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Part III

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    The Story of the Injured Lady was written in reaction to two events. The first was the failed application by the Irish House of Lords for a political union with England in 1703. A union was put forward because Irish politicians believed that Westminster encroachments on the liberty of the Irish parliament had become insufferable and that either complete legislative independence or complete political union was the only way out of constant political tension between the two countries. Needless to say, the address to Queen Anne was more or less ignored. The second event was the conclusion shortly afterwards of a union between Scotland and England in 1707. For Swift, this amounted to an intolerable rebuff to Irish Anglicans by the English and he conveyed his anger in allegorical fashion in the letter of a lady (representing Ireland) complaining about her sexual mistreatment by a gentleman (England) who had seduced her and promised marriage but who then went on to court an ill-mannered and unpredictable love rival (Scotland). The ill-treated lady had been persuaded to give up her virginity by the suave and seductive gentleman, but only because she believed that marriage was on the cards, and she is now outraged and emotionally wounded by his treatment. ‘Being ruined by the Inconstancy and Unkindness of a Lover’, she writes in the hope of warning other women ‘never to put too much Trust in deceitful Men’ (3).74

    Surprisingly, given the catalogue of complaints she delivers about his mistreatment, the injured lady is still eager to have her former lover return to her, is ready to completely forgive him, and lays most of the blame at the feet of her love rival. Kate Trumpener thinks it is ‘the most inexplicable part of this story that the two women betrayed by the same scoundrel should continue to compete with one another for a man . . . who deserves neither’.75 After all, not only did the gentleman seduce the injured lady, but after the seduction he demonstrated his true nature as a cruel and hard taskmaster, taking every chance to ‘shew his Authority, and to act like a Conqueror’, and ‘expected his Word to be a Law to me in all Things’ (4, 5). After sexual satiation, the lover criticises the lady’s management of her estate and usurps her authority by sending his own steward to run things instead; he replaces her servants with his own, prevents her from making her own living, and insists that she make some monetary contribution to his expenses. Far from a companionate relationship, in other words, this is more like the story of an aristocratic Pamela where Mr B actually gets his way.

    Swift’s Story is best read as an allegorised, domesticated and violent version of the history of Ireland contained in William Molyneux’s The Case of Ireland, Stated (1698). Molyneux, one of the most celebrated of Irish political philosophers, had earlier argued that Ireland was never conquered by England, but when the Normans arrived had made an ‘easie and voluntary submission’ and willingly entered into a relationship of equality where both countries were separate kingdoms under the one throne.76 Swift accepts that there was some measure of submission involved but complicates this by indicating the sheer inflation of the rhetoric and untruths involved in getting the lady into bed. Moreover, the tendency of the gentleman to act like a conqueror once he has had his sexual way allegorically implicates England in a relationship of violence and deceit with Ireland and renders the original period of relations between them less like courtship and more like the prelude to a date rape. The lady’s memory of the primal event is ambiguous, although she accepts that some of the responsibility remains with her. His rhetoric overwhelmed her, and she was ‘undone by the common Arts practised upon all easy credulous Virgins, half by Force, and half by Consent, after solemn Vows and Protestations of Marriage’ (4). In making the allegorical English figure a sexual adventurer, Swift’s ‘letter’ is not unlike the aisling poems which represented George I as a pervert harassing an innocent Irish woman. Moreover, in its occluded reference to the lady’s quasi-rape by England, the story participates in, or at least resonates with, the idiom of rape and sexual assault that is the hallmark of what Howard Erskine-Hill has called the ‘rhetoric of Jacobitism’. In poems like Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock (1712), the Glorious Revolution is coded as a sexual conquest close to rape.77 As Daniel Szechi has emphasised, ‘a major motif in eighteenth-century poetry, thatof the “lost lover” stemmed directly’ from a patrician Jacobitism, and although it would be foolish to consider Swift himself as a Jacobite, he is certainly provocatively incorporating its tropes into his Story.78

    Importantly, the reader is never given the perspective of the male lover and instead is manipulated into complete sympathy with the oppressed woman, especially since he is taken into her confidence through his ability to read her private letters. In the light of her long list of complaints, her desperate desire that the gentleman still choose her over her pernicious rival is rather pitiable. Moreover, that she expends so much energy attacking her supposed rival for the affections of the gentleman seems like a waste of her talents. The rival’s faults are as numerous as the gentleman’s, and the reader may presume that they deserve one another and that the injured lady is far better off without either of them. The rival is of the wrong religion, is a slattern who can’t keep her affairs in order, is bad-tempered and sluttish. That the two rivals actually have much in common seems beyond the ability of the lady to understand.

