How does Jonathan Swift represent women in his 'Stella's Birthday' series of poems?

Essay by _colesy_College, Undergraduate August 2006

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In studying Jonathan Swift's poetry, I have been instantly drawn to his series of Stella's Birthday poems, one of which was written every year from 1719 until the death of their subject, and in this essay I will be examining how Swift has represented women and femininity in these poems, and several more of his works. My aim will be to ascertain this by examining his works in detail, and looking at what motivated Swift to represent women in the way he did, through looking both at the culture and literature at the time, and his own life and influences.

Swift never married, although 'Stella,' - whose real name was Esther Johnson - was thought to be his 'dearest, most intimate companion' , and it was alleged, although never proved, that the two secretly wed. In example, George Monck-Berkeley wrote in 1789 that Stella 'had been cheered by the hope of one day becoming his (Swift's) wife', and that 'In 1716 they were married'.

However, although there is no record of such an engagement, in these poems to her, his feelings for her are clearly betrayed. It is interesting that Swift chose to direct these poems at a particular individual, unlike other poets such as William Shakespeare who wrote literature of a similar, romantic, praising vain but instead directed it at un-named or mystery women, for example in his 'dark lady' series of sonnets. This, for me, appears to show that he held a considerable amount of affection for Stella, in light of which I can more accurately examine the way in which she and women as a gender are represented in his work.

I feel that Swift has represented women in a diverse and layered manner; he lingers not only on the superficial level of Stella's beauty, but...