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A Tale of a Tub

3.58  ·  Rating details ·  2,444 ratings  ·  156 reviews
'A Tale of a Tub' was the first big work written by Jonathan Swift. It is arguably his most difficult satire, and perhaps his most masterly. The Tale is a prose parody which is divided into sections of "digression" and a "tale" of three brothers, each representing one of the main branches of western Christianity. Composed between 1694 and 1697, it was eventually published ...more
Paperback, 208 pages
Published November 1st 2009 by Penguin Books, Limited (UK) (first published 1704)
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Bill Kerwin

"A Tale of a Tub" is a strange work, and certainly not to everyone's taste. The heart of it is a satirical religious allegory demonstrating that, of the three sons of the Father (God), Martin (the representative of the mainstream protestant Lutheran/Anglican tradition) is by far the most reasonable. His attempt to carry out his Father's Will (the message of scripture) by pruning the absurdly lavish alterations his older brother Peter (Roman Catholicism) has made to the Coat his Father gave him (
You know those moments when you, who learned English as a foreign language since you were young, think that you understand the language perfectly fine, and then you decide to read a book and realize that you know nothing? Well, this is basically how this book made me feel: utterly stupid, ignorant, humiliated and disappointed with myself. I'm pretty sure this is a darn good book and an intelligent critique once you're given the context and the political situation that serves as a background for ...more
W.D. Clarke
Sep 22, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2020, 2019, 18c
The Tub itself: a challenging 5*
Battle of the Books: 3*
Mechanical OPeration of The Spirits: 2*
Appendices: Negative 666*

Four Months Earlier:
Pausing at halfway through the book, but (at the risk of giving all of my selves about three heart attacks apiece) I somehow finished the Tub proper, which at only 103pp somehow still manages to make Tristram Shandy seem like Raymond Carver-style minimalism by comparison...
I have one word to say upon the subject of profound writers, who are grown very nume
Alex Laser
Mar 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
A book about the vanity of books. Funny and perhaps more relevant than ever in the age of self-publishing via Twitter and Facebook. Swift was living through the advent of mass literacy. Although books and book audiences were proliferating rapidly in his time, Swift recognized that human ideas and sophistication were not developing apace. Mass literacy did not mean mass intelligence. So many writers in Swifts time, through their numerous nauseating preludes, digressions, and postludes, endeavored ...more
Jan 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'd say Gulliver's Travels is Swift's second-best book, behind Battle of the Books and a Tale of a Tub ( I think they were published together, but do not recall.) These are brilliant and learned--two qualities he did his best to suppress as he invented the novel, along with Defoe and Fielding. Tale contains a series of parodies, which of course I admired fifty years ago though I only published my own Parodies Lost recently, a biography of my brilliant parodist friend who especially parodied acad ...more
David Sarkies
Feb 17, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: comedy
Holy Satire
16 February 2020 - Wallaroo

All I can say is that this publication certainly caused a lot of stir, to the point that Swift was denied a bishopric due to having upset the monarch at the time. Yet, a part of me wonders why this was the case, especially since he clearly points out that the preferred church in his mind was the Church of England. Then again, as Swift is prone to do, he does write in a way that requires a lot of digging, and understanding of the events at the time, though I
Superb satire on the three main religions.

Also this on critics and reviewers:
These reasonings will furnish us with an adequate definition of a true critic: that he is a discoverer and collector of writers’ faults. Which may be farther put beyond dispute by the following demonstration: that whoever will examine the writings in all kinds, wherewith this ancient sect has honoured the world, shall immediately find, from the whole thread and tenor of them, that the ideas of the authors have been alt
Nathan "N.R." Gaddis
This Cambridge edition edited by Marcus Walsh is the critical edition of A Tale of the Tub recommended by Steven Moore. The Cambridge edition of Swift’s work is in 18 volumes. Moore discusses The Tub in The Novel: An Alternative History, 1600-1800, pages 634-642. “The most inventive, profound, and mindblowing novel of this time.”

In keeping with my Moore-lists of generation ::

The Tub’s predecessors ;;
Dunton [ie, Voyage round the World]

Following in the wake of The Tub ;;
I loved the idea of this book.

