Unconventional Love, Sex, and Marriage: The Swiftian Romance

  • Ann Cline Kelly


Aeneas and Dido, Lancelot and Guinevere, the Duke of Windsor and Mrs. Simpson—stories about the unconventional or unsanctioned love lives of famous figures spread quickly through the general population. Not only Swift’s sexuality, but also that of his parents became a subject of speculation. Was he illegitimate? If so, who was his father? Did Swift by accident end up marrying his sister, who might have been an out-of-wedlock child of the same father? By publishing unsavory pieces that linked sex with excrement and affectionately addressing two young women in print while seemingly being married to neither, Swift—a clergyman, no less!—stamped his character with taboos that generated gossip. Sexual irregularity or unlicensed love is an essential aspect of narratives concerning mythologized figures. Raglan’s list contains implications of incestuous relations (3), unusual conception (4), unconventional marriage (12) and barrenness (20). Like other legends, Swift is depicted in multiple, often contradictory ways—in this case, as oversexed, undersexed, married, unmarried, chaste, libertine, gay, incestuous.


Eighteenth Century Popular Culture Brewing Coffee Love Life Mercury Treatment 
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    Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality: An Introduction. 3 vols. Trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Vintage Books [Random House], 1978; rpt. 1990), 34.Google Scholar
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    See John Sutherland’s discussion of sexual secrets in Can Jane Eyre Be Happy? More Puzzles in Classic Fiction, which includes essays such as “Where does Fanny Hill keep her contraceptives?” and “WTio is Tom Jones’ Father?” (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1997) as well as William A. Cohen’s Sex Scandal: The Private Parts of Victorian Fiction (Durham: Duke University Press, 1996).Google Scholar
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    The evidence is summarized in Maxwell Gold’s Swift’s Marriage to Stella (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1937); Ehrenpreis rejects the evidence for any marriage, Swift, 3: 405.Google Scholar
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© Ann Cline Kelly 2002

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  • Ann Cline Kelly

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