    The male friend she writes to, however, can see clearly, and he berates the lady for her inability to realise that her ‘rival’ has nothing to do with the bad behaviour of the gentleman and should be seen as a potential ally. The Answer to the Injured Lady directs the lady away from a continued pursuance of the hateful gentleman and urges instead independence and an alternative alliance with a closer male authority, an allegorical representation of the Anglican Irish. Unlike the Gaelic poets who urge a long and patient period of waiting for the English Stuart lover to return, after which the economic and political fertility of the land will be restored, the injured lady’s friend tells her to become practical and look for new avenues to happiness – there is already a perfectly suitable adviser close at hand. Thomas McLoughlin argues that Swift, ‘by handing over the narration to a female voice, dissociates himself from the masculine role of domination (England) and foregrounds the “other”, the female’.79 This, however, ignores the fact that the lady is answered by a more authoritative voice than her own, that of a male adviser who, while indicating a kind of independence (from the abusive gentleman), does not advocate an early form of feminism but rather a new dependency, though on a more worthy male subject. Swift is, of course, partially trapped by an inability to see beyond his conviction that the lady cannot rule herself and needs a masculine figure to make sure that things run smoothly, but refreshingly, he advises her to look closer to home for this man and, once decoded, the main point of the allegory is to advance a clear unequivocal alliance between the Irish Anglican ruling class and a female Ireland – an allegorical Ireland as sympathetic and accessible as the allegorised figures in the Gaelic poetry. This response to Ireland’s troubles is surprising partially because of the extent of the criticism levelled at individuals within the Anglican ruling class by the two letters, but it is a legislative independence figured as an intimate relationship that Swift wishes to endorse. Of course, this also lets Irish Anglicans off the hook for their ineffectual mismanagement of Irish affairs, but the unspoken assumption is that Anglican Ireland is capable of reforming its character and assuming full political and domestic responsibility. As Rick G. Canning argues, ‘Gender allows Swift to present the relationship between England and Ireland as a love story gone wrong. This allows him in turn to make . . . [a strong case] for the Ascendancy’s control of Irish affairs’.80

    Rather than a Jacobite or a unionist response to Ireland’s political difficulties, then, Swift offers a patriotic one, though one also dependent on the recognition that marriage, inconstancy and sexual violence are useful ways of discussing politics. The Answer informs a female Ireland that although it looks as though she is in a desperate situation, she need not despair. Her first lover turned out to be a bit of a disaster; however, the answer to this is not to continue to pine for him like some kind of idiot but to turn to a much more eligible authority, one fortunately standing at hand ready to take up the mantle of responsibility. As Canning explains, ‘The lady’s weakness calls for some form of male authority, and since English authority is selfish and cruel, the Ascendancy’s alternative authority appears benign, natural, and paternal’.81 As the lady’s interlocutor insists, ‘have no Dependence upon the said Gentleman, further than by the old Agreement, which obligeth you to have the same Steward’ (9) – an argument that requires the Injured Lady to continue to accept that the same king remain head of state of both countries, but which requires also a complete rejection of the gentleman’s continued authority over her.

    For the Gaelic poets and the national novelists, political stability required an outward gaze to a male authority outside the bounds of the Irish nation. That authority was, of course, a different one for these authors (the Catholic Stuarts and Protestant Britain), but they shared the sense that Ireland herself could not solve her own problems. For Swift, however, Ireland had an internal solution in the form of the Anglican ruling class. After all, although the gentleman kicked all her old servants out (the Irish Catholics), the new ones he provided (English Protestants) turned out to be not so bad, and many of them had been ‘brought over’ to the Injured Lady’s ‘side’ at this stage, so they could now be trusted to take on the role of advisers (5):

    As the friend instructs the lady on what to say, proposing resolutions against dependence, absentee landlords, and English restrictions on Irish trade and leases, he reveals that his voice is the voice of Ascendancy Ireland. His resolutions, in other words, identify a specific set of problems and with them a specific set of victims: the Anglican fraction of Ireland’s population.82

    Swift’s solution, therefore, while using the same metaphor of marriage and sexual desire, was important in that it indicated that a patriotic resolution could be sought which allowed an alliance to be arranged between the Anglican Irish nation and Ireland herself. It also demonstrated the flexibility of the allegorical imagination and the uses to which different communities could put the same allegorical figures. Ireland as woman would prove increasingly important for the Anglican enclave later in the century when the Money Bill dispute caused ruptures and divisions to bubble to the public surface once more. While the allegory would be utilised in political pamphlets and satires, it would also be channelled into a new emerging form, the Gothic novel, and used in a much less limited way so that the term ‘allegory’ would not in fact be an appropriate one to use in analysis. The Irish Gothic novelists allowed their female characters to be both independent agents and also to symbolically spread beyond the dimensions of the plot into a relation to the politics of the day. It is to these uses that I now turn.

    This page titled Part III is shared under a CC BY-NC license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Jarlath Killeen via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.