Published in the year 1732, Jonathan Swift’s “The Lady’s Dressing Room” generally talks about a woman’s filthiness that is surveyed by an intrusive man who enters the woman’s room when she is not present. Two years later, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu published “The Reasons that Induced Dr. Swift to Write a Poem Call’d “The Lady’s Dressing Room””, a fist fighting response to Jonathan Swift’s poem. Both of the poets use a satirical style of writing in their poems to criticize each other. In Jonathan Swift’s poem, the tone seems to be awfully sarcastic as well as disgusted. Lady Montagu’s poem exemplifies a distinct anger but also a humorous tone at the same time. Both poems are personal attacks that seem to have been written out of either spite or anger.
Right away, Jonathan Swift is being sarcastic in the first stanza of the poem when he writes:
Five Hours, (and who can do it less in?)
By haughty Celia spent in Dressing;
The Goddess from her Chamber issues,
Array’d in Lace, Brocades and Tissues. (Lines 1-4)
Swift says that women take about five hours to get themselves ready and no less. He calls Celia, the name Swift gives to the woman being ambushed in the poem, arrogant and then compares her to a goddess. This line suggests that women take so much time to reach a level of perfection or divinity.
Jonathan Swift posits that Celia is a disgusting and filthy pig. He writes so that the speaker of the poem sounds very crude and vulgar when describing Celia. Swift writes:
Fowl’d with the Scouring of her Hands,
The Bason takes whatever comes
A nasty Compound of all Hues,
For here she spits, and here she spues.
But oh! It turn’d poor Strephon’s Bowels,
When he beheld and smelt the Towels,
Begumm’d besmittere’d, and beslim’d
With Dirt, and Sweat, and Ear-Wax grim’d. (Lines 38-46)
Here the speaker of the poem is very judgmental and graphic in describing how filthy Celia is. He is implying that the woman is very dirty and messy. To emphasize the speaker’s disgusted tone, Swift uses alliteration in line 45, “Begumm’d, bematter’d, and beslim’d”. This helps readers to understand how Strephon might have felt when he picked up Celia’s filthy towels. Also, Swift uses imagery to help readers create a visual image of what Strephon is observing. In the lines above, Swift describes the scene in the bathroom very vividly, which in many ways help a reader actually imagine how dirty the towels were, or how filthy the sink was. The imagery is helpful to readers in helping them to understand the meaning of the poem. When someone can place themselves in the shoes of the writer and actually feel what the writer may have felt, it makes understanding the poem a bit easier.
Swift’s main purpose of writing this poem is to attack a woman he had once had encounters with; it is an attempt to embarrass her. It seems that Swift is a misogynist, and that is what the theme of the poem surrounds, the hatred of women. Swift is being very sexist when he...