Jonathan Swift

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What is "The Lady's Dressing Room" about, and what is Lady Montagu's response to it?

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Jonathan Beutlich eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Jonathan Swift's "The Lady's Dressing Room" is an extended "toilet humor" satire about an upper class woman's dressing room and her efforts to beautify herself. The woman's name is Celia, and she leaves her dressing room after five hours of getting herself ready. Strephon then enters the room, and the poem begins to spiral into more and more disgusting descriptions of what Strephon finds left in the dressing room.

The basin takes whatever comes
The scrapings of her teeth and gums,
A nasty compound of all hues,
For here she spits, and here she spews.
But oh! it turned poor Strephon’s bowels,
When he beheld and smelled the towels,
Begummed, bemattered, and beslimed
With dirt, and sweat, and earwax grimed.
The poem ends with Swift telling readers that the sights have ruined Strephon's opinion of women, but Swift says that Strephon needs to just enjoy the results and not think about how a woman eventually got that way.

Montagu's poem is an equally hilarious poem that pokes fun of a man visiting a prostitute; however, the man is unable to perform. The man in question is supposedly Swift, and Montagu is essentially saying that Swift's knowledge must surely be based on the rooms of prostitutes. While both poems are equally funny, I tend to think that Montagu's poem is more malicious in that it is targeting a specific, real person.

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bbtrees eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In the satirical poem “The Lady’s Dressing Room,” Jonathan Swift pokes fun at the English gentlewoman’s elaborate toilette. The poet dubs the lady, Celia, “the Goddess.” When her admirer, Strephon, examines her dressing room after she leaves it, he is horrified at its contents and condition. Her clothes and personal accessories such as her comb are filthy, and she uses beauty creams and oils that contain animal urine. The “Pandora’s Box” he opens has a rank odor, and he hints that it contains sex-related accessories.

Lady Montagu responded in even harsher terms. Accusing Swift of describing the room of a prostitute, she says he is more likely lying than just mistaken in associating the revolting sights to with any lady. She further claims that Swift uses these excessive protestations to cover up his own impotence with the prostitute.

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howesk eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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"The Lady's Dressing Room" is a poem by Jonathan Swift. It describes an upper-class woman's room during the Romantic Period, and focuses on some areas of the room that are not pleasant or attractive. It compares a woman's process of getting ready to industry and agriculture, evoking the smells and sights of hard work, dung, etc. The poem is humorous and satirical. It points out how the process used to make women beautiful is actually not so beautiful!

Mary Wortley Montagu responded to the poem by writing "The Reasons that Induced Dr S to write a Poem call'd the Lady's Dressing room." In her poem, she implies that Swift had called a prostitute and found disastrous results, which then induced him to write his satire about women. The second link below goes into more detail on ths point.

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