A Study on Jonathan Swift’s Prose from the Aesthetic Perspective
作者 : 未知

  【摘 要】乔纳森・斯威夫特(Jonathan Swift) 是英国散文史上的关键人物。其散文被后世树为楷模,可以说是英国十八世纪散文风格的奠定者。他的散文文字优雅,同时又有强烈的情感和深刻的意义,集中体现了丰富的美学价值。本文从美学的角度出发,简要的分析了其散文中展现的美学价值。
  【关键词】乔纳森・斯威夫特;散文;美学价值
  【Abstract】Jonathan Swift is an essential figure in the history of English prose. He proposed a very famous definition of style: Proper words in proper places, makes the true definition of a style. He prose is regarded as the model and standard by a lot of writers. To some degree, he is the founder of the English prose style of the eighteenth century. He prose has plain and elegant language form, and, meanwhile, contains deep, profound meaning and acrid satire. Therefore, Swift’s prose, with its unique features, perfectly shows the aesthetic values. This paper aims to analyze the values in his prose from the aesthetic prospect.
  【Key Words】Jonathan Swift; prose; aesthetic values
  1. An Introduction to Jonathan Swift and His Prose in British Literature
  1.1 Reformer of National Character
  Swift’s deep understanding to the nature of human beings has close relationship with his own life experience. He was born in Dublin as a posthumous son, and his mother alone couldn’t afford to take care of all the three children. With the financial assistance from his uncles, the family managed to keep their basic life. Therefore, when he was still a young boy, he lacked the sense of security and had been accustomed to seeing the interpersonal false and ugly features his experience as a secretary, which in his mind is a servant, at Temple’s also hurt his self-esteem. Later, as the editor for Tories, he got in touch with all sorts of politicians and officials, which made him have a deeper recognition towards the human nature. He comments that man is not brave and women are not chaste. (“nec vir fortis, nec foemina casta”)
  Swift’s criticism of human nature aims at two nations: England Ireland. On one had, he cannot denied the British effects on his and has a deep feeling towards England. On the other hand, he also holds a deep sympathy to Ireland , the place where he was born and grew up. He shows his great sympathy for the miserable conditions in Ireland, but also he is angry at their contemptible feature. Swift had long been agonized over this complicated feeling until he got insane.
  1.2 Great Irish Patriot
  Johnathan Swift lives in the time which witnesses that Ireland was ravaged by England. When the English commercialist politicians proposed some measures on Ireland, whose true purpose was to further squeeze the Irish people, Swift struck back and wrote A Modest Proposal. He imitated the tone of those “advisors” and analyzed their intrigue. He pointed out that the essence of those proposals is nothing but to drive away and kill all the Irish people and “eat them up”.   In religious respect, Swift is also on the side of Irish people. At the beginning of the English Religious Reformation, English government began to carry out the cultural and religious erosion, with the purpose to force all the Irish people to give up Catholicism and to believe in Anglicanism. From then on, the religious division appeared and Swift wrote the pamphlet An Argument Against Abolishing Christianity to support Ireland.
  2.Aesthetic Values in Swift’s Prose
  2.1 Acrid Satire
  The most outstanding feature of Swift’s prose is acrid satire, which can be found in nearly all of his works. And the themes of his satirical works have a wide range with different degrees from each other. There are mainly three types of satires in his work.
  The first type, which can be shown in the prose A Modest Proposal, is satire on politics. The book was written in 1720s when the crop failure made the Irish peasants so poor that they were short of food and clothing and had hardly enough to live. What’s more, the government’s mercantilism policy worsened their miserable condition. We can clearly find the uncontrollable anger between the lines――“I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled”. It seems he is really making an effective proposal, but just under those modest, easy and plain words, he strongly satirizes and hits hared at the inhumanity of the society and the hard-hearted politicians.
  The second one, satire on academy, can be found from the essay The Battle of the Book,which originates from the dispute between the modernists and the classists. In his essay, Swifts compared the two groups to “the two tops of the hill Parnassus”, The highest and largest of the top long been occupied by the “Ancients”, while the lower one was held by the “Moderns”, which stands for the modernist writers. The Moderns complained the height of the Ancients and suggested that the Ancients “remove themselves and their effects down to the lower summit”, while the ancients advised the Moderns to “raise their own side of the hill”. By the subtle and profound description of the battle between the book and the intervention of the famous literary figures as well as the mythical figure, Swift bitterly satirizes the ridiculous and useless debated between the two groups, which, in fact, symbolized the academic studies at that time that was completely divorced from reality.   Satire on scientific reason is the third type of satire of Swift’s works. In the 18th century, Europe is in the age of Reason and human ration was regarded as the authority. The rationalists promoted science and encouraged boldly thinking and consideration. Swift, with predicative insight, examined people’s maniacal interest and passion for rationalism. The ration, or the reason, especially the scientific reason, promotes the rapid development of the society, but, on the other hand, expansion and misuse of it may also cause it to deviate from the original purpose of serving the people, and may even further become the tool to satisfy people’s greedy needs.
  In a certain sense, every one of us is satirist and complains the evils and unfairness existing in the society. However, only the real satirists can warn the whole world with their typical way. Swift is just such satirist. His works leaves the readers not only the imagination, but also the profound thinking.
