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A Face without Personality’: Coetzee’s Swiftian Narrators

Gillian Dooley, Robert Phiddian


Much has been written about the complicated intertextual relationships of J.M. Coetzee’s novels to previous works by writers such as Kafka, Dostoevsky, Beckett and, especially, Defoe. Relatively little has been written, by comparison, about any relationship with Defoe’s great contemporary, Swift. We claim no extensive structural relationship between Coetzee’s novels and Swift’s works – nothing like the formal interlace between Robinson Crusoe and Foe, for example. What we do claim, however, is a strong and explicitly signalled likeness of narratorial stance, marked especially by the ironic distance between author and protagonist in Gullivers Travels and Elizabeth Costello. We rehearse the quite extensive evidence of Coetzee’s attention to Swift (both in novels and criticism), and suggest that there is a Swiftian dimension to Coetzee’s oeuvre in several books, including Dusklands, Youth, Elizabeth Costello, and Diary of a Bad Year.


Jonathan Swift; J.M. Coetzee; narrative voice; Gulliver’s Travels; Elizabeth Costello

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The Johns Hopkins University Press

ISSN: 1920-1222

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