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Title: Scholarship, polemics, and confession in the early satires of Jonathan Swift
Author: Cattaneo, Marcello
ISNI:       0000 0004 7966 313X
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2018
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This thesis aims to offer a novel account of Jonathan Swift's early satires, mainly 'A Tale of a Tub' and its companion pieces, by placing them in the trajectory of European humanism. I strive to recover a fuller picture of the tradition of humanist satire, not just as a literary genre, but especially as an instrument of scholarly debate. How did satire function as an intellectual and heuristic tool, at a time when ideas of impartiality and objectivity were yet to be developed, when rival systems of knowledge clashed, and scholarship bore the marks of confessional rifts that fomented two centuries of religious violence? Could satire perform serious intellectual work in fields such as theology or philology - or, indeed, 'literature'? In pursuing these questions in relation to Swift, this thesis also aims to build on recent work seeking to lay the foundations for a more holistic study of 'English Literature' - one that would especially integrate the methods and findings of the history of scholarship in literary criticism. This investigation focusses on four areas, roughly corresponding to its four chapters. The first chapter discusses various late humanist theories of satire. An analysis of the humanists' works that lined the library shelves of Swift and his contemporaries reveals how, once we emancipate ourselves from a narrow focus on vernacular writing, satire becomes a much more capacious, plural and challenging genre than we have assumed thus far. I show that Swift's contemporaries understood that behind satirical practices in the vernacular, competing Latinate genealogies of satire existed, striving to describe a genre that could be a sophisticated intellectual instrument of discovery as much as a weapon to slander and a proxy for confessional war. The first chapter of my thesis thus argues that a reinterpretation of this humanist legacy enabled Swift and his contemporaries to debate essential questions about the role of confession in knowledge, the legitimacy of ridicule in scholarly debate, and indeed what 'satire' and consequently 'literature' were, or should be, and become. The practice of satire as an intellectual tool takes up the second chapter, which aims to show satire in action by discussing the 'Quarrel of the Ancients and Moderns' and Swift's engagement in it. The Quarrel has either been interpreted as a crisis of humanist philology informing 'modern' Enlightenment, or as a trivial distortion of the vitality of late humanism. Drawing on new manuscript evidence, I show that the contestants were very sensitive to how the debated questions could impinge on some crucial issues about the Bible (especially Old Testament philology, New Testament canonicity, and the status of the Apocrypha). A focus on the intellectual uses of satire thus overcomes the impasse in current research: Swift needed to trivialize the quarrel through vituperative satires that are also sophisticated intellectual weapons, capable of shifting the grounds of a scholarly debate of very serious consequence. The kinship of scholarship and satire occupies the third chapter, which interprets Swift's early satires in the light of his reading of both Latin and Greek patristics, and especially of ancient heresiology. What did it mean to construct satires on heresiological models? I address this question by relating it to hitherto unstudied developments in historical scholarship on ancient heresy in the late seventeenth/early eighteenth centuries, and I highlight how both these enquiries and Swift's satires impinged on broader issues such as (in)tolerance of religious nonconformity and the intellectual uses of heterodoxy in scholarship and literature. The last chapter argues that Swift's satires show him deeply engaged in Anglican apologetics and theology, and it plots his development as a religious thinker against the backdrop of the shifting limits of orthodoxy and the fraught creation of an Anglican identity. I concentrate especially on the Trinitarian debates, and I make a case for Swift's covert intellectual sympathy (and directly proportional overt disgust) for Arianism. I analyse how Swift's allegiances changed, and how his conceptions of satire evolved away from the virulent confessionalism of his early works. Thus, the chapter also works as a case study in the history of theology, highlighting the ways in which Anglicanism negotiated its debts to conflicting theological traditions, and elaborated a distinctive confessional profile that could incorporate and in turn shape newer 'Enlightened' trends.
Supervisor: Poole, William ; Womersley, David Sponsor: Clarendon Fund ; Merton College
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available