10 November 2008

Jonathan Swift and the Art of Raillery, by Charles Peake

This is a tiny little book, barely 30 pages long. It's actually a lecture that someone was thoughtful enough to publish on its own, and I'm so glad they did, because it's a delightful piece. 

It's a fairly simple work, but highly satisfying. The basic thrust of it is that raillery is generally defined as either 1. Cheerful ridicule, banter; or 2. Reviling, castigating. But these meanings, though by virtue of popular usage they may be considered correct, do not do justice to the earlier meaning - what could be seen as a lost art. Raillery, according to Swift, was a kind of reverse satire - rather than the usual satire, which appears to be praise but is actually critique, raillery is that which appears to be critique, but is actually praise. Peake explains this a bit, giving some background on Swift (who generally worked by opposites), then turns to a consideration of the simultaneous use of raillery and satire, focusing on the bookseller's dedication in A Tale of a Tub. It's not earth-shattering, but it's a nice, thoughtful treatment of an interesting aspect of Swift, and I heartily enjoyed reading it. Kudos to Mr Peake and to the publishers of this fine work. If, by some random chance, you happen to read this, please accept my thanks. Reading this book was the intellectual equivalent of receiving a nice bouquet of flowers completely out of the blue.

No comments: