The 100 best novels: #3 – Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift (1726)


Seven years after the publication of Robinson Crusoe, the great Tory essayist and poet Jonathan Swift – inspired by the Scriblerus club, whose members included John Gay and Alexander Pope – composed a satire on travel narratives that became an immediate bestseller. According to Gay, Gulliver was soon being read “from the cabinet council to the nursery”.
In its afterlife as a classic, Gulliver’s Travels works on many levels. First, it’s a masterpiece of sustained and savage indignation, “furious, raging, obscene”, according to Thackeray. Swift’s satirical fury is directed against almost every aspect of early 18th-century life: science, society, commerce and politics. Second, stripped of Swift’s dark vision, it becomes a wonderful travel fantasy for children, a perennial favourite that continues to inspire countless versions, in books and films. Finally, as a polemical tour de force, full of wild imagination, it became a source for Voltaire, as well as the inspiration for a Telemann violin suite, Philip K Dick’s science-fiction story The Prize Ship, and, perhaps most influential of all, George Orwell’s Animal Farm.

Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World by Lemuel Gulliver (to give its original title) comes in four parts, and opens with Gulliver’s shipwreck on the island of Lilliput, whose inhabitant are just six inches high. The most famous and familiar part of the book (“Lilliputian” soon became part of the language) is a satirical romp in which Swift takes some memorable shots at English political parties and their antics, especially the controversy on the matter of whether boiled eggs should be opened at the big or the little end.

Next, Gulliver’s ship, the Adventure, gets blown off course and he is abandoned on Brobdingnag whose inhabitants are giants with a proportionately gigantic landscape. Here, having been dominant on Lilliput, Gulliver is exhibited as a curious midget, and has a number of local dramas such as fighting giant wasps. He also gets to discuss the condition of Europe with the King, who concludes with Swiftian venom that “the bulk of your natives [are] the most pernicious race of odious little vermin that Nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth.”

In the third part of his travels, Gulliver visits the flying island of Laputa (a place-name also referenced in Stanley Kubrick’s film Dr Strangelove), and Swift mounts a dark and complicated assault on the speculations of contemporary science (notably spoofing the attempted extraction of sunbeams from cucumbers). Finally, in the section that influenced Orwell (Gulliver’s Travels was one of his favourite books), Swift describes the country of the Houyhnhnms, horses with the qualities of rational men. These he contrasts with the loathsome Yahoos, brutes in human shape. Orwell would later echo Swift’s misanthropy, looking ahead to a time “when the human race had finally been overthrown.”

At the end of it all, Gulliver returns home from his travels in a state of alienated wisdom, purged and matured by his experiences. “I write,” he concludes, “for the noblest end, to inform and instruct mankind… I write without any view to profit or praise. I never suffer a word to pass that may possibly give the least offence, even to those who are most ready to take it. So that I hope I may with justice pronounce myself an author perfectly blameless…”

When he died in 1745, Swift, remembered as “the gloomy Dean”, was buried in Dublin with the famous epitaph “ubi saeva indignatio ulterius cor lacerare nequit” (where fierce indignation can no further tear apart his heart) inscribed on his tomb.

A note on the text:
Swift probably started writing Gulliver’s Travels in 1720 (when Crusoe fever was at it height), and delivered the manuscript to the London publisher Benjamin Motte in March 1726. The book was published, anonymously, at top speed. Motte, who sensed a bestseller, used several presses to foil any attempt at piracy, and made many cuts to reduce the risk of prosecution. The first edition appeared, in two volumes, on 26 October 1726, priced 8s 6d, and sold out its first printing in less than a week. In 1735 the Irish publisher, George Faulkner printed a collection of Swift’s works. Volume III became Gulliver’s Travels, based on a working copy of the original manuscript. The textual history of Gulliver’s Travelsnow becomes incredibly complicated, and Swift later disowned most versions, including Motte’s first edition, saying it was so much altered that “I do hardly know mine own work”. Later scholarly editions of Swift have to choose between Motte and Faulkner, but whatever the version it has never been out of print since the day it first appeared.

The 100 best novels: #2 – Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (1719)


English fiction began with The Pilgrim’s Progress, but nearly 50 turbulent years, including the Glorious Revolution, passed before it made its great leap forward. The author of this literary milestone is a strangely appealing literary hustler of nearly 60 years old originally named Daniel Foe (he added “De” to improve his social standing), a one-time journalist, pamphleteer, jack of all trades and spy. Like Bunyan, he had suffered at the hands of the state (the pillory, followed by prison in 1703). Unlike Bunyan, he was not religious.

