Harrison Middleton University

Swift’s Version of Grotesque

Swift’s Version of Grotesque

We’re excited that you’ve joined the conversation! At HMU, we want to continue the great authors’ conversations in a contemporary context, and this blog will help us do that. We look back to Aristotle and the early philosophers who used reason and discourse to gain wisdom and now we endeavor to do the same every day.


October 29, 2021

Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today’s post.

When Gulliver travels to Brobdingnag, he describes many things with disgust. Therefore, it seems fitting, for a Halloween treat, to revisit some of Swift’s grotesque elements from the world of Brobdingnag. If you find this overly terrifying, keep in mind that Gulliver survives Brobdingnag and also that Swift revels in the hilarity of his tale (as do his readers). Perhaps you’ll be inspired to pick up a copy of Gulliver’s Travels, or maybe just watch Gulliver Mickey (in Lilliput only, unfortunately). Happy Halloween!

“I slept about two hours, and dreamed I was home with my wife and children, which aggravated my sorrows when I awaked and found my self alone in a vast room, between two and three hundred foot wide, and above two hundred high; lying in a bed twenty yards wide. My mistress was gone about her household affairs, and had locked me in. The bed was eight yards from the floor. Some natural necessities required me to get down: I durst not presume to call, and if I had, it would have been in vain, with such a voice as mine, at so great a distance from the room where I lay, to the kitchen where the family kept. While I was under these circumstances two rats crept up the curtains, and ran smelling backwards and forwards on the bed: one of them came up almost to my face; whereupon I rose in a fright, and drew out my hangar to defend myself. These horrible animals had the boldness to attack me on both sides, and one of them held his fore feet at my collar; but I had the good fortune to rip up his belly before he could do me any mischief. He fell down at my feet: and the other seeing the fate of his comrade, made his escape, but not without one good wound on the back, which I gave him as he fled, and made the blood run trickling from him. After this exploit, I walked gently to and fro on the bed, to recover my breath and loss of spirits. These creatures were the size of a large mastiff, but infinitely more nimble and fierce; so that, if I had taken off my belt before I went to sleep, I must have infallibly been torn to pieces and devoured.”


“Her majesty used to put a bit of meat upon one of my dishes, out of which I carved for myself; and her diversion was to see me eat in miniature. For the queen (who had indeed but a weak stomach) took up at one mouthful, as much as a dozen English farmers could eat at a meal, which to me was for some time a very nauseous sight. She would craunch the wing of a lark, bones and all, between her teeth, although it were nine times as large as that of a full grown turkey; and put a bit of bread in her mouth, as big as two twelve-penny loaves. She drank out of a golden cup, above a hogshead at a draught. Her knives were twice as long as a scythe set straight upon a handle. The spoons, forks, and other instruments were all in the same proportion. I remember when Glumdalclitch carried me out of curiosity to see some of the tables at court, where ten or a dozen of these enormous knives and forks were lifted up together, I thought I had never until then beheld so terrible a sight.”


“One day the governess ordered our coach-man to stop at several shops; where the beggars watching their opportunity, crouded to the sides of the coach, and gave me the most horrible spectacles that ever an European eye beheld. There was a woman with a cancer in her breast, swelled to monstrous size, full of holes, in two or three of which I could have easily crept, and covered my whole body. There was a fellow with a wen in his neck, larger than five woolpacks; and another with a couple of wooden legs, each about twenty foot high. But, the most hateful sight of all, was the lice crawling on their clothes: I could see distinctly the limbs of these vermin with my naked eye, much better than those of an European louse through a microscope; and their snouts with which they rooted like swine.”


“Another time, one of the servants, whose office it was to fill my trough every third day with fresh water, was so careless to let a huge frog (not perceiving it) slip out of his pail. The frog lay concealed until I was put into my boat, but then seeing a resting place, climbed up, and made it lean so much on one side, that I was forced to balance it with all my weight on the other, to prevent overturning. When the frog was got in, it hopped at once half the length of the boat, and then over my head, backwards and forwards, dawbing my face and cloaths with its odious slime.”

You can find a full version of Gulliver’s Travels online at Project Gutenberg.

To leave a comment, click on the title of this post and scroll down.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top
Skip to content