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A Tale of a Tub

Jonathan Swift

Book Overview: 

The Tale is a prose parody which is divided into sections of "digression" and a "tale" of three brothers, each representing one of the main branches of western Christianity. A Tale was long regarded as a satire on religion itself, and has famously been attacked for that, starting with William Wotton. The "tale" presents a consistent satire of religious excess, while the digressions are a series of parodies of contemporary writing in literature, politics, theology, Biblical exegesis, and medicine. The overarching parody is of enthusiasm, pride, and credulity.

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Book Excerpt: 
. . .k with a great deal of injustice, the solution being easy and natural, for the materials of panegyric, being very few in number, have been long since exhausted; for as health is but one thing, and has been always the same, whereas diseases are by thousands, besides new and daily additions, so all the virtues that have been ever in mankind are to be counted upon a few fingers, but his follies and vices are innumerable, and time adds hourly to the heap.  Now the utmost a poor poet can do is to get by heart a list of the cardinal virtues and deal them with his utmost liberality to his hero or his patron.  He may ring the changes as far as it will go, and vary his phrase till he has talked round, but the reader quickly finds it is all pork, [56a] with a little variety of sauce, for there is no inventing terms of art beyond our ideas, and when ideas are exhausted, terms of art must be so too.

But though the matter for panegyric were as fruitful as the topic. . . Read More

Community Reviews

A book about the vanity of books. Funny and perhaps more relevant than ever in the age of self-publishing via Twitter and Facebook. Swift was living through the advent of mass literacy. Although books and book audiences were proliferating rapidly in his time, Swift recognized that human ideas and so

To quote the late great Roger Ebert "I hated hated hated hated hated this" book. I give it two stars instead of one for the very simple but important issue: I didn't understand I word of it. So maybe it ain't Swift's fault.
Now, first of all, I consider myself an intelligent person. I have read "hard

You know those moments when you, who learned English as a foreign language since you were young, think that you understand the language perfectly fine, and then you decide to read a book and realize that you know nothing? Well, this is basically how this book made me feel: utterly stupid, ignorant,

I loved the idea of this book.

The tale of a tub (from the custom of throwing a tub out to sea to divert a whale threatening the ship), was meant to divert the “wits of the age” (we might call them pundits) threatening the commonwealth. It’s about Peter (Catholicism), Jack (John Calvin-Protestantism

Holy Satire
16 February 2020 - Wallaroo

All I can say is that this publication certainly caused a lot of stir, to the point that Swift was denied a bishopric due to having upset the monarch at the time. Yet, a part of me wonders why this was the case, especially since he clearly points out that the p


The Tub itself: a challenging 5*
Battle of the Books: 3*
Mechanical OPeration of The Spirits: 2*
Appendices: Negative 666*

Four Months Earlier:
Pausing at halfway through the book, but (at the risk of giving all of my selves about three heart attacks apiece) I somehow finished the Tub proper, which at on

"A Tale of a Tub" is a strange work, and certainly not to everyone's taste. The heart of it is a satirical religious allegory demonstrating that, of the three sons of the Father (God), Martin (the representative of the mainstream protestant Lutheran/Anglican tradition) is by far the most reasonable.

For such a short book it requires so much mental work to make sense of it that I doubt it is worth the effort. It is a good satire, but please don't ask me for a summary because I'm pretty sure I've already forgotten most of it since the author makes a point of writing about nothing and everything i

I'd say Gulliver's Travels is Swift's second-best book, behind Battle of the Books and a Tale of a Tub ( I think they were published together, but do not recall.) These are brilliant and learned--two qualities he did his best to suppress as he invented the novel, along with Defoe and Fielding. Tale

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