First published in 1704, Jonathan Swift’s A Tale of a Tub satirizes a host of contemporary religious and political issues. The three sections that constitute the Tale—the titular “A Tale of a Tub,” “A Full and True Account of the Battel, Fought Last Friday, Between the Antient and the Modern Books in St. James’s Library,” and “A Discourse Concerning the Mechanical Operation of the Spirit”— also take aim at the conventions of modern writing, especially the tendency of writers, editors, and publishers to affix extended prefatory and supplementary materials like dedications, introductions, annotations, and so on to main bodies of text. Robert Hauptman notes that Swift “ludicrously multiplies” (49) supplementary sections and notes throughout the Tale. Swift begins the first section of his 1710 edition with a mock list of other treatises by the author of the Tale (who is figured as an anonymous recluse), an apology (with postscript), two dedicatory epistles, a note from the fictional bookseller/editor/publisher (i.e. Swift) to the reader, and a preface. The second and third sections are introduced by two notes from the bookseller to the reader, another preface, and a dedicatory epistle (with a different addressee than either of the first two epistles). All three sections and their attendant prefatory remarks are annotated both in the margins and in footnotes. The result is a dizzying array of voices, motives, and intentions that is rather more disorienting than edifying. The 1710 edition is also illustrated by a series of engravings but these, again, are of questionable assistance to the reader. One engraving, for example, represents the author’s description of the lunacy of students and professors and the bedlam they create and inhabit (fig. 1).
|Fig 1: Bedlam|
Fittingly, critic Marcus Walsh maintains that Swift’s paratexts are “elements in the theatre of obfuscation with which Swift surrounded the Tale” (xxxii). That is, the mass of paratextual information that Swift, the parodist, provides is less supplementary and clarifying than digressive and confusing. By demonstrating the disruptive effect of the paratext gone mad, Swift satirizes the work of writers, editors, and publishers whose ham-fisted adoption of paratextual conventions confounds and exhausts readerly interest. In this sense, the obfuscatory nature of Swift’s paratexts is an extension and amplification of his satire.
|Fig. 2: List of treatises|
|Fig. 3: A note by the bookseller|