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Résumé

Le dossier, consacré à Jonathan Swift (1667-1745), se distingue de la critique classique. Il existe déjà de nombreux recueils d’essais critiques et il est proposé ici un ensemble de lettres fictives dont le destinataire est l’auteur des Voyages de Gulliver. Ces lettres lui sont adressées par l’un de ses contemporains (« Stella », Daniel Defoe, Henry Fielding, et Gabriel de Foigny, l’une de ses sources françaises) ou bien par des écrivains ultérieurs comme Jane Austen, Ian Sansom, ou encore par des personnages imaginaires (une physicienne, une membre de l’Académie française qui s’intéresse à ses idées linguistiques, un commentateur des Sermons ou une chercheuse en traductologie). L’idée est de donner libre cours à l’imagination et à la sensibilité littéraires des épistoliers, tous universitaires et la plupart spécialistes de Swift, tout en adossant le travail d’écriture à une recherche savante minutieuse. Le volume présente ainsi des perspectives variées sur l’œuvre, la vie et l’héritage de Jonathan Swift sous une forme originale, alliant création littéraire, jeu et érudition. Trois lettres authentiques sont par ailleurs incluses, écrites par John Gay et Alexander Pope, par « Vanessa » (Esther Vanhomrigh) et par Mrs Howard, lecteurs des Voyages de Gulliver lors de sa publication en 1726.

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Texte intégral

  • 1 The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, edited by Ian Campbell Ross, Oxford: World’s C (...)

Shall we for ever make new books, as apothecaries make new mixtures, by pouring only out of one vessel into another? Are we for ever to be twisting, and untwisting the same rope? For ever in the same track – for ever at the same pace?
Laurence Sterne1

1Jonathan Swift has been the object of considerable scholarly attention over the centuries and continues to be so, especially this year in France with Gulliver’s Travels as one of the set texts on the English Agrégation syllabus. However, this volume differs from classical academic criticism. Along with fellow members of the LERMA research centre at Aix-Marseille University (more specifically from the “Programme C” on modernity), and other Swift scholars, we wished to edit a collective work on Jonathan Swift but decided from the outset to depart from the critical essay format, as there are already many such books to choose from. We offer here a collection of fictional letters written to the author of Gulliver’s Travels.

  • 2 We are not aware of any examples of similar collections in English. One source of the idea is a Fre (...)

2The letters are addressed to Jonathan Swift, either by one of his contemporaries (Daniel Defoe, Henry Fielding, “Stella”, the Dean’s presumed lover and “truest friend,” and Gabriel de Foigny, one of his French sources), or by later writers such as Jane Austen, or by imaginary characters (a physicist, a member of the French Academy, or a contemporary scholar). The idea was to give a free rein to our contributors’ imagination and literary bent – which needn’t preclude meticulous research –, our purpose being to present varied perspectives on Swift’s works, life and legacy in an original form, combining imagination, creative writing and erudition2.

  • 3 “Vanessa as a Reader of Gulliver’s Travels”, Swift’s Angers, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, (...)

3Three genuine letters are also included, from Alexander Pope and John Gay, from “Vanessa” (Esther Vanhomrigh) and from Mrs Howard, all early readers of Gulliver’s Travels, sometimes even before the book was printed, as Claude Rawson has shown3.

  • 4 See facsimiles of Mrs Howard’s letters and of Swift’s hand signing ‘Lemuel Gulliver.” https://blogs (...)

4Jonathan Swift was a master of disguise and deception. The blurring of truth and fiction is prominent in his works, as shown for example in the complex paratextual material of Gulliver’s Travels, published anonymously in 1726. The interweaving of reality and fiction is also striking in Swift’s correspondence, combining motives of wary caution and unrestrained play. He, and his friends too, regularly used Gulliverian names (“Lemuel Gulliver”) in their letters. A letter from Mrs Howard (included here) was signed “Sieve Yahoo” (“sieve” being a Lilliputian term for a lady of the court)4. Swift invented pseudonyms for himself, such as Isaac Bickerstaff in 1708, as part of a famous hoax to predict, and then to prove, the death of then famous astrologer John Partridge. His first major work, A Tale of a Tub (1704) evinces a multiplicity of voices leading to its own unreliability as text. Disguise and polyphony are at the heart of Swift’s work, and our collection pays tribute to this salient aspect of his aesthetics.

