At the beginning of each chapter is a short summary of that chapter. For example, from Chapter 1:

[The author gives some account of himself and family. His first inducements to travel. He is shipwrecked, and swims for his life. Gets safe on shore in the country of Lilliput; is made a prisoner, and carried up the country.]

Were these summaries included in the original publication or added later? Were they written by Swift in the voice of Gulliver's friend, Richard Sympson, or someone else? What purpose are the summaries supposed to serve?


I've seen summaries like these used in other novels of the time period. I believe they exist simply for the convenience of the reader, much like tables of contents and back cover summaries, and aren't intended to be interpreted as Gulliver's voice.

  • If I recall correctly, you will see similar in Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan. – Shane L Harris Sep 2 '11 at 17:31
  • It was formerly normal for novels from what I can tell. Don Quixote does it and I've seen some modern books going either seriously or comically for an old fashioned feel do it too, I wish I could remember which ones though. – hippietrail Sep 2 '11 at 22:06
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    I rather wonder if the weren't similar to the 'Dumbshow' once commonly seen in theater -- in a well written play, you could get quite caught up in the dialog (think of the battle of puns between Hal and Falstaff), but the dumbshow had already given you they synopsis of the plot.. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dumbshow – K-H-W Sep 5 '11 at 0:53

In those days longer works were often serialized and this may represent an attempt to make the work more friendly to serial printings...Swift published in fear of prosecution, so it was not unreasonable to expect that the work would end up being circulated by alternate printing methods.

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    I considered this as a possible explanation as well, but after looking into it I couldn't find any definitive indication that Gulliver's Travels, specifically, was published in a serialized form. Perhaps you could expand your answer to cite a reference? – TML Sep 7 '11 at 7:11
  • Apparently from here, the first edition was serialized, but in two volumes and not as a series of stories in a newspaper. – J. M. Sep 8 '11 at 3:05

Other books of the time followed the same format: including Tristram Shandy (1759) I believe even "Pamela" (1940) did this but don't hold me to that since I haven't read that for 40 years.


A lot of authors in that times used this trick in their works (as Jules Verne, for example, or ).

In that times book pages can easily shuffle (and not all books contained page numbers), and reader (and editor), using this summary, can restore page order.

Also you should note that this books are considered as children-oriented, and this summaries can easily make some attention, and add some magic atmosphere to the story (as in A.A. Milne stories).

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