“Superb. . . . Damrosch’s outstanding book has raised Swift’s provocative genius to life.”—Jeffrey Collins, Wall Street Journal
Jonathan Swift is best remembered today as the author of Gulliver’s Travels, the satiric fantasy that quickly became a classic and has remained in print for nearly three centuries. Yet Swift also wrote many other influential works, was a major political and religious figure in his time, and became a national hero, beloved for his fierce protest against English exploitation of his native Ireland. What is really known today about the enigmatic man behind these accomplishments? Can the facts of his life be separated from the fictions?
In this deeply researched biography, Leo Damrosch draws on discoveries made over the past thirty years to tell the story of Swift’s life anew. Probing holes in the existing evidence, he takes seriously some daring speculations about Swift’s parentage, love life, and various personal relationships and shows how Swift’s public version of his life—the one accepted until recently—was deliberately misleading. Swift concealed aspects of himself and his relationships, and other people in his life helped to keep his secrets.
Assembling suggestive clues, Damrosch re-narrates the events of Swift’s life while making vivid the sights, sounds, and smells of his English and Irish surroundings.Through his own words and those of a wide circle of friends, a complex Swift emerges: a restless, combative, empathetic figure, a man of biting wit and powerful mind, and a major figure in the history of world letters.
“Damrosch’s approach is forensic. . .For me the Swift who emerges from these patient investigations is a more rounded personality.”—George Walden, The Times~George Walden, The Times
‘If Damrosch follows Ehrenpreis in anything, it’s in the ambition, indicated by his ‘life and world’ subtitle, to ground biography in social context. He does that job with efficiency and a sure touch.’—Thomas Keymer, London Review of Books~Thomas Keymer, London Review of Books
“Convincing and vivid. . . . Damrosch has . . . let us glimpse the human roots of Swift’s sometimes inhuman irony.”—John Mullan, The Guardian~John Mullan, Guardian
“Damrosch is incisive about Swift’s personality . . . and writes with fine Swiftian clarity, but does not simplify. He acknowledges that, investigating Swift, you run into a revolving door of contradictions. . . . But Damrosch sees him, rightly, not just as a tragic figure but as a fearless thinker whose works are an antidote to optimism's happy lies.” — John Carey, London Sunday Times~John Carey, The Sunday Times
“[Damrosch] writes elegantly, has exactly the right mix of empathy and detachment, and is admirably open-minded in his approach to complex evidence – some of it the product of very new scholarship. . . this will be the definitive life of Swift for years to come.”—Jonathan Bate, New Statesman~Jonathan Bate, New Statesman
‘. . .an oxygenated account that blows fresh air on Swift, the most readable account in recent times’ —Brean Hammond, History Today~Brean Hammond, History Today
'The book, far from being a dry academic analysis based on sketchy records, is a romp through the years when Britain became established as a world power. . .Damrosch writes with wry humour and clarity of detail, often cuttingly disputing the theories of previous Swift biographers. To read this hefty book is to get a highly enjoyable education.’—Claire Looby, The Irish Times~Claire Looby, The Irish Times