"Too much Satire in their Veins": Swift, Austen, and the Transformation of Genre
This study explores the transformation of eighteenth-century satire through an analysis of the satiric techniques of John Dryden, Jonathan Swift, Delariver Manley, Charlotte Lennox, Elizabeth Inchbald, and, Jane Austen. It takes as a starting point Dryden's "Discourse Concerning the Original and Progress of Satire," traditionally seen as foundational in the development of the satiric theory. The "Discourse" outlines the requirements of the genre, which include a public, moral authority and specific generic goals in line with classical Persian, Horatian, and Juvenalian forms. As such, it consciously limits the production of satire by women, who were traditionally denied a classical education. Swift interrogates Dryden's theory in A Tale of a Tub, using a process of inhabitation. This process is a unique synthesis of various critical approaches describing Swift's ability to impersonate another style of discourse so flawlessly that he seems to become it. Swift calls into question not only Dryden's theory of satire, but the ability of satire itself to effect moral change. In finding Dryden's theory flawed, Swift unconsciously opened the doors for women writers of satire. These women, who had little or no classical education and no public moral authority, embraced Swift's critique of the satiric tradition and attempted to integrate it into the novel, a form more acceptable for women writers. Using Swiftian inhabitation, such early women novelists as Manley, Lennox, and Inchbald experimented with satiric form, theme, and narrative voice. In so doing, they fundamentally changed the nature of satiric writing in eighteenth-century Britain, transforming it from an inflexible genre to a more elastic mode. These experiments informed the work of Austen, who used the process of Swiftian inhabitation to successfully integrate satire and the novel.
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