TRISTRAM SHANDY

Tristam Shandy

Author: Laurence Sterne (1713–1768)
Publisher: Wordsworth Editions Limited (2009 edition)
Bought from: NoQ Store

Introduction

The novel developed as a form of English or Augustan literature in the first half of the 18th century thanks to writers such as Daniel Defoe (1660–1731), Jonathan Swift (1667–1745) and Samuel Richardson (1689–1761). Sterne continued the process with his magnum opus Tristram Shandy although the book did not quite follow the conventions of novels of that period.

Laurence Sterne was born to an English father and Irish mother. His father was in the army and the family moved with his regiment around England and Ireland. After graduating from Cambridge with a Bachelor of Arts (1737), Laurence Sterne became an Anglican clergyman. He obtained a Master of Arts from Cambridge in 1740. In 1759, at the ripe old age of 46 years, he started writing fiction full−time. He wrote only three novels. His first novel The Life and Times of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (published in 9 volumes between 1759 and 1767), is considered one of the greatest comic novels of English literature. It was included in a list of the 100 greatest novels of all time published by the Observer (2003).

What is the story about?

There is no story, only characters! Three characters stand out:

The narrator is Tristram Shandy,  “[s]port of small accidents, Tristram Shandy! that thou art, and ever will be!” (Book Three chap 8, p 121). But the main characters are his father Walter and uncle Toby.

Walter Shandy was “a good natural philosopher [and also] something of a moral philosopher too” (Book Two chap 7, p 68). He liked nothing more than expounding on and debating a wide range of matters. With him, even something mundane like whether to put the young Tristram in breeches, could end up being “proed and conned and judicially talked over betwixt him and my mother for a month” (Book Six chap 16, p 301). But he was not above theatrics. When he heard about the injury to Tristram’s nose, “he threw himself prostrate across his bed in the wildest disorder imaginable, but at the same time in the most lamentable attitude of a man borne down with sorrows, that ever the eye of pity dropped a tear for” (Book Three chap 29, p 146). But when he heard about the mishap with Tristram’s name, “he walked composedly out … to the fish-pond” (Book Four chap 17, p 200).

The character Captain Toby Shandy may have been influenced by the military men Sterne grew up with. Uncle Toby was injured in Namur (during the real life siege of the Belgian city by England and her allies in 1695). One of his quirks is that he would whistle half a dozen bars of Lillabullero “when anything shocked or surprised him: — but especially when anything, which he deemed very absurd, was offered” (Book Three chap 21, p47). He was obsessed by miniature military fortifications and war games (Book Two chap 3, p 59–60). Just as Don Quixote had Sancho Panza, Uncle Toby had his foil in Corporal Trim. Together, they recreated on a real-time basis the British campaign of Lord Marlborough against the French during the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1714) (Book 6 chap 21, p 307). Their fun ended when hostilities ceased with the peace of Utrecht (Book Six chap 30, p 317). Uncle Toby was clueless in dealing with the opposite sex.

Themes

Ask my pen, — it governs me, —i govern not it.
(Book 6 chap 6, p 288)

The novel is marked by digressions, and digressions within digressions! The narrator made no apologies for that and rationalised as follows: “For in this long digression which I was accidentally led into, as in all my digressions (only one excepted) there is a master-stroke of digressive skill, the merit of which has all along, I fear, been overlooked by my reader, — not for want of penetration in him, — but because ’tis an excellence seldom looked for, or expected indeed, in a digression; — and it is this: That tho my digressions are all fair, as you observe, — and that I fly off from what I am about, as far, and as often too, as any writer in Great Britain; yet I constant take care to order affairs so that my main business does not stand still in my absence … In a word, my work is digressive, and it is progressive too, — and at the same time” (Book One chap 22, p 48). The digressions cover a wide range of topics, ranging from esoteric references to John Locke as well as nonsense such as noses. In the tradition of Cervantes’ Don Quixote, Sterne also interposed a number of self–contained stories, which he would deliberately end without a proper conclusion.

