“Directions to servants” is a satirical essay written by Jonathan Swift in 1731. It is not one of Swift’s best known works in Britain, but Les Éditions de Londres have chosen to make this work their first Swiftian publication. And we have our reasons: first, interestingly although little-known in Britain, it is seen as one of his most famous works in France (after Gulliver’s Travels of course). It is also one of the most representative of his satirical talent.
Edition of “Directions to servants”
Although written around 1731 (or was it then finished?), the work was only published after Swift’s death in 1745. It appears the author added one chapter after the other, when he had time, and that the final work was uncorrected and unfinished. It is quite visible when one looks at the sequence of chapters, with the first few being much more developed than the latter. It is also possible that Swift simply forgot of the work with his memory failing him in his old age. It would explain the “unfinished” nature of “Directions to servants”. In a letter dated August 1731, he mentions that he has retired in the country with “two good works at hand”, Polite conversation and “Directions to servants”. It was then published posthumously by Bowyer in London and Faulkner in Dublin.Got to top
Purpose of “Directions to servants”
A great example of his mastery of parody, “Directions to servants” clearly is more of an Horatian than Juvenalian satire. It is more light-hearted than another famous work such as the Modest proposal. One would struggle to understand Swift’s intention if one forgets this amusing parody is a take on previous books such as “The whole duty” or Fleury’s “Devoirs des maîtres et des domestiques” published in 1688. Still, the author reminds us of his past as his (real or imaginary) past as footman, and seems to compete with the servant for inventiveness. And he goes beyond simple parody or satire; peppered with cunning insights about human nature and precious observations on early Eighteenth century life, his cynical or mischievous advice to each of the servants verges to the absurd, and by doing so, he deconstructs and amusingly reveals what an absurd social system Eighteenth century England is. But Swift stops short of pleasing those who would like to see him as a true conservative or a would-be revolutionary, as “Directions to servants” does not have Beaumarchais’s Figaro prerevolutionary stress on the injustice of an aristocratic system. Swift is not concerned with the reform of society, he is busy mocking and denouncing the travails of human nature, like say, a Ben Jonson more than a century ago.
© 2013- Les Éditions de Londres