His world-famous novel is a complex literary confection. It purports to be a history, written by Crusoe himself, and edited by Daniel Defoe who, in the preface, teasingly writes that he “believes the thing to be a just History of Fact; neither is there any Appearance of Fiction in it”.

So what do we find in this “History” ? Robinson Crusoe has three elements that make it irresistible. First, the narrative voice of the castaway is Defoe’s stroke of genius. It’s exciting, unhurried, conversational and capable of high and low sentiments. It’s also often quasi-journalistic, which suits Defoe’s style. This harmonious mix of tone puts the reader deep into the mind of the castaway and his predicament. His adventures become our adventures and we experience them inside out, viscerally, for ourselves. Readers often become especially entranced by Crusoe’s great journal, the central passage of his enforced sequestration.

And here is Defoe’s second great inspiration. He comes up with a tale, often said to be modelled on the story of the castaway Alexander Selkirk, that, like Bunyan’s, follows an almost biblical pattern of trangression (youthful rebellion), retribution (successive shipwrecks), repentance (the painful lessons of isolation) and finally redemption (Crusoe’s return home). In storytelling terms, this is pure gold.

And third, how can we forget Defoe’s characters? The pioneer novelist understood the importance of attaching memorably concrete images to his narrative and its characters. Friday and his famous footstep in the sand, one of the four great moments in English fiction, according to Robert Louis Stevenson; Crusoe with his parrot and his umbrella: these have become part of English myth. Defoe, like Cervantes, also opts to give his protagonist a sidekick. Friday is to Crusoe what Sancho Panza is to Quixote. Doubles in English literature will regularly recur in this list: Jekyll and Hyde, Holmes and Watson, Jeeves and Wooster.

Which brings me to Defoe’s final quality as a writer. He was the complete professional, dipped in ink. Throughout his life, he produced pamphlets, squibs, narrative verse and ghosted ephemera (he is said to have used almost 200 pen names). He was a man who liked to be paid for what he wrote, lived well and was almost always in debt. He was not a “literary novelist”, and would not have understood the term, but his classic novel is English literature at its finest, and he hit the jackpot with Robinson Crusoe.

By the end of the 19th century, no book in English literary history had enjoyed more editions, spin-offs and translations than Robinson Crusoe, with more than 700 alternative versions, including illustrated children’s versions. The now-forgotten term “Robinsonade” was coined to describe the Crusoe genre, which still flourishes and was recently revived by Hollywood in the Tom Hanks film, Castaway (2000).

Note on the text:

The text was first published in London by W Taylor on 25 April 1719. This first edition credited the work’s fictional protagonist Robinson Crusoe as its author, and its title was The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe of York, Mariner: Written by Himself. It sold well; four months later, it was followed by The Further Adventures of Robinson Crusoe. A year later, riding high on the market, came Serious Reflections During the Life and Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe. Most readers will only encounter the first edition.

The 100 best novels: #1 The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan (1678)


The English novel begins behind bars, in extremis. Its first author, John Bunyan, was a Puritan dissenter whose writing starts with sermons and ends with fiction. His famous allegory, the story of Christian, opens with a sentence of luminous simplicity that has the haunting compulsion of the hook in a great melody. “As I walk’d through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place, where was a Denn; And I laid me down in that place to sleep: And as I slept I dreamed a Dream.

A “Denn” is a prison, and Bunyan wrote most of the book in Bedford county gaol, having been arrested for his beliefs during the “Great Persecution” of 1660-1690. He shares the experience of prison with Cervantes, who had the idea for Don Quixote while incarcerated in La Mancha. Like so many novels that follow in this list, The Pilgrim’s Progress blends fact and fiction. As well as being the record of Bunyan’s dream, a well-known fictional device, it is also an archetypal tale – a quest, fraught with danger. Christian’s pilgrimage takes him through the Slough of Despond, Vanity Fair and the Delectable Mountains in a succession of adventures that keep the reader turning the page. With his good companions, Faithful and Hopeful, he vanquishes many enemies before arriving at the Celestial City with the line that still reverberates through the English literary tradition: “So he passed over, and all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side.”

In Hollywood terms, the novel has a perfect “arc”. It also contains a cast of unforgettable characters, from Mr Worldly Wiseman to Lord Hategood, Mr Stand-fast and Mr Valiant-for-Truth.

More profoundly, as an allegory of state repression, it has been described by the historian EP Thompson as one of the “foundation texts of the English working-class movement”. Part of its uniquely English quality is a robust and engaging sense of humour that has cemented its appeal to generations of readers.

The Pilgrim’s Progress is the ultimate English classic, a book that has been continuously in print, from its first publication to the present day, in an extraordinary number of editions. There’s no book in English, apart from the Bible, to equal Bunyan’s masterpiece for the range of its readership, or its influence on writers as diverse as William Thackeray, Charlotte Bronte, Mark Twain, CS Lewis, John Steinbeck and even Enid Blyton.

Huckleberry Finn speaks for many readers when, recalling his Mississippi education, he says: “There was some books too… One was ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’, about a man that left his family it didn’t say why. I read considerable in it now and then. The statements was interesting, but tough.”

The story of a man in search of the truth is the plot of many kinds of fiction, from Portnoy’s Complaint to Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Like many of the writers in the list that follows, Bunyan had a wonderful ear for the rhythms of colloquial speech and his allegorical characters come to life in dialogue that never fails to advance the narrative. Story is one thing. The simple clarity and beauty of Bunyan’s prose is something else. Braided together, style and content unite to make a timeless English classic.

Note on the text:

The Pilgrim’s Progress, from this world, to that which is to come was first published in Holborn, London by Nathaniel Ponder, a non-conformist, at the beginning of 1678 in an edition of 191 pages. It was an immediate success. A second edition appeared before the end of 1678, with many new passages, a third in 1679, and several subsequent editions before Bunyan’s death in August 1688. The Second Part of The Pilgrim’s Progress was published in 1684, with a second edition in 1686. Eventually, the English text comprised some 108,260 words. It has never been out of print, and has been translated into more than 200 languages.

Literary connections

Rachel Joyce’s Booker-longlisted novel 2012 novel, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, was a modern reworking of Pilgrim’s Progress, with her everyman hero Harold walking the length of England in yachting shoes to reach a dying friend.

The 100 best novels: an introduction

Robert McCrum introduces our definitive list of the greatest novels written in English, a 100-week project that begins with John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress.100 best novels

If lists are a guilty pleasure, then book lists are a sinful addiction. That’s an observation for which the Observer can adduce empirical evidence.  Ten years ago, on 12 October 2003, in a headline-grabbing stunt, writing as literary editor, I compiled (with a lot of help from colleagues) a list, provocatively entitled “The 100 Greatest Novels of All Time“.

Say what you like about lists, but this one rapidly developed a life of its own, like a sci-fi alien. Once the initial furore – why no Updike? How on earth could we exclude PG Wodehouse? – had died down, the creature we had created continued to circulate in cyberspace, sponsoring a rare mixture of rage and delight, apparently without rhyme or reason. Every now and again, some particular group would tangle with the Observer list. And it would drive them mad (in good and bad ways) all over again. For reasons I have yet to fathom, it excited special notice in Australia.

It was not all browbeating and brickbats. There have been some lovely creative dividends. Last year, the Antwerp artist Tom Haentjens came up with an idea that promises to give the list a whole new lease of life – an artistic reinterpretation of all 100 book covers, curated by Haentjens himself.

As well as puzzling over the strange appeal of the list throughout this past decade, I have had a sneaking worry that, drawn at random, from many different literatures, our selection was too spontaneous and too wide-ranging. Was there not a case for a more considered compilation? What, for example, would a list of the 100 classic British and American novels look like?

Today, we begin to provide the answer. What’s more, we will show our reasoning in a series of short essays, a kind of footnote to each choice. Without any reference to the 2003 list, for the next 100 weeks the Observer, in collaboration with the Guardian, and supported by Waterstones, will publish a serial account of the classic English and American novel, from A to Z, and from the late 17th century to the present day.

We start with The Pilgrim’s Progress of 1678. This, for the Oxford Companion to English Literature, is “a seminal text in the development of the realistic novel”, a book that inspired Dickens, Thackeray, Trollope and Mark Twain. Exactly where we shall end is anyone’s guess, but one possible cut-off is the year 2000, when JM Coetzee won the Booker prize for the second time with Disgrace.

The list we have in mind is a work-in-progress. It will be shaped by the narrative suggested by the historical sequence of Anglo-American fiction. In all other respects, we have few restrictions. Yes, we focus on America and the English-speaking world (Australia, South Africa, Canada, etc), and we exclude the translations that were such a feature of the 2003 list. In all other respects, we have attempted to choose the classics that Observer readers would most want to investigate for themselves.

