What Not to Avoid in Swift’s “The Lady’s Dressing Room”
This essay argues for the centrality of the void in making sense of Jonathan Swift’s notoriously filthy poem, “The Lady’s Dressing Room.” Looking at the overlooked void reveals the poem’s engagement with philosophical materialism, in particular Lucretius’s De Rerum Natura. Although critical of seeing the universe and all it contains as mere matter and void, Swift uses Lucretian materialism, this essay contends, to dethrone the classical muse and debunk aesthetic enthusiasm. In observing how the poem stages a clash between materialism and enthusiasm, science and aesthetics, this essay seeks to move beyond debates about the poem’s misogyny. It also proposes viewing the poem’s satirical project as part of Swift’s search for an alternative model of poetic creation to replace the worn-out muse.
Baudot, Laura Jeanne. 2009. "What Not to Avoid in Swift’s 'The Lady’s Dressing Room'." Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 49(3): 637-666.
Johns Hopkins University Press
Studies in English Literature 1500-1900
Swift, Jonathan, 1667-1745: Lady's dressing room, Lucretius Carus, Titus: De rerum natura, Materialism in literature