Sterne also used the following devices (some of which were unconventional for that time):

  • Nonlinear narrative. The book starts in 1718 and ends in 1713 and in between, the narrator reaches from the time of Henry VIII to Sterne’s own time using flashbacks and flash forwards.
  • One–sentence chapters (eg Book Four Chap 5, p 189) and long passages in French (eg Book One chap 20, p 40–42) or Latin (eg Book Two chap 11, p 116–121).
  • A Preface that threatens to appear nearly a third into the novel (Book Two, chap 20, p 130) but never actually does.
  • Bawdy and scatological humour, and asterisks and dashes to mask (highlight?) them.
  • A interposed story involving a character with a large nose (metaphor for penis) and a missing scabbard (a play on the Latin word vagina which means literally a sheath or scabbard) (beginning of Book Four, p 166–185).
  • Two of the funniest aposiopesis ever written: When Tristram’s mother refused to allow Dr Slop to assist in her delivery, Uncle Toby remarked: “My sister, I dare say, added he, does not care to let a man come so near her ****” (Book Two chap 6, p 68). Later, Corporal Trim described to uncle Toby how a fair young lady was tending to his wounded knee: “The more she rubbed, and the longer strokes she took — the more the fire kindled in my veins — till at length, by two or three strokes longer than the rest — my passion rose to the highest pitch — I seized her hand —— And then thou clapped’st it to thy lips, Trim, said my uncle Toby — and madest a speech” (Book Eight chap 22, p 401).
  • Stream of consciousness.
  • Interaction between narrator and reader. For the sum of 50 guineas, the narrator offered to acknowledge the donor in the next edition of the novel (Book 1 Chap 9, p 11–12).
  • Missing chapter (Book 4 chap 24).
  • Misplaced chapters (Book Nine, chap 18 and 19, p 442—444 instead of p 443—5).

Little wonder then Tristram Shandy is often described as the progenitor of modernist and post–modernist literature.

How is the book?

This is a complete and unabridged edition from Wordsworth Classics. There is an introduction written by Cedric Watts, University of Sussex. But there are no notes which is regrettable. In addition, this edition all but spoiled some of Sterne’s innovations:

  • In some editions, 2 black pages mark Yorick’s death (Book One chap 12). In this edition, a marble slab is inserted on p 23.
  • In some editions, 2 coloured marbled pages, signifying the “motly emblem” of Sterne’s work follow immediately after chapter 36 and before chapter 37 of Book Three. In this edition, the marbled pages are wrongly positioned in the midst of chapter 38 (p 155-6).
  • In some editions, a blank page in inserted for the reader to pen in his or her idea of Widow Wadman after chapter 38 of Book Six. In this edition, the blank appears in the middle of the chapter (p 326).

Tristram Shandy is in the public domain. This Wordsworth Classics edition costs S$2.80. It would have been a steal if there were notes.

Finally …

This must be one of the most peculiar book ever published. It is an anti–novel, it has no plot and no conclusion. It is everything that a contemporary novel such as Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones (1749) is not. Yet, it is a compelling and very modern read.

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TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEAS

SONY DSC

Author: Jules Verne (1828–1905)
Translator: William Butcher
Publisher: Oxford University Press (2009 reissue)
Bought from: NoQ Store

Introduction

Jules Verne was born in Nantes, Frances. He is one of the most influential writers from the early days of science fiction. He is widely known, along with H.G. Wells (1866–1946) and Hugo Gernsback (1884–1967), as one of the Fathers of Science Fiction.

The son and grandson of lawyers, Verne went to Paris to study law in 1847. He was in Paris during the 1848 Revolution (which would culminate with the election of Napoleon as President of the Second Republic at the end of the year).

Verne was more interested in the theatre and literature than legal practice. He had written a number of plays, essays, short stories and novels before he collaborated with the publisher Pierre-Jules Hetzel on a sequence of 54 novels between 1863 to 1905 (with another 8 published posthumously) under the overarching title of Voyages Extraordinaires. The best known titles are Voyage au Centre de la Terre (1864), Vingt Mille Lieues sous les Mers (1870), and Le Tour du Monde en Quatre-vingts Jours (1873).

Two other titles are familiar to modern readers thanks to Hollywood. Firstly, De la Terre à la Lune (1865) was, together with H. G. Wells’ The First Men in the Moon (1901), the primary inspiration for Georges Méliès’ silent movie A Trip to the Moon (1902), famous for the iconic image of the human rocket embedded in the right eye of the Man in the Moon. Secondly, L’Île Mystérieuse (1874) — the title if little of the plot found its way into the movie Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (2012).

