Last Updated on July 29, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 399
Many have said that A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift (1729) is the best satirical essay ever written. In it, he suggests that the problem of poverty among the Irish (which Swift, incidentally, blamed on British policies) would be solved if Irish babies were treated as food and fed to the wealthy. Many of Swift's contemporaries who read the essay were horrified, missing the irony. Swift's real message was that the upper classes ought to change their deplorable callousness toward the poor.
Swift's A Tale of a Tub (1704) is a religious allegory featuring three brothers who represent the Anglican, Roman Catholic, and dissenting Christians (who believe in a personal, non-institutional form of Christianity). Swift uses his satire and fiction-writing abilities to make his point that Anglicism is the happy medium between the egotistic individualism of other Protestants and the rigid institutionalism of the Catholic church.
Swift's The Battle of the Books (1704), published along with A Tale of a Tub, is a satire about the purpose of history, which Swift believed was not to pile up facts and events but to develop a moral philosophy. Swift pits ancient books against modern ones in a war that takes place in a library.
Utopia by Thomas More (1516) is a classic work of western philosophy. Saint Thomas More wrote this blueprint for an ideal human society in the form of a dialogue between More and a fictional traveler, Raphael Hythlodaeus, who describes a foreign country where the inhabitants' customs bring out the best in their people.
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll (1865 and 1872 respectively) are, like Gulliver's Travels, works of satire disguised as children's adventure stories. Both books are fantastical stories about a little girl named Alice who travels through absurd worlds, having fallen down a rabbit hole or stepped into a mirror.
Candide by Francois Voltaire (1759) is a funny, satirical novel about a simple fellow named Candide who learns from his travels and his teacher, Pangloss, to be less idealistic and more pragmatic. He learns that work is rewarding and decides that everything is not for the best after all.
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain (1889) is a satirical story about a young man, Hank Morgan, who wakes up in England during King Arthur's reign after suffering a blow to the head. He tries to bring democracy to feudal England with less-than-desirable results.