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Eighteenth-Century Studies 36.4 (2003) 580-585
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"To Curse the Dean, or Bless the Draper":
Recent Scholarship on Swift
Alan D. Chalmers,
University of South Carolina, Spartanburg
Christopher J. Fauske. Jonathan Swift and the Church of Ireland, 1710-1724 (Dublin and Portland, OR: Irish Academic Press,). Pp.192. $49.50 cloth.
Ann Cline Kelly. Jonathan Swift and Popular Culture: Myth, Media, and the Man (New York: Palgrave, 2002). Pp. xi + 244, illustrations. $55.00 cloth.
James Noggle. The Skeptical Sublime: Aesthetic Ideology in Pope and the Tory Satirists (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press). Pp. ix + 269. $49.95 cloth.
Hermann J. Real and Helgard Stover-Leidig, eds. Reading Swift: Papers from the Third Münster Symposium on Jonathan Swift(Munchen: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 1998). Pp. 367, illustrations. DM138.00 cloth.
In Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift, D.S.P.D. and other writings, Swift apprehended that his memory would be fragmented or multiplied as others put it to various purposes. This apprehension would be borne out by the sample of scholarship under review here, although the spirit of these recent works is generally more generous, less self-serving than Swift implied. One study discerns Swift's willing participation in the construction of his own myth. Another, while acknowledging Swift's complexity as a man and a writer, finds in his loyalty to the Church a transcendently ordering principle. A third places Swift along the arc of evolving ideas about skepticism and the sublime through the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. A fourth gathers together an eclectic though usefully grouped array of essays—the only place, curiously enough, where Gulliver's Travels receives any sustained attention.
The publisher of Jonathan Swift and Popular Culture: Myth, Media, and the Man asserts that "Ann Cline Kelly's provocative book breaks the mold of Swift studies." Indeed the book does discover fascinating new contexts for Swift's writing, and should prove indispensable to anyone pursuing Swift's crafting of his own image, his contemporary reception, and his reputation across the years to our own time: Kelly's final chapter discusses Swift's presence online, references to him in recent Irish Tourist Board publications, etc. The book might also serve as a model to scholars who intend to research the evolving images and reputations of other—especially eighteenth-century—writers.
Kelly's original contribution lies mainly in her evidence, including several contemporary frontispieces and other pictorial representations of him, that Swift was constantly, assiduously, and sometimes perversely pursuing fame by blowing fame's "brass trumpet," a "mixture of truth and fiction" associated with Grub Street, and distinguished from the "golden trumpet" of high Augustan aesthetics (4). Kelly's pursuit of the often self-generated myths and legends—interchangeable terms for her—that have developed around Swift is a response, she says, to Leo Braudy's encouragement "'to investigate the process by which fame becomes a matter of premeditation, a result of media management as much as of achievement, as well as how the great of the past behaved in such a way as to project larger-than-life images of themselves that would last longer than any specific action'" [End Page 580] (10-11). And the direction of Kelly's response is suggested by Thomas Sheridan, one of Swift's early biographers, who wrote that there "'never was . . . a man whose true character has been so little known, or whose conduct at all times . . . has been so misrepresented to the world,'" and, Sheridan goes on, "'the chief source of all the erroneous opinions entertained of him'" was Swift himself (3). Kelly concurs, asserting Swift's "delight in confusing his public image by accentuating his paradoxical or protean nature as an unchristian priest, a vulgar gentleman, an elite populist, a misanthropic philanthropist, a serious trifler, a Grubstreet Apollo, a pro-Irish Englishman" (7-8). To demonstrate this the first three chapters trace Swift's entire career (1690-1711, 1712-28, and 1729-45 respectively), from his early identification with Augustan values, exemplified in his 'Ode to the...