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Reading Swift and Ireland, 1720-1729 : constituences, contexts and constructions of identity in Jonathan Swift's occasional writings of the 1720s

By James Gearard Ward


The 1720s was a decade of crisis in Ireland. Jonathan Swift's occasional writings from these years extend the country's political and economic crises into\ud dramas of personal and national identity. Part One of this thesis investigates the material conditions of the relationship between Swift, his Irish audience, and the\ud underlying problems of identity that such an audience simultaneously poses and occludes. Part Two is an anatomy of the literary modes through which that relationship is figured.\ud \ud The first chapter offers the 1720 Declaratory Act as an important subtext for Swift's 'inaugural' work of the decade, the 1720 Proposalfor the Universal Use of Irish Manufacture. Challenging retrospective constructions of the author's textual and political authority, the chapter examines how Swift the 'Hibernian patriot' was largely an invention of the crisis surrounding the act. Chapter Two\ud argues that The Drapier's Letters reconfigure the language that had been used in the past to depict the Catholic threat to Protestant Ireland, and use it to depict the\ud threat emerging from England.\ud \ud Part Two moves to the question of identity, which Chapter Three designates a kind of 'style', both a mode of expression and a trend in polite society. The writing of history and the social signification of language are the\ud main concerns of this chapter, which investigates how Irish historiography becomes the focus for a range of concerns in the 1720s. Chapter Four nominates the pastoral genre as an alternative vehicle for the reading and writing of history\ud in Swift's Ireland. It identifies a Virgilian dialectic of expropriation and protection by a patron as an important method of 'reading' oneself into history and identity. Looking at various manifestations of crisis in Ireland in 1729 - famine, fuel shortages and emigration, the final chapter argues that A Modest Proposal uses techniques of allegory to produce a crisis of interpretation. By\ud promoting and perpetuating misreading, it mirrors the pervasive climate of error that produced this text.\ud \ud As a whole the thesis documents three transitions. It traces the emergence of a parodic method of literary and political representation which eventually overwhelms any claims Swift's writing might once have made to positive\ud advocacy. Once considered the dominant and definitive voice of 1720s Ireland, Swift is re-appraised as one writer among many, and his writing as a product of his society rather than an authoritative comment on it. Finally, the Presbyterians of Ireland are shown to emerge by the end of the decade as the primary focus for the anxieties and aggressions that animate Swift's occasional writings

Publisher: School of English (Leeds)
Year: 2004
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