Perceiving 18th Century England: An Analysis of Voltaire's Letters Concerning the English Nation and Swift's Gulliver's Travels
Deelen, J. van
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Voltaire and Jonathan Swift are often discussed in light of their admiration for and impact on each other. Therefore, it is commonly believed that they share similar convictions with respect to science, religion, freedom of expression, and the manner in which these are manifested in society. This thesis, however, argues against such an interpretation, as it critically re-examines Voltaire and Swift’s views on 18th century English society in order to observe whether their convictions are truly compatible. The argumentation focuses on Voltaire’s Letters Concerning the English Nation and Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels as its primary source material. The fundamental premise of this research lies in determining whether Voltaire’s Letters provides a compatible perception of English society in comparison with Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. The findings show that Voltaire and Swift’s convictions are fundamentally different. While Voltaire supports Newtonian science for providing society with moral and religious guidance; Swift holds it to be inherently immoral, blasphemous and utterly trivial. Though they agree on the necessity of freedom of expression in society, they nonetheless vary in opinions as to why that is. A reason for this stems from Voltaire and Swift’s different nationalities and respective backgrounds. Voltaire was a Frenchman who was banned from France for assuming his right to freedom of expression, whereas Swift was Anglo-Irish and therefore witnessed England’s transition into a more liberal society that did allow such freedom.