Alteration links seemingly disparate ideas and pieces of the text in Jonathan Swift’s A Tale of a Tub. In the Tale’s allegory, brothers alter their coats through over-embellishment. In the Tale’s digressions, the Grub Street narrator alters texts by overvaluing and reading only added commentary and prolegomena. The Tale’s material format also demonstrates surface alteration in its constant shifting between forms and in the changes Swift makes to the 1710 edition. Books and bodies alike are altered by layers of new surfaces in the Tale. Swift suggests that in both cases these exterior alterations possess the ability to disrupt and distort interiors, producing madness in bodies and misreading in books. Uneasy with the possibility of alterations unbalancing or destabilizing his meaning in an attempt to fit the text “to the humour of the Age,” Swift creates a work that possesses the potential to grow with material alteration. Any errors, additions, or changes to his text over time, even if Swift might despise them, validate his strategy.


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pp. 515-536
Launched on MUSE
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