Book 14: A Tale of a Tub by Jonathan Swift

This is the first of the books  from the “1700s” section in the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. I had not read it before, but I found it at Project Gutenberg.

Jonathan Swift’s first major work was A Tale of a Tub, composed before 1697 and published in 1704. It is a satire (go figure) and tells the story of three brothers (who represent different branches of Christianity) and is divided by “digressions.” These digressions parody enthusiasm, pride, and credulity. It was popular and is considered Swift’s best allegory.

The tale is so dense that a simple overview is really not effective. One should read this with a companion manual, I think. For instance, to understand the parody, I needed to know that the “tub” was a pulpit, and the three brothers are stand ins: Peter was the Roman Catholic Church, Jack the Protestants, and Martin the Church of England. These brothers have each inherited coats (religious sects) from their father (god, of course), and they have his will (the Bible) to tell them what do to, specifically that they must not alter or change their coats in any way. So, like naughty children, they immediately disobey and make change after change. The allegory is supposed to be an apology for the Anglican refusal to align with the other sects in any way.

 1001 Books includes this Tale because of the power of its satire (which satirized satire itself): “The force of A Tale of a Tub is attributable to this almost autonomous ironic energy, capable of undermining anything with a power that even Swift’s subsequent and more famous masterpieces rarely equalled” (40).

As I have probably made clear in earlier post, fan of christian allegory I am not (thank you Yoda). Nonetheless, it is on this list so I tackled it for the challenge. I am happy to leave it at that, to move onto my next “fun” read, another cozy mystery, of course, and to wish you Happy Reading!


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