Temple's French correspondence, but Temple, or someone close to Temple, edited the French text to make Temple seem both prescient and more fluent. Consequently, the letters and the translations Swift provided did not gibe, and, since Swift could not accuse Temple of falsifying his letters, and because the public would never believe that the retired state minister had lied, Swift came across as incompetent.

 It is hard to say what the Tale's satire is about, since it is about any number of things. It is most consistent in attacking misreading of all sorts. Both in the narrative sections and the digressions, the single human flaw that underlies all the follies Swift attacks is over-figurative and over-literal reading, both of the Bible and of poetry and political prose. The narrator is seeking hidden knowledge, mechanical operations of things spiritual, spiritual qualities to things physical, and alternate readings of everything.

Within the "tale" sections of the book, Peter, Martin, and Jack fall into bad company (becoming the official religion of the Roman empire) and begin altering their coats (faith) by adding ornaments. They then begin relying on Peter to be the arbitrator of the will. He begins to rule by authority (he remembered the handyman saying that he once heard the father say that it was acceptable to don more ornaments), until such a time that Jack rebels against the rule of Peter. Jack begins to read the will (the Bible) overly literally. He rips the coat to shreds to restore the original state of the garment which represents the "primitive Christianity" sought by dissenters. He begins to rely only upon "inner illumination" for guidance and thus walks around with his eyes closed, after swallowing candle snuffs. Eventually, Peter and Jack begin to resemble one another, and only Martin is left with a coat that is at all like the original.

An important factor in the reception of Swift's work is that the narrator of the work is an extremist in every direction. Consequently, he can no more construct a sound allegory than he can finish his digressions without losing control (eventually confessing that he is insane). For a Church of England reader, the allegory of the brothers provides small comfort. Martin has a corrupted faith, one full of holes and still with ornaments on it. His only virtue is that he avoids the excesses of his brothers, but the original faith is lost to him. Readers of the Tale have picked up on this unsatisfactory resolution to both "parts" of the book, and A Tale of a Tub has often been offered up as evidence of Swift's misanthropy.

As has recently been argued by Michael McKeon, Swift might best be described as a severe sceptic, rather than a Whig, Tory, empiricist, or religious writer. He supported the Classics in the Quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns, and he supported the established church and the aristocracy, because he felt the alternatives were worse. He argued elsewhere that there is nothing inherently virtuous about a noble birth, but its advantages of wealth and education made the aristocrat a better ruler than the equally virtuous but unprivileged commoner. A Tale of a Tub is a perfect example of Swift's devastating intellect at work. By its end, little seems worth believing in.

Formally, the satire in the Tale is historically novel for several reasons. First, Swift more or less invented prose parody. In the "Apology for the &c." (which was added in 1710), Swift explains that his work is, in several places, a "parody," which is where he imitates the style of persons he wishes to expose. What is interesting is that the word "parody" had not been used for prose before, and the definition he offers is arguably a parody of John Dryden defining "parody" in the Discourse of Satire (the Preface to Dryden's translations of Juvenal's and Persius' satires). Prior to Swift, parodies were imitations designed to bring mirth, but not primarily in the form of mockery. Dryden himself imitated the Aeneid in "MacFlecknoe" to describe the apotheosis of a dull poet, but the imitation made fun of the poet, and not of Virgil.

Additionally, Swift's satire is relatively unique in that he offers no resolutions. While he ridicules any number of foolish habits, he never offers the reader a positive set of values to embrace. While this type of satire became more common as people imitated Swift, later, Swift is quite unusual in offering the readers no way out. He does not persuade to any position, but he does persuade readers from an assortment of positions. This is one of the qualities that has made the Tale Swift's least-read major work.
Title page of the fifth edition, 1710, with the added Notes and Apology 

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