The other novels in the series are largely unknown today.

In France, Voyages Extraordinaires is noted for the meticulous research into astronomy, biology, ethnography, geography, geology, oceanography, palaeontology and physics. However, early publishers in England and the US chose to simplify and bowdlerise their translations to such an extent that Verne became known to the English-speaking world as a writer of children adventure fiction. Many of these translations which are now in the public domain continue to be read online and even reprinted by major publishers. More accurate, full-length English translations started appearing only in the 1970s.

What is the story about?

The novel has been adapted for the big and small screens including the famous Walt Disney produced movie 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) starring Kirk Douglas (Ned Land) and James Mason (Nemo).

The story is well–known. Aronnax, a French lecturer in marine biology, his servant Conseil and a harpooner Ned Land joined a military expedition to hunt down what appeared to be a sea monster. Thrown overboard after their ship was attacked by the monster, they ended up guests–cum–prisoners on the monster itself which turned out to be a submarine captained by the mysterious Nemo.

Themes

The centerpiece of the novel is Nemo’s submarine Nautilus. This edition contains a useful appendix titled Sources of Ideas on Submarine Navigation.

The name Nemo (Latin for no one) was used by Odysseus in Homer’s Odyssey. Like Homer did in Illiad and Odyssey, Jules Verne included a number of catalogues in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas, including lists of animals, plants, minerals and even persons (scientists, writers, artists, composers).

What about the book?

Part of the Oxford World Classics series, this volume comes with an introduction and explanatory notes by the translator William Butcher. There is also a useful appendix titled Sources of Ideas on Submarine Navigation. William Butcher has also translated also Voyage au Centre de la Terre or Journey to the Centre of the Earth and Le Tour du Monde en Quatre-vingts Jours or Around the World in Eighty Days for Oxford University Press.

Finally …

Much of the journey was uneventful so a dissapointment as an adventure. There are 3 action set pieces and the first two are resolved quite quickly. First, the Nautilus was attacked by Papuan cannibals (p 161–2). Then, the protagonists and the crew of the Nautilus engaged in arm–to–tentacle combat with a shoal of squids (p 346–7). Finally, the Nautilus rammed and sank a warship (p 365–73). The climax, in which the Nautilus was caught in a maelstrom, feels a little rushed following immediately after the warship episode.

AROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY DAYS

SONY DSC

Author: Jules Verne (1828 – 1905)
Translator: William Butcher
Publisher: Oxford University Press (2008 reissue)
Bought from: NoQ Store

Introduction

Jules Verne was born in Nantes, Frances. He is one of the most influential writers from the early days of science fiction. He is widely known, along with H.G. Wells (1866–1946) and Hugo Gernsback (1884–1967), as one of the Fathers of Science Fiction.

The son and grandson of lawyers, Verne went to Paris to study law in 1847. He was in Paris during the 1848 Revolution (which would culminate with the election of Napoleon as President of the Second Republic at the end of the year).

Verne was more interested in the theatre and literature than legal practice. He had written a number of plays, essays, short stories and novels before he collaborated with the publisher Pierre-Jules Hetzel on a sequence of 54 novels between 1863 to 1905 (with another 8 published posthumously) under the overarching title of Voyages Extraordinaires. The best known titles are Voyage au Centre de la Terre (1864), Vingt Mille Lieues sous les Mers (1870), and Le Tour du Monde en Quatre-vingts Jours (1873).

Two other titles are familiar to modern readers thanks to Hollywood. Firstly, De la Terre à la Lune (1865) was, together with H. G. Wells’ The First Men in the Moon (1901), the primary inspiration for Georges Méliès’ silent movie A Trip to the Moon (1902), famous for the iconic image of the human rocket embedded in the right eye of the Man in the Moon. Secondly, L’Île Mystérieuse (1874) — the title if little of the plot found its way into the movie Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (2012).

The other novels in the series are largely unknown today.

