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The Academic Goose Chase: Swift’s Tale of a Tub Between Print and Manuscript


Editors of Jonathan Swift’s A Tale of a Tub are generally divided into two groups: those who take the first edition (1704) as the definitive edition of the Tale and those who take the fifth. Those who advocate use of the first edition typically claim the first edition of a book is nearly always closer to authorial intention and, in the case of the Tale, scholars claim later editions of the text are mere bastardizations or obfuscations of the original. This paper demonstrates that an analysis of the text itself combined with knowledge of both the publication history of the Tale and the nature of contemporary manuscript circulation reveal that one of the best reasons for using the fifth edition of the Tale of a Tub is not that it is a “perfect” copy of the work somehow unadulterated by the ill nature of eighteenth-century print culture or even because it is closer to authorial intention but rather because A Tale of a Tub is a surreptitious text at heart and its unwieldy form is the essence of its brilliance.

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