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Jonathan Swift's 'secret code of intimacy' unveiled by research

31st January 2011

New analysis of intimate letters written by Jonathan Swift to two women has shed light on the private life of the Gulliver's Travels author.

Dr Abigail Williams, of the faculty of English language and literature at the University of Oxford, used digital image analysis to examine letters that the writer sent to Esther Johnson and Rebecca Dingley.

The expert studied lines that had been crossed out and has developed a new theory as to why they were censored. Dr Williams believes that Swift himself scored through the lines, not a later censor, as a way of flirting with the two women.

'I think the effect was intended to be a kind of 'now you see me, now you don't' guessing game with his readers. The women he was writing to needed to undress the text before they could fully enjoy it,' she commented.

Dr Williams also argued that other elements of the letters, such as Swift writing in a form of baby language by changing the consonants in familiar words and giving the women nicknames, is further evidence of his use of a 'secret code of intimacy'.

Swift's notable works include A Tale of a Tub, Battle of the Books and the satire A Modest Proposal, which suggested Irish peasants could alleviate their poverty by selling their children as food for the rich.
 

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