Gulliver's Travels as a Political Satire

Whether, How and Why Sir Robert Walpole Is Represented in the Novel

Seminar Paper, 2005

13 Pages, Grade: 1


Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 18th century (political) satire
2.1 The Sriblerus Club

3 Jonathan Swift and Robert Walpole's (political) backgrounds, beliefs, values and ideas
3.1 The party system
3.2 The role of religion
3.3 Sir Robert Walpole
3.4 Jonathan Swift's politics

4 Gulliver's Travels as a political satire
4.1 Gulliver and his antagonists

5 Does Flimnap represent Walpole? - An exemplary discussion

6 Flimnap's satirical character
6.1 Flimnap as a speaking name
6.2 The rope-dancing scene
6.3 Further functions of Flimnap as a satirical character
6.4 The Atterbury case

7 Conclusion

8 Bibliography
8.1 Primary Source
8.2 Secondary Sources
8.2.1 Available
8.2.2 Not available

9 Index

1. Introduction

In this term paper I focus on Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, first published in 1726, as a political satire, a book rich in its topics and possible interpretation possibilities. However, the novel's function as a political satire – which I exemplarily examine in this paper – is one of its most discussed and obvious ones. Thus, I have a close look at whether, why and how the politician Sir Robert Walpole, a contemporary of Jonathan Swift, is – satirically – represented in Gulliver's Travels.

In order to fully grasp this issue, I start with a summary and comparison of both Jonathan Swift's and Robert Walpole's (political) backgrounds, beliefs, values and ideas, embedded in the historical context of the early 18th century. Then I continue with a discussion that mainly focuses on the following questions: Does the character Flimnap merely represent Robert Walpole or does it rather stand for politicians in general? What could be Jonathan Swift (political) intentions to do so? And, finally: How does satire as such then function in this case?

2 18th century (political) satire

The early 18th century belongs to the heydays of satirical literature and is frequently referred to as the golden age of satire. Satire as such uses exaggeration, irony and mockery in order to ridicule and criticise persons and/or circumstances. Among others, politics has always been a common object/target of topical satire. In the early 18th century especially the authors operating around the Scriberlus Club were associated with political satire.

2.1 The Sriblerus Club

The Sriblerus Club was formed (around) 1713 by a group of Tory supporters. Brilliant writers like Alexander Pope, John Gay, John Arbuthnot and Jonathan Swift were among its members. The main purpose of this literary club was to circulate and exchange satirical depictions of "all the false tastes in learning".

The Scriblerian technique of commenting on topical politics is not a complex one: it consists merely of implying criticism by drawing parallels between the existing situation and what might otherwise obtain. (Downie, 14)

The Walpole administration was a frequent target of the club's criticism. Works like John Gay's "The Beggars Opera" were written out of its context. Swift's Gulliver’s Travels can also be interpreted as a culmination of the club’s ideas.

3 Jonathan Swift’s and Robert Walpole's (political) backgrounds, beliefs, values and ideas

3.1 The party system

In early 18th century England the political system could be mainly divided into the two opposing Tories and Whigs fractions. However, in order to prevent confusion one has to take into account that at the end of the 17th century 'the Tories [had] bec[o]me the natural 'country' party and the Whigs […] somewhat awkward courtiers' (Lock, 45). Thus, there was hardly any kind of

[(material)] difference between those [persons] who call[ed] themselves the Old Whigs, and a great majority of the present Tories (Lock, 45).

Later on the Whigs in power mainly denote the Young Whigs who were supporters of a parliament-focused government. However, the Tories remained loyal to the kings’ divine power.

3.2 The role of religion

Religious divisions […] had been largely responsible for […] the party struggle between the Whigs and Tories. (Black, 15)

The Tory party tended to see itself as the defender of the Anglican Church, threatened by the Dissenters and their political allies the Whigs. (Black, 15)

On the other hand,

the Walpolean Whig government attempted to avoid 'Church-in-danger' issues by abandoning further tolerationist programmes in favour of Dissent (Higgings, 35)

in order to win their support.

3.3 Sir Robert Walpole

Sir Robert Walpole was born in 1676.

Walpole was educated at Eton and King's Cambridge [and he was] a violent Whig since at least his Cambridge days. (Black, 5)

In 1715 he became First Lord of the Treasury. He resigned from ministry in 1717, but returned to office in 1721. Robert Walpole is regarded as the first British prime minister, which in fact means that he was the 'leading minister of the Crown from 1721 until 1742' (Black, preface - vii). Under the reign of George I , who was King of England from 1714 to 1727, Walpole was given rise to this position. Since George I was not able to speak English properly, he communicated with his ministers in French. However, in the course of time George I 'ceased to attend cabinet meetings and […] Robert Walpole chaired them instead' (Evans, 95). Later on, Robert Walpole allied with George Augustus, the son of George I. Therefore, George I, who tried to manipulate parliament before, had to accept his limited power in a constitutional monarchy. In order to avoid a mixed ministry, Walpole ‘argued that the Tories were sympathetic to the Jacobite cause’ (Black, 12). Robert Walpole's 'excessive power' (Evans, 190) continued under George II until 1742. ‘A master of the art of the politically possible’ (Black, 86), Walpole and his Whig oligarchy led to a stable government, but also to a lack of democracy.

3.4 Jonathan Swift's politics

Jonathan Swift was born on November, 30th in Dublin as the son of English parents.

Early in his career Swift's interest in politics mainly grounded on [its affects on] the strength and stability of the Anglican Church of which he was a member. (Cody )

Later on, Swift supported the Glorious Revolution in 1688. In 1710 Swift became a member of the Whig party. However, he changed to the rivalling Tory party because he disliked 'the Whig government's flirtation with the Dissenters' (Cody) and also saw better chances 'which might advance his [political] career, into the Tory camp' (Cody). Swift even took over the Tory journal The Examiner. However, Swift remained influenced by Old Whig principles and 'regarded the Whigs as having left him rather than himself as having left the Whigs' (Lock, 24). Throughout the reign of Queen Anne (1702-14), Swift was one of the central characters in the literary and political life of London. With the accession of George I in 1714 the Tories lost political power. Swift withdrew to Ireland where he became Dean of St. Patrick's cathedral Dublin and did not return to England until 1726, the year in which Gulliver's Travels was published. Interestingly, in April earlier that year Swift dined with Robert Walpole in order to discuss Irish affairs, but was unsatisfied with the results.


Excerpt out of 13 pages


Gulliver's Travels as a Political Satire
Whether, How and Why Sir Robert Walpole Is Represented in the Novel
University of Vienna
18th Century Satire and Satirical Literature
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
366 KB
Gulliver, Travels, Political, Satire, Century, Satire, Satirical, Literature
Quote paper
Mag. Andreas Raab (Author), 2005, Gulliver's Travels as a Political Satire, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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