In France, Voyages Extraordinaires is noted for the meticulous research into astronomy, biology, ethnography, geography, geology, oceanography, palaeontology and physics. However, early publishers in England and the US chose to simplify and bowdlerise their translations to such an extent that Verne became known to the English-speaking world as a writer of children adventure fiction. Many of these translations which are now in the public domain continue to be read online and even reprinted by major publishers. More accurate, full-length English translations started appearing only in the 1970s.

What is the story about?

The novel has been adapted for the big and small screens (most recently in the widely-panned 1984 movie with Jackie Chan as Passepartout).

The story is well–known. Armed with £20,000, a Frenchman valet named Jean Passepartout, and most importantly a stiff upper lip, Phileas Fogg, a wealthy English gentleman, set out on 1 October 1872 to circumnavigate the globe in 80 days.

Themes

The Industrial Revolution (c 1760–1840) paved the way to amazing scientific, technology and engineering advances, including massive improvements in modes of transportation. Railways and steamships (both first used in the previous century) entered the modern age during the 19th century. The age of the railway dawned in India in 1853 with the first train service from Bombay to Thane, Maharashtra 27 km away. By 1870, it was possible to travel by train from Calcutta (in the East) to Bombay (in the west) via Allahabad (in the north), a rail journey of over 2,000 km. In the midst of the Civil War, the first transcontinental railway in the US was symbolically completed in 1869. On June 4, 1876 a train arrived in San Francisco 83 hours and 39 minutes after it left New York City, a journey that would have taken months to complete previously.

The steamer/sailing ship hybrid SS Savannah became the first steamship to cross the Atlantic, taking 29 days to sail from Savannah, Georgia to Liverpool using steam power for about 80 hours. In 1838, the SS Sirius and SS Great Western each took around 20 days to sail from Cork, Ireland to New York by steam power alone. On the other side of the world, the first regularly scheduled trans-Pacific steamship service was launched In 1867 plying between San Francisco, Hong Kong and Yokohama, with subsequent feeder services established from Yokohama to Hakodate, Kobe, Nagasaki, and Shanghai.

The Suez Canal opened in 1869 connecting the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea, allowing maritime traffic between Europe and Asia without having to go around Africa. When Verne wrote Le Tour du Monde en Quatre-vingts Jours or Around the World in Eighty Days, the Panama Canal connecting the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean did not exist — work started only in 1881 and it was finally opened in 1913.

What about the book?

Part of the Oxford World Classics series, this volume comes with an introduction and notes by the translator William Butcher. The notes are very informative although it is to be wondered if Butcher over−read the author with his many claims about the sexual allusions in the text. William Butcher has also translated Voyage au Centre de la Terre or Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864) and Vingt Mille Lieues sous les Mers or Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Seas (1870) for Oxford University Press.

Finally …

Unlike Journey to the Center of the Earth or Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea, there is an antagonist in Around the World in Eighty Days, ie. detective Fix of Scotland Yard. It is more adventure than science fiction but it is also the most exciting of the three major Vernian works.

TOM JONES

Tom Jones

Author: Henry Fielding (1707–1754)
Publisher: Wordsworth Editions Limited (1999 edition)
Bought from: Book Depository

Introduction

Henry Fielding belongs to a select group of writers who contributed to the development of the novel as a form of English literature in the first half of the 1700s. The term Augustan literature is often used to described English literature from this period. Other notable novelists active during this period included Daniel Defoe (1660–1731), Jonathan Swift (1667–1745) and Samuel Richardson (1689–1761). As we will see, there was a strong connection between the lives and works of these authors with contemporary politics

