Restoration and Neoclassical Miscellanea
Posted by: Riley Clark
Unlike the common belief that Jonathan Swift was a lady-hater while he was alive, he was in fact the ladies’ man. Swift had one woman drooling over him, while he was in love with another. However, Swift didn’t spend much time on the fantasy of marriage. Marriage wasn’t on the agenda for this man. His focus was to be a part of the politics and produce satirical pieces. These were the pieces that usually caused people to talk amongst themselves about the government and the policies that they were following, as when he wrote A Modest Proposal a satire about the Irish’s hunger and population issues.
What was his biggest reason for not marrying and being able to settle down? Well, some believe it’s because he joined the church and felt that he should not marry as a minister. Others say it was because Swift was always moving around while fleeing different regimes, from Ireland to England, never in one place for a very long time. He wanted to be free and not officially tied down to one lady. Or perhaps he thought that women were messy, gross people. My opinion? Because he was in love with Stella, Swift didn’t want to break the other woman’s heart, his fangirl miss Hester Vanhomrigh. Any of these would easily be justifications to himself for not marrying.
And yet, Swift was still a man who would go around and tease women. Just as he did in his poem “The Lady’s Dressing Room”. He wrote it not because he was attempting to be mean towards them. Swift was doing it out of a sign of affection towards the very people that he can’t hurt. Just as we did as kids. Let me explain.
Do you remember when the boys or girls use to pick on each other in preschool? And then the adults use to say, “Oh he’s just picking on you because he thinks you’re cute.” or “She’s doing that because she thinks you’re handsome”? At the time it seemed like we were just being mean to each other, but when we were told that it was a sign of affection everything became okay to us. Swift is just being that elementary school boy picking on girls. He is just trying to show his affection to the ladies. In the poem, “The Lady’s Dressing Room”, he is using it to insult women and their beautification process by calling out all of the gross things he can find. However, this insult is was just showing how women take care of basic beauty. Also showing the fact that women follow the basic human needs, such as going to the bathroom.
But that’s part of the point.
Swift understood that he was critiquing the basic human needs when he chose to declare “[Celia’s]” (line 2) hidden, dirtier side within his poem “The Lady’s Dressing Room”. He expressed the disgust of the make-up and the clothing he saw laying everywhere in a very grimy, disorderly manner. The idea of being tied to an unpolished creature such as Celia was not something Swift intended. The poem’s goal was to send the message, a warning, to men about the foulness of women; thus, his refusal to marry a woman. It was Swift’s attempt to convince himself that marriage was not the way to go. Despite the fact, he had a woman whom he loved very much, Esther Johnson (aka Stella).
Esther was a woman who became Swift’s best friend. She was his student, who then
became a lover. Yet, their relationship is not really known other than through the heartfelt letters that are captured in Journal to Stella.
So, why did a relationship, as sweet as the letters portray, not end in marriage despite it all? Possibly because they wanted to just keep their love life in the friendship-zone and nothing more than that. It is likely that Swift used Celia as an opposite to Stella, all the way down to their names (Stella meaning stars and Celia meaning heavenly). This was possibly done in attempt to change his judgment toward Stella by making Celia so opposite. Unfortunately, the true meaning behind the two women that Swift wrote about will never be known.
We truly don’t know why Swift and Stella never married. We only remember him as a man who has “misogyny [as] part of his misanthropy” (Norton p. 2766) instead of a boy who shows the girls he really cares by simply making fun of them.
“Debating Women: Arguments in Verse.” eds. James Noggle and Lawrence Lipking. New York: Norton, 2012. 2766. Print.
Swift, Jonathan. “The Journal of Stella.” The Literature Network. n.d. Web. 27 October 2015. <http://www.online-literature.com/swift/journal-to-stella/>.
Swift, Jonathan. “The Lady’s Dressing Room.” Poetry Foundation. n.d. Web. 26 October 2015. <http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/180934>.
“The Life of Jonathan Swift (1667-1745).” Luminarium. Encyclopedia Britannica, 16 October 2016. Web. 24 October 2015. <http://www.luminarium.org/eightlit/swift/swiftbio.htm>.