Gulliver’s Travels

Many writers try to write satire.  And many of them fail.  When they succeed though, it is amazing.  One of my favorite books is Candide by Voltaire.  I’m not sure why satire is so hard to perfect.  It involves a mix of wit, irony, sarcasm and humor.   I don’t want to read a work that is only bitter and isn’t clever.  And I want to laugh.  It’s a fine line.

With some trepidation I started reading Gulliver’s Travels a couple of weeks ago for Carl’s Once Upon a Time challenge and the Classics Bribe challenge.  Many told me I would love it.  Sometimes too many ringing endorsements scare me since I expect greatness and then I am letdown.  I will say right from the beginning that Swift did not let me down.

This delightful tale was written by Jonathan Swift, an Irish writer.  The book chronicles four different voyages taken by Lemuel Gulliver.  I won’t go into detail about the journeys since the story is well known.  Instead I would like to include some of my favorite quotes to highlight’s Swift’s brilliance.

I hope the gentle reader will excuse me for dwelling on these and the like particulars, which, however insignificant they may appear to groveling vulgar minds, yet will certainly help a philosopher to enlarge his thoughts and imagination, and apply them to the benefit of public as well as private life, which was my sole design in presenting this and other accounts of my travels to the world.

This quote is after he describes how was able to go to the toilet in a strange land.  I hope philosophers are paying attention.

The captain was very well satisfied with this plain relation I had given him, and said, ‘he hoped, when we returned to England, I would oblige the world by putting it on paper, and making it public.’ My answer was, ‘that we were overstocked with books of travels: that nothing could now pass which was not extraordinary; wherein I doubted some authors less consulted truth, than their own vanity, or interest, or the diversion of ignorant readers; that my story would contain little beside common events, without these ornamental descriptions; or of the barbarous customs and idolatry of savage people, with which most writers abound.’  However, I thanked him for his good opinion, and promised to take the matter into my thoughts.

Not only is he mocking travel books, but his own account since Gulliver’s Travels includes many of these “ornamental descriptions.”  Also, he is saying that Gulliver is truthful, even though he lies throughout his travels.  And the inhabitants that he meets are not common.

But this I conceived was to be the least of my misfortunes; for, as human creatures are observed to be more savage and cruel in proportion to their bulk, what could I expect but to be a morsel in the mouth of the first among these enormous barbarians that should happen to seize me?  Undoubtedly philosophers are in the right, when they tell us that nothing is great or little otherwise than by comparison.

After his visit with the Lilliputians, who were tiny, Gulliver encounters giants in Brobdingnag.  This quote discusses two philosophical schools of thought.  One is that since these are giants they have more capacity for evil—there is more room in their bodies.  Yet, some believe that size is relative.  I find it interesting that he assumes that these giants are capable of more evil when he was recently a giant to the Lilliputians.  Of course, once he gets to know these giants he realizes that they aren’t so strange after all.

Even though I enjoyed the book, I can’t say that I liked it more than Candide.  This might not be fair since I have such a fondness for Voltaire’s story, which I read with one of my favorite professors during Grad School.  I remembering sitting in his office and discussing the book.  Gulliver’s Travels is a fun read and I’m glad that I finally got to it.  This past weekend I was reading parts from two separate books that made references to it.  The first was Bleak House by Charles Dickens and the second was Wild Swans by Jung Chang.  I have to wonder how many other references I’ve missed.  Does anyone have any suggestions for other satirical works?  I have two more on my list by Swift: A Modest Proposal and A Tale of a Tub. 

About TBM

TB Markinson is an American who's recently returned to the US after a seven-year stint in the UK and Ireland. When she isn't writing, she's traveling the world, watching sports on the telly, visiting pubs in New England, or reading. Not necessarily in that order. Her novels have hit Amazon bestseller lists for lesbian fiction and lesbian romance. She cohosts the Lesbians Who Write Podcast ( with Clare Lydon. TB also runs I Heart Lesfic (, a place for authors and fans of lesfic to come together to celebrate lesbian fiction.
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38 Responses to Gulliver’s Travels

  1. jmgoyder says:

    This is so wonderful and interesting!

  2. wildnightin says:

    I keep meaning to read ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ but, like you, I’ve heard so many positive comments about it that I’m afraid that I won’t enjoy it. Thanks for the review, I don’t feel hesitant about reading it now. 🙂
    Whilst not on the same level of erudition, several of Moliere’s plays, particularly ‘The Hypochondriac’ and ‘The Bourgeois Gentleman’ are fairly satirical. I’ve also heard that ‘The Praise of Folly’, by Erasmus is a good satire.

