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Women as They Appear in the Works of Jonathan Swift

Jonathan Swift, one of few prominent figures of the 18th century tries to uncrown romantic ideal of femininity, peculiar to that epoch. Along with scornful attitude to women’s mental abilities and their limited social roles, women beauty and femininity was romanticized and idealized in the 18th century. Woman beauty was idealized and women itself were treated like goddesses.

Such an attitude was based only on their appearance, and, having no other opportunities to realize themselves, women spent inconceivable time and efforts to look beautiful by any means. In his novels and poems, Swift centers on natural, physiological aspects of human life and depicts women like ordinary human creatures, made of flash and blood, with their merits and demerits. Sometimes, his naturalism is hyperbolized and exaggerated to absurd, which made his contemporaries shocked. In his scatological parodies, for example, he satirically depicts the difference between appearance and inner filling.

“The Lady’s Dressing Room” one of the most famous Swift’s scatological poems, which reflects his attitude to women. In this poem Strephon, admiring his beloved women Celia can not stand the meeting with reality, when he gets to her dressing room. Strephon becomes more and more disgusted with every find, which destroys a goddess-like ideal of Celia. Swift describes in detail all manifestations of Celia’s physical part. Dirt and sweat smock becomes the first shock for Strephon, when he enters the room. His inner creature revolts, not able to admit that this smock can belong to his beloved Celia. This is only beginning, and things he finds later, such as combs “filled up with dirt”, “a forehead cloth with oil upon’t”, “filthy basin” and “alum flower to stop the steams/Exhaled from sour unsavoury streams” step by step destroy his romantic ideal and make him disgusted not only of Celia, but of all females in general (Swift, p. 448). Strephon is shocked by the difference of ideal image, Celia creates on public and dirt and stench in her dressing room. All the details are intentionally exaggerated in order to underline the contrast between reality and beautiful ideal, glorified by the poets. Swift destroys romantic myth of femininity but he doesn’t aim to humiliate women. His main goal is to uncover the contradiction between ideal image created mainly by the men and reality.

Same attitude to women we find in other works of Swift. In the second book of “Gullover’s Travels” we find the following description of women. “These Maids of Honour ... would strip themselves to the Skin, and put on their Smocks in my Presence, while I was placed on their Toylet directly before their naked Bodies; which, I am sure, to me was very far from being a tempting Sight, or from giving me any other Motions than those of Horror and Disgust. Their Skins appeared so coarse and uneven, so variously colored when I saw them near, with a Mole here and there as broad as a Trencher, and hairs hanging from it thicker than Pack-threads; to say nothing further concerning the rest of their Persons” (Swift, Gulliver’s Travels, p129). With these lines, he tries to destroy the admiring attitude to the beauty of English women. Later he states, that women may seem attractive to men only because they can not see all their vices and demerits. He states that only one look from the position of Gulliver in the country of Brobdingnag could destroy all charm and beauty, if to look at the enlarged bodies. Through his character, Swift underlines that “appear so beautiful to us, only because they are of our own size, and their defects not to be seen but through a magnifying glass, where we find by experiment that the smoothest and whitest skins look rough and coarse, and ill colored”(Swift, p.130). The main effect of this chapter in his book and also all his depictions of women is to shed light to the hypocrisy and unnaturalness of beauty. Being one of the best political and social satirist of the Eighteenth Century, Swift blames society in lies and hypocrisy, women have to use in order to correspond to the ideals of femininity and beautyArticle Search, created by men.

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