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A Modest Proposal and Other Writings (review)
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Reviewed by
Jonathan Swift. A Modest Proposal and Other Writings, ed. and introd. Carole Fabricant. London: Penguin, 2009. Pp. xlix + 412. £10.99.

One suspects Swift might have enjoyed satirizing the constant shuffling of his works into single-volume anthologies as pulling the threads of the Swiftian garment tends to unravel the whole. Ms. Fabricant’s selection for Penguin shows her understanding of such risks and so looks to the underlying stitching to create a whole-cloth picture of Swift as an author.

She justifies this selection’s interest in briefer works, ephemera even, by placing Swift in the company of “great thinkers and writers . . . who, while quite capable of producing lengthy, even magisterial works . . . spent much of their careers in the trenches (as it were), writing political pamphlets and journalistic essays in crisis situations that demanded quick-witted responses.” In this light, she steers readers toward reassessing Swift’s work.

The Introduction reminds readers, too, how careful Swift was, especially after The Drapier’s Letters, to “create an enduring image for himself.” In contrast to Pope, Swift “insisted upon situating his fame in the very heart of the mundane.” Even before [End Page 69] Gulliver’s Travels, he was an author aware of an emerging public with an appetite for print. Ms. Fabricant’s selections help underscore this interest. Swift loved language, but he also loved the marketplace of words. Given her reminder that “in all phases of his life, Swift demonstrated an unmistakable pleasure in exploring the very non standardized forms of English he attacked,” it is perhaps most surprising to see A Proposal for Correcting, Improving and Ascertaining the English Tongue (1712) omitted from the selection.

Ms. Fabricant’s interest in Swift the author downplays his clerical career and his religious orthodoxy. While the inclusion of An Argument to Prove that the Abolishing of Christianity in England May, as Things Now Stand, be Attended with Some Inconveniences and the Letter From a Lay-Patron, to a Gentleman Designing for Holy Orders look at Swift as loyal Church of Ireland servant, both works appear with their more common title, An Argument Against the Abolishing of Christianity and A Letter to a Young Gentleman, Lately Entered into Holy Orders respectively, and the notes make no reference to the consequences of these shifts in title. This separation of the author from the churchman can perhaps be welcomed, although it risks under-playing Swift’s religious convictions as they inform his authorship.

The omission of Ann Cline Kelly’s Jonathan Swift and Popular Culture: Myth, Media, and the Man from “Further Reading” surprises. However, Ms. Fabricant’s collection is a welcome one-volume primer to Swift the occasional author and a useful corrective to those volumes that give us Swift the satirist and downplay context.

Christopher Fauske
Salem State University