Swift Prophet by Anne Barbeau Gardiner

Feature

Swift Prophet

The Christian Meaning of Gulliver’s Travels

In Gulliver’s Travels, the narrator goes from being a barely nominal Christian to an atheist, yet Jonathan Swift’s masterpiece is a deeply religious meditation on the “mystery of iniquity” (Matt. 24:12) as it is worked out in the Church in Britain past, present, and future. In Gulliver’s Travels, Swift defends the Church with consummate irony by using the voice of an irreligious narrator.

Swift was a high-church clergyman who took religion very seriously. A friend who knew him well reported that he used to say grace before and after meals with “an emphasis and fervor which every one around him saw, and felt,” and that he alone in Dublin (in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where he was dean) followed “the primitive practice” of giving Communion every Sunday. Before writing Gulliver’s Travels, he spent seven years (1714–1721) going through “a very voluminous course of ecclesiastical history” and a study of the church fathers.

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Anne Barbeau Gardiner is Professor Emerita of English at John Jay College of the City University of New York. She has published on Dryden, Milton, and Swift, as well as on Catholics of the 17th century.

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