Thursday, January 28, 2010

Montagu, Swift, and Beauty

My reaction was very similar to Lizzie's when I read "The Lady's Dressing Room." It seemed like Strephon's findings just kept getting worse and worse, and definitely made me feel much better about the state of my own dorm room.

Looking at all the poems we read for class today, the prevailing theme seems to be Beauty, or rather, the lengths women will go to attain it. I especially liked Montagu's poem about the Small-Pox, because it gives an inside view into the woman's head that Swift does not show through his poem. One line in Montagu's poem struck me in particular as summing up all of the poems:

"How false and trifling is that art you boast; / No art can give me back my beauty lost." (67-68).

The "false and trifling art" are all the trappings of beauty that are seen catalogued in "The Lady's Dressing Room." It is indeed "trifling," to go to such extreme lengths to create beauty when it is so transient, and once gone can never come back. While Swift and Montagu poems are both satires, I think they show how women are pressured to conform to society, specifically London society, and all of their uncleanliness reflects the squalor of the city itself.

As an end note, it serves Strephon right for snooping around because afterwards, "His foul Imagination links / Each Dame he sees with all her Stinks," (121-122) and I find this pretty funny on Swift's part.


  1. Before our class discussion about Montagu's poem "The Small-Pox," I didn't really look at it as a satire. As I read it, I empathized with the lady and the fact that all her beauty is gone and she has nothing left. I know the author wants us to feel sorry for the lady, but after rereading it I see the sarcasam and the exaggerated emphasis on this lady's situation. The last stanza really stands out to me especially after reading it with the idea of excess emotion and over-dramatizing the problem. It becomes really ridiculous and humorous. For example, she claims that the parks and streams are rejoicing over her ruin and she would be better off if she lived on some deserted island (lines 89-93). I think the beginning causes one to have sympathy but as the poem progresses, it become too much and I wish the lady would just accept the fact that she had this disease and move on with her life

  2. I think you're right, Clara, and that Swift makes sure that Strephon gets his comeuppance in the end when he can't help but link every lady he sees with the disgusting experience he just had, now that he knows the truth.

    To me it seems like Swift wishes to both distance himself from Strephon in this moment as well as point out how all men might feel if they knew what their women did to themselves to become "beautiful". After all, this story was written in a time when it was very much a man's world, and (not unlike today in fact), what was considered to be "beautiful" and "attractive" is almost always decided in a man-related context. That is to say, women sometimes dress the way they do to be attractive to men, even if what they wear is uncomfortable or silly. It would seem that Swift points out that most men live in ignorant bliss of what women put themselves through, and if they did know the truth they would share Stephron's revulsion for the beautificaiton process.