Satire and Secrecy: Rereading The New Atalantis, Gulliver’s Travels, The Rape of the Lock, and The Dunciad

  • Melinda Alliker Rabb


Gossip, slander, and secret history challenge “the limitations of traditional theory [of satire]” (Bogel, vii) with strategies of aggression made possible through covert rather than overt attacks. Manley, Swift, and Pope share a conspiratorial imaginary that shapes their ironic fictions and engages the reader in strategies of concealment and discovery. Manley makes a good starting point because her production of secret histories was explicit. Her secret-revealing gossips forge a relationship between literary speech acts and the “scandalous speaking body.” Her fusion of politics with sex, while often derogating women, shows how women writers could appropriate the very terms in which they have been abused (as secondary, changeable, irrational; subject to seductive promises, secrets, and broken vows) and redeploy them in authoritative acts. In this way, language directed against ‘the feminine’ also interpellates and constitutes the female satirist and empowers her to “wound with words.” Understanding a text like The New Atalantis as a paradigm for the relationship between secrecy and satire changes the way we read Swift and Pope.


Woman Writer English History Foreign Court Glorious Revolution Epic Hero 
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© Melinda Alliker Rabb 2007

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  • Melinda Alliker Rabb

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