Jonathan Swift: The Reluctant Rebel by John Stubbs

Luxor kitty is our local rebel.

Narrator: Derek Perkins

Publisher: HighBridge (2017)

Length: 31 hours 13 minutes

Author’s Page

This is a very comprehensive biography of Jonathan Swift. I was drawn to this book because I was forced to read many of Swift’s work in school and I thought his life would be pretty interesting considering the fantastical elements to Gulliver’s Travels and the rather gruesome take on curing starvation in A Modest Proposal. I was not disappointed. Mr. Swift did indeed lead an interesting life.

This book is pretty heavy with the politics of the time. Swift was born in the 1660s and lived well into the 1700s. His satire and his dabblings in politics meant that I needed to learn the basics of British, Irish, and French politics of the time to understand Swift the better. This biography does a really good job of laying that all out for the reader. While I did find that this bogged things down from time to time, I also appreciated that the details were there if I needed to refer to them.

I was surprised to learn that Swift was born in Dublin, Ireland yet insisted he was an Englishman his entire life. Indeed, Swift seems to enjoy being a breathing, walking contradiction. I get the feeling he was never really happy or content and I think he brought some of that on himself. By the same token, I think he would own that and make a quip about it.

It appears that Swift disliked babies, perhaps even had an aversion. The author has an informed guess that Swift would have been a solid germaphobe in today’s time with our knowledge of bacteria and viruses. I totally agree with the author on this point. By the way, Swift didn’t reproduce.

Swift suffered from recurrent vertigo, which was referred to giddiness during his life. Poor dude. I bet this was a huge irritant to him. Later in life he would suffer other ailments such as losing his voice and possibly suffering from insanity. It must have been so frustrating for him towards the end, being a man of words and not able to use them effectively.

For me, the biggest mystery about Swift was his love life, or lack thereof. He had a close tie with Esther Johnson for much of her life and I found it very interesting the great pains he always took to maintain propriety. In fact, he often addressed his letters to her and her lady companion, Rebecca Dingley. Was it love or just a deep friendship? Did they secretly marry or was that just silliness? The author does a good job of laying out the known facts and then making a few educated guesses from there.

Of course, you can’t explore Jonathan Swift without getting into the details of his writings. There’s plenty of that here in this book and even if you aren’t familiar with all of Swift’s publications, the author makes it clear what’s important about each in regards to the subject at hand. For me, this also sometimes bogged down the story of Swift’s life but I also appreciate the thoroughness.

I received a free copy of this book via LibraryThing.

The Narration: Derek Perkins was a good fit for this book. He sounded interested throughout the entire book. There wasn’t much call for character voices, this being a biography. He did capture some emotions here and there as the story of Swift’s life unfolded.

What I Liked: A detailed look at Jonathan Swift and the times he lived in; his mysterious love life; his long list of contradictions; how me could charm or put people off with his sharp words; the politics of the times; Swift’s ability to capture the grunge.

What I Disliked: There were several times that the story bogged down a bit due to the amount of detail.

What Others Think:

Catherine Brown

Kirkus

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