In 1732 Jonathan Swift published “The Lady’s Dressing Room,[i]” a poem commenting on contemporary vanity. At 144 lines, it might not seem too long to enter into this post, and I might be willing to enter it in its entirety, but Swift, as anyone who has read Travels into several remote nations of the world, in four parts / by Lemuel Gulliver, first a surgeon, and then a captain of several ships, will know, Swift was, not to put too fine a point on the matter, a satirist. That work was first issued in a bowdlerized edition in 1726, and then in an amended edition in 1735[ii], after “The Lady’s Dressing Room” was published.
But Swift was a satirist, not a satyrist, although a lady named Satira appears in the poem. It has been controversial from the first, being considered sexist. But at least one of the problems with that view is that the satire is more anti-humanist, which allows Swift to vent in 144 lines on every human vice, folly and defect. He was, after all, a clergyman, Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. But before that, he was born, in Dublin, to Anglo-Irish parents who had come to Dublin to seek their fortune. His father died seven months before he was born,[iii] and his mother left him in Dublin and returned to England. I’m sure that had nothing to do with “The Lady’s Dressing Room,” in which a swain, one Strephon, steals into his lady Celia’s dressing room and finds all in disarray and gross display. After 114 highly descriptive lines laying all that out, Strephon finds himself in a bind. As Swift has it:
Thus finishing his grand Survey, 
Disgusted Strephon stole away
Repeating in his amorous Fits,
Oh! Celia, Celia, Celia Continue Reading →