5Some of the eleven letters collected here are much shorter than others, sometimes very short. Their style and spelling are also deliberately heterogeneous, as would be found in a scholarly edition of a great writer’s correspondence.

6The contributors are academics from the field and also include young researchers and PhD students engaged in research on Swift’s life and works. The collection opens with a letter transcribed by its author from a BBC Radio 3 programme, “Letters to Writers” (8 November 2016) which, among five fascinating imaginary letters, included Ian Sansom’s letter “Dear Jonathan Swift,” questioning him about his work.

  • 5 Gulliver’s Travels (1726). Edited with an introduction by Claude Rawson, notes by Ian Higgins, Oxfo (...)

7We hope that these epistolary modest proposals will be of interest to “gentle readers” of Swift’s works, whether they be first-time readers or return readers. Unlike “The Blefuscudians -who had not the least Imagination of what I intended, [and] were at first confounded with Astonishment”5, they will recognize in our tentative efforts a homage to Jonathan Swift’s wit and taste for disguises and to Gulliver, a disastrous sailor but a prodigious linguist and a playful polyglot. To the letter.

8Ruth Menzies, Jean Viviès co-editors

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Notes

1 The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, edited by Ian Campbell Ross, Oxford: World’s Classics, Oxford UP, 1983, V, 1, p. 275.

2 We are not aware of any examples of similar collections in English. One source of the idea is a French series published by Editions Thierry Marchaisse, « Lettres à… ». While the series includes Lettres à Sade and Lettres à Flaubert, the only British author included thus far is Shakespeare (Lettres à Shakespeare, Dominique Goy Blanquet ed., 2014), and the authors of those volumes are all writers and critics signing in their own names.

3 “Vanessa as a Reader of Gulliver’s Travels”, Swift’s Angers, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014, pp. 163-169.

4 See facsimiles of Mrs Howard’s letters and of Swift’s hand signing ‘Lemuel Gulliver.” https://blogs.bl.uk/untoldlives/2018/06/jonathan-swift-and-henrietta-howard.html

5 Gulliver’s Travels (1726). Edited with an introduction by Claude Rawson, notes by Ian Higgins, Oxford World’s Classics, 2008. I, 5, p. 46.

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Référence électronique

Ruth MENZIES et Jean VIVIÈS, « Letters to Swift — Foreword »E-rea [En ligne], 18.2 | 2021, mis en ligne le 15 juin 2021, consulté le 06 août 2021. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/erea/12419 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/erea.12419

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Auteurs

Ruth MENZIES

Aix Marseille Univ, LERMA, Aix-en-Provence, France
Ruth.Menzies@univ-amu.fr
Dr. Ruth Menzies is Senior Lecturer at Aix-Marseille Université, where she teaches literature and translation. She has published a number of articles on Jonathan Swift and Gulliver’s Travels, as well as on 17th- and 18th-century imaginary voyages in French and English and their rewritings and adaptations.

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Jean VIVIÈS

Aix Marseille Univ, LERMA, Aix-en-Provence, France
Jean.Vivies@univ-amu.fr
Jean Viviès is Professor of British literature at Aix-Marseille Université. His work focuses on eighteenth-century British literature and travel narratives. His latest publications are on Jonathan Swift (Revenir/devenir; Gulliver ou l’autre voyage, Paris: éditions rue d’Ulm, 2016) and on James Boswell, (Etat de la Corse/An Account of Corsica, bilingual edition, presentation, translation and notes, Ajaccio: Albiana, 2019).

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