From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Swift and Defoe
Jonathan Swift was one of the greatest of Anglo-Irish satirists, and one of the first to practise modern journalistic satire. For instance, his A Modest Proposal suggests that poor Irish parents be encouraged to sell their own children as food. In his book Gulliver's Travels he writes about the flaws in human society in general and English society in particular. Swift creates a moral fiction, a world in which parents do not have their most obvious responsibility, which is to protect their children from harm. Similarly, Defoe presents a world in which freedom of religion is reduced to the freedom to conform. Swift's purpose is of course to attack indifference to the plight of the desperately poor, and Defoe's to advocate freedom of conscience.
Satire in Victorian England
Novelists such as Charles Dickens often used passages of satiric writing in their treatment of social issues. Several satiric papers competed for the public's attention in the Victorian era and Edwardian period, such as Punch and Fun.
Perhaps the most enduring examples of Victorian satire, however, are to be found in the Savoy Operas of W. S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan. In fact, in The Yeomen of the Guard, a jester is given lines that paint a very neat picture of the method and purpose of the satirist, and might almost be taken as a statement of Gilbert's own intent:
- "I can set a braggart quailing with a quip,
- The upstart I can wither with a whim;
- He may wear a merry laugh upon his lip,
- But his laughter has an echo that is grim!"
- Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires Preserved in the Department of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum