Resources: A Modest Proposal

Modest Proposal 3
First published in 1729, Jonathan Swift’s Modest Proposal is a well known satire highlighting Ireland’s economic difficulties at that time.

In the publication, Swift recommends a scheme that would prevent children from being ‘a charge upon their parents or the parish, or wanting food and raiment for the rest or their lives’. This would be achieved by selling very young children to ‘persons of quality and fortune’.

Swift explained what would happen to these children next…

I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee or a ragout.

He also suggested that the carcasses of the children could be flayed because the skin ‘artificially dressed will make admirable gloves for ladies, and summer boots for fine gentlemen’. Aside from providing a valuable source of food and clothing, other benefits of the scheme would include: a reduction in the number of Roman Catholics in Ireland; a general boost to the economy; and an increase in trade at taverns and other places where food was prepared due to interest in the new dish. Men would also be less likely to beat their pregnant wives for fear of causing an unprofitable miscarriage.

The full text of the Modest Proposal is available from a variety of open access sources, including the Project Gutenberg website.

Some time ago, I was preparing a lecture that mentioned the Modest Proposal and I went looking for an appropriate image for my powerpoint presentation. A quick Google image search threw up an impressive range of very inappropriate images inspired by Swift’s publication. Here are just a few of them…

Modest Proposal 1
Modest proposal
Modest Proposal Meme

I also discovered that the Modest Proposal has been adapted into a zombie themed graphic novel, and best (or worst) of all, Swift’s work has inspired a computer game called ‘Orphan Feast’, available to play online for free here.

Orphan Feast Screenshots
[Screenschots from Orphan Feast]

I ended up using an image of the title page of the 1729 edition of the Modest Proposal in my presentation. Had I been discussing the publication in more depth, I imagine that some of these images might have sparked off an interesting class discussion. Regardless of their potential uses in the classroom, these visual representations of the Modest Proposal provide a fascinating insight into the ways in which Swift’s essay continues to inspire and influence readers nearly three hundred years after it was first published.

5 thoughts on “Resources: A Modest Proposal”

  1. But no mention of the horrors inflicted upon Ireland that caused Swift to write his memorable satire?

    1. It’s a post about cartoons, silly pictures and a video game so I didn’t feel that kind of detail was needed. I’m sure we’ll end up talking about the Modest Proposal again on the blog in future – or if you’d like to contribute something yourself, please do!

  2. Great images Suzanne, proving the extent to which Swift’s satire can still effect us today! Thanks for sharing.

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