In 1688, fears over the rise of Catholicism led to the Glorious Revolution. The Roman Catholic King James II (of the House of Stuart) was deposed following an invasion led by his Protestant Dutch son-in-law William (of the House of Orange-Nassau). The Whigs-controlled Parliament crowned him King William III (reign: 1689–1702). In 1701, the Act of Settlement was passed to disqualify any Roman Catholic from ascending the English and Irish thrones. With the support of the Whigs but against the wishes of the Tories, William led England to war against their common enemy, Catholic France. When William died childless, his sister-in-law Anne, who had been raised an Anglican, became queen. Her reign (1702–1714) marked the return to favour of the Tories and a continuation of the war against the French. In the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1714), the English general John Churchill, the Duke of Marlborough, led allied forces to a number of important victories. Formal hostilities ceased with the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht (1710). When Anne also died childless, her closest living Protestant relative, George (of the House of Hanover) ascended the throne and brought the Whigs back into power. The reign of George I (1714–1727) and George II (1727–1760) saw the development of the modern cabinet government. This is personified in Robert Walpole the Whig statesman who held key ministry positions from 1720 to 1742 and is generally considered as Britain’s first Prime Minister. In the meantime, the deposed James II settled in France under the protection of King Louis XIV. For the next 50 odd years, his heirs and followers would press the claim the Stuarts’ claim to the throne. Their campaign is called the Jacobite Risings from Jacobus, the Latin form of James. The Jacobite Risings ended when Charles Edward Stuart (popularly known as Bonnie Prince Charlie) was defeated by Hanoverian forces in 1746.

While these political events were unfolding, Britain was witnessing the start of its own version of the intellectual revolution that swept across Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. The ideas that were developed during this period came to be called the Enlightenment because, according to the historian E. H. Gombrich, “the people who held them wanted to combat the darkness of superstition with the pure light of reason” (A Little history of the World, p 215). The giants who strode Britain from 1650 to 1750 included Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679), John Locke  (1632–1704), Isaac Newton (1643–1727), Anthony Ashley Cooper, 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury (1671–1713) and David Hume (1711–1776).

It was into this milieu that Henry Fielding was born in England. In 1728, he went to study law in Leiden University (Holland) which he did not complete due to lack of funds. He returned to London and made a living writing plays criticising the Whig government of Robert Walpole. When political satire was banned from the stage in 1737, Fielding completed his legal studies and practised as a barrister. He continued writing and produced anti–Jacobite articles for newspapers and political journals.

Fielding married Charlotte Craddock in 1734. Although she died in 1744 and Fielding remarried, he apparently remained devoted to her and used her as the model for the character Sophia in his novel Tom Jones.

Fielding’s first novel was Shamela (1741), a parody of Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded (1740) and he followed it up with a number of well−received novels. But his family was never far from destitution and he had to rely on a benefactor Ralph Allen, whom Fielding used as the model for the character Allworthy in Tom Jones. Fielding was appointed as London’s Chief Magistrate in 1748 and he and his half−brother John are sometimes credited with establishing London’s first police force. In his new position, Fielding wrote and campaigned against crime and poverty.

Henry Fielding’s masterpiece is the novel The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling (1749). It was voted number 12 in a poll of the top 100 best-loved novels of all time conducted by the BBC’s The Big Read (2003) and included in a list of the 100 greatest novels of all time published by the Observer (2003).

What is the story about?

Tom Jones, a foundling, must overcome his lowly status to win the hands of the virtuous Sophia Western.

Themes

Tom Jones is both a bildungsroman and a picaresque novel. Fielding was a witness to the end of the Jacobite rebellion and incorporated it into Tom Jones: the story is set in 1745, the year of the last Jacobite Rising. He also used the novel to expound his views on a range of topics, primarily in the first chapters of the 18 books that make up the novel.

While Sophia remained steadfastly virtuous throughout the novel, the handsome Tom was pursued by many women and could not resist the charms of Molly Seagrim, Mrs Waters and Lady Bellaston. Double standards?

How is the book?

This is a complete and unabridged edition from Wordsworth Classics. It comes with an introduction and brief notes written by Doreen Roberts, University of Kent at Canterbury. Tom Jones is in the public domain. This Wordsworth Classics edition costs S$3.54.

Finally …

Not an easy read at all. It is longer than Robinson Crusoe and Gulliver’s Travels combined.

GULLIVER’S TRAVELS

Gulliver's travels

Author: Jonathan Swift (1667–1745)
Publisher: Wordsworth Editions Limited (2001 Edition)
Bought: Noq Store

Introduction

Jonathan Swift belongs to a select group of writers who contributed to the development of the novel as a form of English literature in the first half of the 1700s. The term Augustan is often used to described English literature from this period. Other notable novelists active during this period included Daniel Defoe (1660–1731), Samuel Richardson (1689–1761) and Henry Fielding (1707– 1754). As we will see, there was a strong connection between the lives and works of these authors with contemporary politics.