The tale of a tub (from the custom of throwing a tub out to sea to divert a whale threatening the ship), was meant to divert the “wits of the age” (we might call them pundits) threatening the commonwealth. It’s about Peter (Catholicism), Jack (John Calvin-Protestantism) and Martin (Luther’s reformation which led to Angicanism), brothers who each put their own interpretation on the strict “word” of their father’s “will,” about how to take care of the “coats” they we
Feb 18, 2013 rated it it was ok
To quote the late great Roger Ebert "I hated hated hated hated hated this" book. I give it two stars instead of one for the very simple but important issue: I didn't understand I word of it. So maybe it ain't Swift's fault.
Now, first of all, I consider myself an intelligent person. I have read "hard to understand" novels and treasties. I have understood forms of dry philosophy. I got through George Elliot.
But this... well this is a creature onto itself. Secondly, many people have stated that th
For such a short book it requires so much mental work to make sense of it that I doubt it is worth the effort. It is a good satire, but please don't ask me for a summary because I'm pretty sure I've already forgotten most of it since the author makes a point of writing about nothing and everything in the most ridiculous tone possible.

So, it was frustrating? I'll leave it at that.
Nov 17, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 1001-books
Can't say I enjoyed this terribly much. As with other Swiftian satires, I felt as if there was much that I was not getting, that a good deal would have meant so much more to a contemporary audience.
The story itself is simple, an allegory of religious excess, with three prodigal sons disrespecting their father's will, each representing a part of the Christian faith. Much more interesting is the amount of prefaces, analysis, forewords and digressions that actually make up much of the work. The dig
Aaron Brame
Apr 03, 2013 rated it liked it
I read A Tale of a Tub. Written for the Universal Improvement of Mankind for grad school, and it is one of the most unusual texts I have ever read. Swift published it anonymously in 1704--it was his first major work--and it is a rambling, disjointed, unintelligible book that challenges even the most careful reader. My professor said it was the most difficult work of the 18th century, and I believe him.

What's difficult about it? Well, the first indication that you're in for a rough few nights of
Richard Thompson
Nov 22, 2018 rated it liked it
Sometimes Swift turns an unbelievably great phrase, like when he says that knavery is as epidemic as the pox or when he says that those with teeth too rotten to bite are best of all others qualified to revenge the defect with their breath. There are many other points in this book that are well observed and cleverly phrased. For a book that was written in 1697, it is surprisingly easy to read. Swift was a writer of great clarity.

So there is much to admire here, but in the end I did not feel that
Dec 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
An absolute delight. Battle of the Books is gorgeous, too, and is usually printed together with the Tub.

Very much of the same British dryly priestly satirical lineage as Robert Burton, Laurence Sterne, and Thomas Carlyle. A book of pure play, armed with strong wit and a love of convoluted (or, convulsive) talk.

Dr. Johnson was so fond of it that he doubted that Swift wrote it!
I think I mentioned before that satire and parody aren't my favourite genres. I try to be fair when rating these books and to take into consideration the effect the books had or must have had when they were published.
This book was VERY hard for me to read. It was my second book by Jonathan Swift. My first was A Modest Proposal which was quite funny at some points but the ca. 10 pages of it were already definitely enough for me. I thought that A Tale of a Tub would be another quick read I would r
Apr 09, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A dazzling display of wit, but so dry as to stick in the throat a bit, despite occasional flights of whimsy. Having been removed from its immediate context by the passage of centuries, its ironies are to be appreciated rather than enjoyed.
Tracey  Wilde
Eh ? If I hadn't picked a copy with explanatory notes I wouldn't have understood this at all.
I can see what Swift is getting at and I'm sure it was hilarious at the time.
Clever but not for me.
a religious satrical allegory. very hard to follow.
Sep 22, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: books, uk-ireland
Swift's rather layered and hermetic satire "Tale of a Tub" is made up of several parts. In the first part Swift ridicules the customs of writers and publishers at the time, primarily through a list of chapters hilariously titled; then through the bookseller's recommendation to the readers - poking fun at publishers who take a large amount of credit for publishing someone else’s work; followed by the dedication to a distinguished member of the society - a common practice at the time that served t ...more
Feb 17, 2019 rated it it was ok
When I put this on my TBR pile for 2019 I did not realize what a chore this would be. I loved A Modest Proposal for wit and humor but this early and most intense satire by Jonathan Swift was a real drag. The author is writing a satire and from what I can decern, is about Catholic, Lutheran, and Calvinism. It is also intermixed with satire of critics and modernism. Yes, modernism of the 1600s. I am sure this is included in 1001 Books you must Read because Swift is surely a pioneer and probably th ...more
Melissa (ladybug)
I guess I just don't get Satire. :( This was confusing reading. I had to go online and look up summaries to figure out what was going on. Then it made sense. ...more
Vicky Hunt
Aug 18, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics
Hoodwinking Your Religion