  2.2 Successful Rhetorical Devices
  As mentioned before, the most outstanding feature of Swift’s essay is satire. However, his language style is easy and plain. Mr. Partridge once generally summarized Swift’s prose: “Swift, whose own prose style was, as its best, lucid, direct, immensely effective, and retained throughout his adult years a passion for the purity and simplicity of English style and for the purity and value of the English language.” (Partridge, 1963, II) Then how did Swift achieve to make acrid satire while maintain the simplicity and elegance of his language. The reason is that he successfully adopted rhetorical devices, such as parody, exaggeration, allegory, irony, etc.
  Irony is a figure of speech which aims to gain emphasis by saying the opposite of what is meant, the intended meaning of the words being the opposite of their usual sense. n swift’s prose, irony can be found everywhere. Take A Modest Proposal as an example, the proposal is, in fact, rather cruel and brutal, but Swift deliberately adopts “modest” to modify relentless proposal. The strong contrast between then successfully fulfills the writer’s purpose of arousing the readers’ sympathies for the poor and the resentment of the upper class.
  Exaggeration, along with overstatement, should belong to the rhetorical device of hyperbole. Effective hyperbole is more than just to emphasize something in exaggerated terms. In the hands of experienced writers it can be used to achiever various literary effects, just as what Swift does in Gulliver’s Travels. By the exaggerated description of the numbers and rates, Swift successful satirizes the human’s conceit and arrogance, insignificance and abjection.   First, in order to show Gulliver’s experience in Lilliput, Swift exaggerates the numbers when describing. For instance, there is the description such as: “…above a hundred of the inhabitants mounted and walked towards my mouth, laden with baskets full of mean…” “Twenty of them” were loaded with meant, and “ten with liquor; each of the former afforded me two or three good mouthful.” Those exaggerated numbers not only vividly describe how Gulliver eat and drink; but also criticize and satirize the luxurious life and greedy nature of British upper class. For another instance, “nine hundred yards round the city, to deliver in every morning six beeves, forty sheep, and other victuals for my sustenance…” (Part I, Chapter II) These numbers deeply expose the large sum of tax that the peasants in Lilliput have to pay, which in fact indicates that the peasants in England is overburdened and live in sufferings. The description of the economic burden that the peasants in Lilliput take make people recall the Britain’s Poor Rate in the 18th century, when the Enclosure Movement reached the climax gradually. The Enclosure Movement is at the cost of the peasants, who only get barren and small lands.
  Satire is always connected with irony and innuendo. The latter is only a mild form of irony, hinting in a rather roundabout way at something disparaging or uncomplimentary to the person or subject mention. As in the fourth part A voyage to the Country of the Houyhnhnms of the book, the author changes the people into animals, and animals into people, which completely reveals a miserable scene where the people the society totally dissimilate. With this, the author targets the greed and ignorance of the human beings. The ruler of the Houyhnhnms is the intellect, fair and honest horse, while Yahoo (that is the human beings) which the horses drive is a group of ugly and indifferent, greedy and cruel animals. Some western critics believe that Swift disgusts the human, or that at least he is a pessimist. But in fact Houyhnhnms is an ideal place to Swift, and he regards it as the Utopia. And yet he is exiled by the wise and intellect Houyhnhnms, and has to return to the land where he grew up but which he now disgusts. Behind the pessimistic and helpless mood, the author, through the seemingly ridiculous imagination, puts his longing for the ideal human nature and ideal society.
  【Bibliography】
  [1]Griffin, Dustin. Literary Patronage in England, 1650-1800 [M]. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996   [2]Gordon, Ian A. The Movement of English Prose [M]. London: Longman group Limited, 1996
  [3]Higging, Ian. Swift’s Politics. [M]. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994
  [4]Newmann, J. H. Jonathan swift and the Vocabulary of English [A]. Swift and the Vocabulary of English [C]. 2003
  [5]Patridge, Eric. Swift’s Polite Conversation [M]. London: Tonbridge Printers Ltd., 1963
  [6]Suarez, Michael F.. Swift’s Satire and parody [A]. Christopher Fox (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to Jonathan Swift [C]. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003
  [7]Thakur, Ravni. Lu Xun’s Foreign Inspirations [J]. China Report, 1982, March-June
  [8]傅德岷.外国散文流变史[M].重庆:重庆出版社,2008.
  [9]高健.英国散文精选[M].上海:上海译文出版社,2010.
  [10]黄源深.英国散文选读[M].上海:上海外语教育出版社,2010.
  [11]李洪斌.斯威夫特对中国现代讽刺文学的影响[J].佳木斯大学社会科学学报,2008(5).
  [12]黎杨全.论斯威夫特对周作人散文创作的影响[J].孝感学院学报,2006(1).
  [13]刘炳善.英国散文简史[M].上海:上海外语教育出版社,1981.
  [14]刘宓庆.翻译美学导论[M].台湾:书林出版有限公司,1995.
  [15]鲁迅.且介亭杂文二集[M].北京:人民文学出版社,2006.
  [16]毛荣贵.翻译美学[M].上海:上海交通大学出版社,2005.
  [17]彭镜禧.解读西洋经典[C]台北:联经出版事业有限公司,2002:21-45.
  [18]王朝闻.美学概论[M].北京:人民出版社,2007.
  [19]王佐良.英国散文的流变[M].北京:商务印书馆,1993.
  [20]袁荻涌.鲁迅与英国文学[J].贵州师范大学学报(社会科学版),1999(1).
  [21]张飞龙.乔纳森・斯威夫特的文化选择与文化地位[J].石家庄学院学报,2008(2).

文秘写作 期刊发表