In 1688, fears over the rise of Catholicism had resulted in the Glorious Revolution. The Roman Catholic King James II (of the House of Stuart) was deposed following an invasion led by his Protestant Dutch son-in-law William (of the House of Orange-Nassau). The Whigs-controlled Parliament crowned him King William III (reign: 1689–1702). In 1701, the Act of Settlement was passed to disqualify any Roman Catholic from ascending the English and Irish thrones. With the support of the Whigs but against the wishes of the Tories, William led England to war against their common enemy, Catholic France. When William died childless, his sister-in-law Anne, who had been raised an Anglican, became queen. Her reign (1702–1714) marked a return to favour for the Tories and a continuation of the war against  the French. In the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1714), the English general John Churchill, the Duke of Marlborough, led allied forces to a number of important victories. Formal hostilities ceased with the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht (1710). When Anne also died childless, her closest living Protestant relative, George (of the House of Hanover) ascended the throne and brought the Whigs back into power. The reign of George I (1714–1727) and George II (1727–1760) saw the development of the modern cabinet government. This is personified in Robert Walpole, the Whig statesman who held key ministry positions from 1720 to 1742 and is generally considered as Britain’s first Prime Minister. In the meantime, the deposed James II and his followers settled in France under the protection of King Louis XIV. For the next 50 odd years, the Stuarts would their claim to the throne. Their campaign is known as the Jacobite Risings from Jacobus, the Latin form of James. The rebellion ended when Charles Edward Stuart (popularly known as Bonnie Prince Charlie) was defeated by Hanoverian forces in 1746.

While these political events were unfolding, Britain was witnessing the start of its own version of the intellectual revolution that swept across Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. The ideas that were developed during this period came to be called the Enlightenment because, according to the historian E. H. Gombrich, “the people who held them wanted to combat the darkness of superstition with the pure light of reason” (A Little history of the World, p 215). The giants who strode Britain from 1650 to 1750 included Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679), John Locke  (1632–1704), Isaac Newton (1643–1727), Anthony Ashley Cooper, 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury (1671–1713) and David Hume (1711–1776).

It was into this milieu that Jonathan Swift was born in Dublin to a Protestant English family. With financial support from an uncle and cousin, he attended Trinity College, Dublin University and was awarded a Bachelor of Arts (1686). When the Glorious Revolution broke out, Swift moved to England where he became an assistant to an English statesman who also funded his study for a Master of Arts from Hart Hall, now Hertford College, Oxford University (1692). But Swift wanted above all a senior appointment in the Church of England. To this end, he took holy orders in the Church of Ireland in 1695 but had to settle for minor clerical positions in Ireland. He obtained a Doctor of Divinity from Trinity College, Dublin University (1702). He travelled back and forth between Ireland and England and wrote pamphlets first for the Whigs and later the Tory governments of Queen Anne. However, the Queen herself appeared to have stood in his way having taken offence at some of his earlier works. When the Whigs returned to power with the ascension of George I, Swift returned once more to Ireland a bitter man. He began to write about Irish issues and, most famously, he completed Gulliver’s Travels.

Swift handed the manuscript to Benjamin Motte, a publisher in London. Motte, fearing prosecution for the anti-Whig undertone of the novel, unilaterally edited the manuscript before anonymously publishing the novel in two volumes in 1726 with the title Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World. In Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of Several Ships. Motte prefaced the story with a note titled The Publisher to the Reader under the pseudonym Richard Sympson explaining why he amended Swift’s manuscript. Spurred by the success of the novel, Motte went to on publish a number of companion books, none of which Swift worked on. In 1735, an Irish publisher named George Faulkner published a new edition carrying the title Gulliver’s Travel. Faulkner included a note titled A Letter from Captain Gulliver to his cousin Sympson in which Gulliver denounced Sympson’s editing of the previous edition of Gulliver’s Travels. Faulkner also included an article titled Advertisement in which the (unnamed) publisher claimed that his version was based largely on Swift’s original manuscript. In 1899, a version of the Faulkner edition was published with the addition of 5 paragraphs in Part III relating to the rebellion of Lindalino against Laputa. Most modern publications of this novel are based on this version.

