Gulliver’s Travels has been reduced to children’s book status in the minds of many.
But that’s perhaps a consequence of the extraordinary imagination it displays. During his epic journeys, Lemuel Gulliver discovers a land of tiny humans, another of giants, and then finds himself with intelligent horses horrified at the depravity of mankind.
Although the author, Jonathan Swift (1667-1745), wrote the book in his 50s, he seems to have retained an almost childlike sensibility that enabled him to see through society’s presumptions, stupidities and formalized absurdities as others could not.
So it’s interesting to look at his earliest known likeness. The painting, which sold for more than £81,000 at auction, shows Swift as a teenager, when he was a student at Dublin College and yet to be recognized as the satirical genius he has become.
The fact that Gulliver’s Travels has stood the test of time is absolutely remarkable. Even people who fundamentally disagree with Swift’s worldview recognize her worth.
George Orwell wrote in an essay: “I am against him politically and morally, as far as I understand him. Oddly enough, however, he is one of the writers I admire least, and Gulliver’s Travels in particular is a book I cannot possibly get tired of’.
As we get older there is a tendency to simply see the state of the world as things are. Satirists like Swift help us remember our mistakes and keep us young with a youthful desire for a better world.