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[personal profile] kittiwake
As I was on the road, observing the littleness of the houses, the trees, the cattle, and the people, I began to think myself in Lilliput. I was afraid of trampling on every traveller I met, and often called aloud to have them stand out of the way, so that I had like to have gotten one or two broken heads for my impertinence.
(Gulliver on his return to England from Brobdingnag)

The introduction by Gulliver's cousin is followed by a letter from Gulliver which makes him sound completely insane and obsessed by horses, and I started to doubt whether the journeys were a figment of his imagination. Gulliver becomes more and more neurotic each time he returns home, in marked contrast to how he copes with what should be far more stressful events while travelling. He takes shipwreck, mutiny and capture in his stride, and quickly becomes fluent in unknown languages, yet after his final journey he is unable to face talking to or touching his wife and children, and spends four hours a day or more in the stables talking to his horses.

I don't think you have to have detailed knowledge of early 18th century history to get the satire. Religious quarrels, politicians, lawyers and egg-head scientists are good targets for satire in all ages. the stories have plenty of amusing moments, such as the Lilliputian queen's horror at Gulliver's method of extinguishing a fire in the palace, and her refusal ever to occupy that part of the building again, no matter how thoroughly they were cleaned. However, when I came across this description of Lilliputian handwriting, it made me wonder whether it was a satirical dig at something I hand;t picked up on or if the author had just put it in to tease a particular English lady who had trouble writing in a straight line: I shall say but little at present of their learning, which, for many ages, has flourished in all its branches among them: but their manner of writing is very peculiar, being neither from the left to the right, like the Europeans, nor from the right to the left, like the Arabians, nor from up to down, like the Chinese, but aslant, from one corner of the paper to the other, like ladies in England.

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June 2012

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