Gulliver’s Travels is Jonathan Swift’s masterpiece and it was included in a list of the 100 greatest novels of all time published by the Observer (2003). Like Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719), Gulliver’s Travels has spawned imitators as well as satires and has been adapted for both the big and small screens. Children have also been reading the story (or at least a bowdlerised version of Part One) for generations. The story has given the English language the words lilliputian and yahoo.

What is the story about?

The novel is told in first person narrative by a Samuel Gulliver from Nottinghamshire, who combined his profession and passion by serving as a surgeon on sea voyages.

Part One, A Voyage to Lilliput, is the most famous segment. The narrator was shipwrecked in Lilliput, a miniaturised world where the average person was six inches tall. A Voyage to Lilliput has given the English language the term lilliput for something small. It has also given popular culture the hilarious image of a people locked in a religious war over the question whether a soft-boiled egg should be opened at the small end or the big end.

In Part Two, A Voyage to Brobdingnag, Gulliver found himself in a gigantic world where the average person was 60 feet tall.

Unlike Parts One and Two, the narrator visited several places in Part III, A Voyage to Laputa, Balnibarbi, Luggnagg, Glubbdubdrib and Japan. He encountered the people of Laputa, a flying island, who were obsessed with mathematics and music. Then he visited the Grand Academy of Lagado in Balnibarbi where scientists and other ‘projectors’ carried out experiments with dubious practical value. In Glubbdubdrib, he talked with ghosts of historical figures. Finally in Luggnagg, he met a race called Struldbrugs, blessed with immortality but cursed to spend eternity in their ageing bodies.

Finally, in Part Four, A Voyage to the Country of the Houyhnhnms, Gulliver was marooned in a land where a race of noble horses called Houyhnhnms was the governing, rational caste while a race of brutish humanoids called Yahoo was held in servitude. After a year in the country, Gulliver started to display what might today be called Stockholm Syndrome. He identified more and more with the Houyhnhnms, took to calling the one looking after him as “master” and denounced his family, friends, countrymen and the human race in general as little better than the vile Yahoos. Unlike on his other adventures, he did not want to return to England this time but after about 5 years he was cast out by the Houyhnhnms. As the novel ends, a misanthropic Gulliver was back home with his family but struggling to get used to life amongst human beings.

Themes

The novel is a biting satire with dollops of humour (often scatological) thrown in. Swift skewers European and English ways of life, political and judicial systems, royalty, diplomacy, science, religion, social values and even eating habits in the early 18th century. Some specific allusions will be lost to the modern reader without annotation – for example, the Tramecksan (High Heels) and the Slamecksan (Low Heels) of Lilliput are parodies of the Tories and Whigs respectively, the Grand Academy of Lagado is an allusion to the Royal Society, and the Lindalino rebellion is a nod to Irish resentment against London’s imposition of a new copper currency minted in England. Much of Swift’s acerbic commentary still makes sense even today. And that is a sobering thought.

How is the book?

This is a complete and unabridged edition which includes the 5 paragraphs in Part Three relating to the rebellion of Lindalino against Laputa. It comes with an introduction and brief notes written by Doreen Roberts, University of Kent at Canterbury. There is also a very useful section titled The Context of Gulliver’s Travels: Swift’s Life and Age. Gulliver’s Travels is in the public domain but this Wordsworth Classics edition costs only S$3.54.

Finally…

This is no children book — Gulliver does not even have that many adventures himself. This is definitely one for adults.

ROBINSON CRUSOE

SONY DSC

Author: Daniel Defoe (c 1660 – 1731)
Publisher: Wordsworth Editions Limited (2000 edition)
Bought from: Book Depository

Introduction

Daniel Defoe belongs to a select group of writers who contributed to the development of the novel as a form of English literature in the first 50 years of the 1700s. The term Augustan is often used to describe English literature from this period. Other notable novelists active during this period included Jonathan Swift (1667–1745),Samuel Richardson (1689–1761) and Henry Fielding (1707–1754). As we will see, there was a strong connection between the lives and works of these authors with contemporary politics.

