Eighteenth-Century Satire


These texts depend in large part on the vantage point from which the object of ridicule is seen. There are interesting thematic and generic differences between works in which the only observer is the reader and those in which characters function as observers also: thematically, reader-only satire relies heavily on perspective shifts for its humor, while interior-observer texts expand the ethical range of humor, encompassing the shame of the observed; generically, in dramatic works, observer characters embody the perspectives found in the narration of the reader-only texts.

A Bold Stroke for a Wife (Centlivre 1718)
Gulliver's Travels (Swift 1727)
Dunciad Variorum (Pope 1728-43)
Strephon and Chloe (Swift 1731)
The Vanity of Human Wishes (Johnson 1749)
The Female Quixote (Lennox 1752)
The Rivals (Sheridan 1775)
Evelina (Burney 1778)


The self-described of these satires is to regulate and restrain unruly desire. Male desire is characterized as a single-minded passion, springing to an unusual degree from external promptings, and suffering inevitable disappointment. To regulate it, satire dilutes the ideal with morose reality. More frighteningly, female desire suffers from the problems of diffusion and mutability - it is too multifaceted to be controlled through its objects, and instead women themselves must be ridiculed.

The Rape of the Lock (Pope 1714)
Strephon and Chloe (Swift 1731)
The Lady's Dressing Room (Swift 1732)
Moral Essays: Epistle to a Lady (Pope 1734)
Shamela (Fielding 1741)
Joseph Andrews (Fielding 1742)
The Vanity of Human Wishes (Johnson 1749)
The School for Scandal (Sheridan 1777)


Ideally, authors must delicately balance their works, avoiding inadvertent slippage into allegory, constraining the desire to indulge in bitter ranting, and finally ensuring an accurate interpretation by a potentially gullible reader. However, these texts are built specifically on these fault-lines, paradoxically using the inherent modal overlaps to sharpen their satire.

Tale of a Tub (Swift 1704)
Dunciad Variorum (Pope 1728-43)
A Modest Proposal (Swift 1729)
Historical Register (Fielding 1737)
The Vanity of Human Wishes (Johnson 1749)
Northanger Abbey (Austen 1795-8)


Tom Thumb (Fielding 1730)
The Witlings (Burney 1779)
London (Johnson 1755)
She Stoops to Conquer (Goldsmith 1773)
Love and Friendship, Lesley Castle, and other selected Juvenilia (Austen 1790-3)
Don Juan (Byron 1819)


Parody (Rose)
The Satiric Inheritance (Seidel)
The Brink of All We Hate (Nussbaum)
Common Ground (Frank)