So: what is a classic? There are many duelling definitions. TS Eliot, Ezra Pound, Italo Calvino and Sainte-Beuve have all written at length on the classic. Calvino’s definition – “a classic is a book that has never finished what it wants to say” – is probably the sweetest, followed by Pound’s identification of “a certain eternal and irresponsible freshness”. One necessary, but not sufficient, characteristic of a classic is that it should remain in print.

After that, the issue quickly starts to become subjective. Classics, for some, are books we know we should have read, but have not. For others, classics are simply the book we have read obsessively, many times over, and can quote from. The ordinary reader instinctively knows what he or she believes to be a classic. There is, as we know only too well, no accounting for taste.

Speaking of taste, we have chosen, where possible, the title most central to the author’s voice and vision, which is not necessarily the most famous. Jane Austen is a case in point. Pride and Prejudice is much-loved. Northanger Abbey is highly entertaining. But we have chosen Emma. Discuss. With Dickens, the choice gets even harder. You will have to wait until week 14 to read about our Dickens selection.

Inevitably, this list reflects educational, national and social influences. Some Scottish readers may say that we have not given enough space to the great northern tradition.Irish readers will argue about Flann O’Brien (aka Myles na gCopaleen). In or out? Wait and see. Further afield, in the English-speaking world,some Australian readers may feel short-changed. All we can say in response is that this list was compiled for a British newspaper, based in London, in 2013.

Anyway, like all lists, ours is intended to sponsor discussion. We kick off with John Bunyan. Let the debate begin.

Baca dan Posting Bareng Agustus 2014

Halooo teman-temaan!!!

Jumpa lagi di event Baca dan Posting Bareng bulan Agustus 2014!!!!! *teroreroreeeetttt~!!!*

Sebelumnya, mohon maaf karena postingan sementara ditaruh di blog event. Tapi, sekarang sudah balik ke website kita bersama ini ya :D

Di bulan Agustus, mengingat bulan ini merupakan bulan di mana negara kita tercinta ini merdeka, maka tema PosBar-nya juga lokal doong.. Berikut dua tema PosBar kita:

Tanggal 28 Agustus 2014 tema PosBar adalah:
Tema Lokal/Nusantara:
Buku-buku budaya, wayang, mitos/dongeng, sejarah, cerita rakyat apapun
yang ada unsur daerah maupun nusantara.
Tanggal 29 Agustus 2014
tema PosBar adalah:
Buku Baru Indonesia yang terbit tahun 2014, bukan
cetak ulang. Genre bebas, boleh fiksi maupun non-fiksi dan tentunya
ditulis oleh pengarang lokal.
Selanjutnya,  informasi untuk voting posting favorit kamu:
  • Voters adalah anggota BBI
  • Satu orang hanya diperkenankan memberikan satu vote
  • Vote bisa disetor langsung di kolom komentar di bawah ini.
  • Cara voting: Menyebutkan nama dan nomor induk BBI voters, lalu menyebutkan judul Review dan linknya
  • Voting dibuka selama satu bulan dan ditutup di pada akhir bulan berikutnya. Voting untuk posbar Agustus ditutup pada tanggal 30 September 2014 (bagi yang setor link terlambat maka resiko untuk kehilangan vote semakin besar, begitu juga voting yang lewat dari jadwal tidak akan dihitung ^^;)
  • Hasil voting akan segera dihitung setelah periode selesai dan tidak bisa diganggu gugat
Anyway,  dengan mempertimbangkan sepinya voter di bulan Juli, maka Div. Event memutuskan untuk memperpanjang periode voting Juli.
Dengan demikian, khusus bulan Agustus 2014, voting akan dilakukan untuk posting bareng Juli dan Agustus 2014. Cek posting bareng Juli 2014 di sini -> Post
Dan tak lupa, sebagai pengingat tema PosBar September:
a. Buku Silat
: Sesekali ayo kita coba buku (graphic novel, novel diperbolehkan)
genre silat seperti Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa, dll. List by GR: Posbar 29 September 2014

b. Buku dengan rating rendah di Goodreads (1-2 bintang)
: Tentunya kita penasaran mengapa buku itu bisa mendapat rating rendah,
bukan? Ayo kita telusuri apa alasannya dengan menulis review buku
tersebut. Posbar 30 September 2014

Semoga untuk bulan ini partisipan dan voter juga bersemangat, ya! Ayo, kita ramaikan event dari dan untuk kita ini :)
Salam baca,
Divisi Event

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