Jonathan Swift has a sharp wit, which can be very cutting in the best of moments. A Tale of a Tub is quite allegorical. Much of this may be spoilers if you plan to read the book, so use your own discretion in continuing to read here. The three men are called Peter, Martin, and Jack so you quickly get the idea that Peter signifies first St. Peter specifically, and soon the Catholic Church in general. He interprets the Father's will very astutely to their own designs, and
Men would be more cautious of losing their time in such an undertaking, if they did but consider that to answer a book effectually requires more pains and skill, more wit, learning and judgment than were employed in the writing it.
-Jonathan Swift on critics

This is one of the books assigned to me during my English undergrad, back when I thought that the best way to develop my intellectual soul was to get drunk in the afternoon, skip all my lectures and read only the texts that suited me. I regret
May 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
It is said that Swift, when he was rich and years and his powers of criticism were distinctly failing, was overheard saying with regards to Tale of a Tub, "Good God, what a genius I had when I wrote that book."


This book was f.a.n.t.a.s.t.i.c! I find myself overrun with self-reflexive ponderings that equally confirm and satirize my position as a scholar/critic. I love this book and will read it for the rest of my life (which conveniently Swift proclaims that learned people are inclined to
Monty Milne
Jan 17, 2015 rated it liked it
There were plenty of times I laughed out loud reading this, delighted at Swift's idiosyncratic genius. If you like lengthy quotations from Horace interlarded with fart jokes, then this is for you....but there is a problem with this text. It is almost impossible for anyone to read it today without possessing EITHER an intimate familiarity with the literary, theological, cultural and historical context of 300 years ago OR being forced to wade through so many explanatory footnotes that the pleasure ...more
Dec 19, 2014 rated it liked it
Difficult read if you don't know much about the history of Catholicism, Christianity or its main sects. I only understood certain portions of it here and there, and especially when it got to Henry VIII and onward, but with a more in-depth reading and a plethora of footnotes, I think I could've been able to understand the whole thing.

The book is separated into eleven parts and the actual A Tale of a Tub parts are every even-numbered part, with the exception of X (which is a further digression fro
Ryon Shepard
May 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
Books are organisms. They are living, breathing things made of consciousness. Sometimes the meaning of a book is not in what is explicitly written. Sometimes it is in the movement, it is the flow itself. It's music, it is sound, and it affects consciousness at a level that few of us are conscious of. This is one of those books. Along with Ulysses, Finnegans Wake, Cantos of Ezra Pound, Beckett, etc . . . this book is a living thing. ...more
Sep 02, 2012 rated it it was ok
A fine insomnia cure. This really needs to be read with copious explanations and footnotes. It shows that satire does not always wear well. If this had been Swift's only work, I think he would have been forgotten by now. ...more
May 28, 2013 rated it liked it
A simple, allegoric story about three prodigal sons disrespecting their father's will, each representing a part of the Christian faith. I found an interesting comment that the learning of books cannot be measured by the production or consumption of words. ...more
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Reading 1001: A Tale of a Tub by Jonathan Swift 2 17 Feb 17, 2019 09:38AM  

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Jonathan Swift was an Anglo-Irish satirist, essayist, political pamphleteer (first for Whigs then for Tories), and poet, famous for works like Gulliver's Travels, A Modest Proposal, A Journal to Stella, The Drapier's Letters, The Battle of the Books, and A Tale of a Tub. Swift is probably the foremost prose satirist in the English language, and is less well known for his poetry. Swift published al ...more

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“Books, the children of the brain.” 206 likes
“I have one word to say upon the subject of profound writers, who are grown very numerous of late; and I know very well the judicious world is resolved to list me in that number. I conceive therefore, as to the business of being profound, that it is with writers as with wells; a person with good eyes may see to the bottom of the deepest, provided any water be there; and often, when there is nothing in the world at the bottom, besides dryness and dirt, though it be but a yard and half under ground, it shall pass however for wondrous deep, upon no wiser a reason than because it is wondrous dark.” 12 likes
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