In 1688, fears over the rise of Catholicism had resulted in the Glorious Revolution. The Roman Catholic King James II (of the House of Stuart) was deposed following an invasion led by his Protestant Dutch son-in-law William (of the House of Orange-Nassau). The Whigs-controlled Parliament crowned him King William III (reign: 1689–1702). In 1701, the Act of Settlement was passed to disqualify any Roman Catholic from ascending the English and Irish thrones. With the support of the Whigs but against the wishes of the Tories, William led England to war against their common enemy, Catholic France. When William died childless, his sister-in-law Anne, who had been raised an Anglican, became queen. Her reign (1702–1714) marked a return to favour for the Tories and a continuation of the war against  the French. In the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1714), the English general John Churchill, the Duke of Marlborough, led allied forces to a number of important victories. Formal hostilities ceased with the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht (1710). When Anne also died childless, her closest living Protestant relative, George (of the House of Hanover) ascended the throne and brought the Whigs back into power. The reign of George I (1714–1727) and George II (1727–1760) saw the development of the modern cabinet government. This is personified in Robert Walpole, the Whig statesman who held key ministry positions from 1720 to 1742 and is generally considered as Britain’s first Prime Minister. In the meantime, the deposed James II and his followers settled in France under the protection of King Louis XIV. For the next 50 odd years, the Stuarts would their claim to the throne. Their campaign is known as the Jacobite Risings from Jacobus, the Latin form of James. The rebellion ended when Charles Edward Stuart (popularly known as Bonnie Prince Charlie) was defeated by Hanoverian forces in 1746.

While these political events were unfolding, Britain was witnessing the start of its own version of the intellectual revolution that swept across Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. The ideas that were developed during this period came to be called the Enlightenment because, according to the historian E. H. Gombrich, “the people who held them wanted to combat the darkness of superstition with the pure light of reason” (A Little history of the World, p 215). The giants who strode Britain from 1650 to 1750 included Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679), John Locke  (1632–1704), Isaac Newton (1643–1727), Anthony Ashley Cooper, 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury (1671–1713) and David Hume (1711–1776).

It is into this milieu that Daniel Defoe was born Daniel Foe in London to a family of Dissenters (Christians who separated from the Church of England in the 16th−18th centuries and were often oppressed by the government of the time). Not much is known of his early years. In his adult years, he added the “De” to his name to appear more respectable. He became a merchant (like his father before him) but was largely unsuccessful, even being imprisoned for unpaid debts in 1692. He then turned to writing about social issues and politics, producing a number of pamphlets and articles in support of King William III. Defoe became a target of the Tory administration of the William’s successor, Queen Anne. He was sentenced to the pillory and prison and was released after he agreed to become an agent for the Tory ministry. He was sent to work covertly in Scotland, anonymously publishing a number of pamphlets promoting the Acts of Union (1706 and 1707) which combined England and Scotland into Great Britain. When the Tories were replaced by the Whigs who came back into power under George I, Defoe switched his allegiance to the new administration.

At some stage before the ripe old age of 60, Defoe turned his writing skills to a safer genre, producing 9 novels between 1719 to 1724. His masterpiece is his first novel, Robinson Crusoe, first published in 1719 under the title The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, Of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an un–inhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself. With An Account how he was at last as strangely deliver’d by Pyrates (1719). This work is generally considered as one of the first novels in the English language. It was included in a list of the 100 greatest novels of all time published by the Observer (2003). Like Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (first published in 1726), Robinson Crusoe has spawned imitators as well as satires and has been adapted for both the big and small screens. Children have also been reading the story (or at least a bowdlerised version) for generations. The story has given the English language the term man Friday.

What is the story about?

The story is well known. Robinson Crusoe was shipwrecked on what initially appeared to be a deserted island. He learned to fend for himself and found God. He rescued a native from cannibals whom he then famously named Friday and converted to Christianity.

Themes

Robinson Crusoe may have been a colonialist (long before there was a British Empire) and a capitalist (in the dawn of modern capitalism). The story also contains a number of Christian references which mark Crusoe’s spiritual journey from transgression to retribution to repentance to salvation.

How is the book?

This is a complete and unabridged edition in the Wordsworth Classics series. It comes with an introduction and brief notes written by Doreen Roberts, University of Kent at Canterbury.

Robison Crusoe is in the public domain but this Wordsworth Classics edition costs only S$2.80.