    • TBM says:

      It has been a long time since I’ve read “The Bourgeois Gentleman.” I should reread it. I remember finding it extremely funny and entertaining. I haven’t read Erasmus to I’ll add it and “The Hypochondriac” to my list. Thanks!

  3. T.F.Walsh says:

    Haven’t read this for ages… great book.

  4. Jillian ♣ says:

    I’ve read A Modest Proposal. FUNNY.

  5. Novroz says:

    Great review TBM…I like all the quotes you have chosen.
    I need to read more classics like you

  6. Caroline says:

    I’ve read this years ago and while I remember liking it, I certainly liked Candide much better.
    Montesquieu is one of the interesting French writers in that vein and Diderot.

    • TBM says:

      I’ve read both Montesquieu and Diderot and agree. They were interesting chaps. I’ve always enjoyed literature and artwork from the Enlightenment period. It was such a fascinating time. Such a shame that history took such a vicious turn afterwards.

      • Caroline says:

        Yes, it’s true. I think they brought satire to a real perfection. Maybe when you are not allowed to openly say what you think you become a better satirist?

      • TBM says:

        That makes a lot of sense. I remember one of my history professors saying that East Germans perfected satire during the Cold War.

  7. Caroline says:

    And the Russians, Bulgakov and Gogol.

    • TBM says:

      I need to read more Russian literature. I had to set War and Peace aside until later this year. Sounds like a good December project by a warm fire.

      • Caroline says:

        Me too but their books are often so long. Bulgakov is OK though, not that long and Gogol’s Dead Souls was a surprisingly fast read.
        I’d like to read his stories of St Petersburg soon. Not exactly satirical but certainly great.

      • TBM says:

        I haven’t read any Gogol and I think that should be remedied soon.

  8. nrlymrtl says:

    I read this book about 2-3 years ago. While I found it interesting, i think I would have gotten more out of it if I had had a notated edition explaining historical points, etc. that Swift was satiring about.

    I was surprised at some of the humor, perhaps ‘grade-school- is not the right adjective. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the book.

    • TBM says:

      I think grade school is a good choice. He’s poking fun at so many different aspects of his society that it can get a little confusing.

  9. Fergiemoto says:

    How interesting! Thanks for your great review.

  10. Madhu says:

    Your reviews take me back to a time when is seemed like all I did was read!! Seems like a lifetime ago 😦 I should find time to reread at least a few of these classics.

    • TBM says:

      Once I’m in the reading mood, I can tear through books. But when you get out of the habit, it is harder. If you do reread some, I would love to hear your thoughts.

  11. I read Gulliver Travels as a child many years ago and loved it but your lovely review has made me want to read it again!!

  12. meanwhilein3 says:

    I agree with you on Candide, Makes me want to laugh just thinking about that book.

  13. Jo Bryant says:

    I have been rereading Gulliver’s Travels for the challenge I am doing. Never read Candide…so I guess that goes on the to be read list now.

  14. Carl V. says:

    I know that I read this many, many, MANY years ago but remember very little about it. I would say that I liked it, but cannot remember why. I’m not sure if it was part of a school assignment, which is most likely, or if it is just something I picked up on a whim. It wasn’t uncommon for me to hit periods in my youth where I just gravitated towards a classic for no particular reason.

    Hype can sometimes ruin a good reading experience, I’m glad that did not happen for you here.

    • TBM says:

      I think I read parts of this for school, but can’t be 100% positive. I was speaking with friends this past weekend how foggy my memory is getting. Getting older, isn’t easy, but I do enjoy life so I can’t complain one bit.

      I really enjoyed his humor in his stories. Some of it was very subtle and other parts, just had me laughing out loud. It was a great mix.

      And I understand about gravitating towards classics. Ever since moving to London, I’ve been craving English classics. I’m trying to mix it up a bit so I don’t get sick and tired of them so I never want to read one again.

  15. I had to read GT for a children’s lit. course at university and although I loved the first two parts of the voyage, the last didn’t really do much for me…still, hard to deny the author’s talent (and gift for putting all of the crazy politics of his time nicely and subtly into the narrative!)

    • TBM says:

      It always makes me wonder when I read about politics from way back when. Did anyone ever respect their governments…or should I say, did governments ever deserve respect?

  16. The Guat says:

    I never got the chance to read Gulliver’s Travel either, put I might pick it up after this report. And you’re right … too many endorsements (books or movies) sometimes lead to letdown and that burns me out too. But good thing you enjoyed it 🙂

    • TBM says:

      So many people told me that it was so funny and that I would get a kick out of it. I was getting nervous that I wouldn’t like it and feel dense for not understanding it. Fortunately that didn’t happen and I did enjoy it. Whew!

  17. Pingback: What We Did Last Summer – The Classic Bribe Wrap-Up |

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