'The Lady's Dressing Room' by Jonathan Swift

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gopher://dept.english.upenn.edu/00/E-text/PEAL/Swift/dressingFive hours, (and who can do it less in?)
By haughty Celia spent in dressing;
The goddess from her chamber issues,
Arrayed in lace, brocades, and tissues.
Strephon, who found the room was void
And Betty otherwise employed,
Stole in and took a strict survey
Of all the litter as it lay;
Whereof, to make the matter clear,
An inventory follows here.
And first a dirty smock appeared,
Beneath the arm-pits well besmeared.
Strephon, the rogue, displayed it wide
And turned it round on every side.
On such a point few words are best,
And Strephon bids us guess the rest;
And swears how damnably the men lie
In calling Celia sweet and cleanly.
Now listen while he next produces
The various combs for various uses,
Filled up with dirt so closely fixt,
No brush could force a way betwixt.
A paste of composition rare,
Sweat, dandruff, powder, lead and hair;
A forehead cloth with oil upon't
To smooth the wrinkles on her front.
Here alum flower to stop the steams
Exhaled from sour unsavory streams;
There night-gloves made of Tripsy's hide,
Bequeath'd by Tripsy when she died,
With puppy water, beauty's help,
Distilled from Tripsy's darling whelp;
Here gallypots and vials placed,
Some filled with washes, some with paste,
Some with pomatum, paints and slops,
And ointments good for scabby chops.
Hard by a filthy basin stands,
Fouled with the scouring of her hands;
The basin takes whatever comes,
The scrapings of her teeth and gums,
A nasty compound of all hues,
For here she spits, and here she spews.
But oh! it turned poor Strephon's bowels,
When he beheld and smelt the towels,
Begummed, besmattered, and beslimed
With dirt, and sweat, and ear-wax grimed.
No object Strephon's eye escapes:
Here petticoats in frowzy heaps;
Nor be the handkerchiefs forgot
All varnished o'er with snuff and snot.
The stockings, why should I expose,
Stained with the marks of stinking toes;
Or greasy coifs and pinners reeking,
Which Celia slept at least a week in?
A pair of tweezers next he found
To pluck her brows in arches round,
Or hairs that sink the forehead low,
Or on her chin like bristles grow.
The virtues we must not let pass,
Of Celia's magnifying glass.
When frighted Strephon cast his eye on't
It shewed the visage of a giant.
A glass that can to sight disclose
The smallest worm in Celia's nose,
And faithfully direct her nail
To squeeze it out from head to tail;
(For catch it nicely by the head,
It must come out alive or dead.)
Why Strephon will you tell the rest?
And must you needs describe the chest?
That careless wench! no creature warn her
To move it out from yonder corner;
But leave it standing full in sight
For you to exercise your spite.
In vain, the workman shewed his wit
With rings and hinges counterfeit
To make it seem in this disguise
A cabinet to vulgar eyes;
For Strephon ventured to look in,
Resolved to go through thick and thin;
He lifts the lid, there needs no more:
He smelt it all the time before.
As from within Pandora's box,
When Epimetheus oped the locks,
A sudden universal crew
Of humane evils upwards flew,
He still was comforted to find
That Hope at last remained behind;
So Strephon lifting up the lid
To view what in the chest was hid,
The vapours flew from out the vent.
But Strephon cautious never meant
The bottom of the pan to grope
And foul his hands in search of Hope.
O never may such vile machine
Be once in Celia's chamber seen!
O may she better learn to keep
"Those secrets of the hoary deep"!
As mutton cutlets, prime of meat,
Which, though with art you salt and beat
As laws of cookery require
And toast them at the clearest fire,
If from adown the hopeful chops
The fat upon the cinder drops,
To stinking smoke it turns the flame
Poisoning the flesh from whence it came;
And up exhales a greasy stench
For which you curse the careless wench;
So things which must not be exprest,
When plumpt into the reeking chest,
Send up an excremental smell
To taint the parts from whence they fell,
The petticoats and gown perfume,
Which waft a stink round every room.
Thus finishing his grand survey,
Disgusted Strephon stole away
Repeating in his amorous fits,
Oh! Celia, Celia, Celia shits!
But vengeance, Goddess never sleeping,
Soon punished Strephon for his peeping:
His foul Imagination links
Each dame he see with all her stinks;
And, if unsavory odors fly,
Conceives a lady standing by.
All women his description fits,
And both ideas jump like wits
By vicious fancy coupled fast,
And still appearing in contrast.
I pity wretched Strephon blind
To all the charms of female kind.
Should I the Queen of Love refuse
Because she rose from stinking ooze?
To him that looks behind the scene
Satira's but some pocky queen.
When Celia in her glory shows,
If Strephon would but stop his nose
(Who now so impiously blasphemes
Her ointments, daubs, and paints and creams,
Her washes, slops, and every clout
With which he makes so foul a rout),
He soon would learn to think like me
And bless his ravished sight to see
Such order from confusion sprung,
Such gaudy tulips raised from dung.

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Lady's Dressing Room: A Scathing Critique of Society's Hypocrisy

Jonathan Swift's "The Lady's Dressing Room" is a satirical poem that exposes the hypocrisy of society through a scathing critique of fashionable women's obsession with beauty and cleanliness. The poem, written in 1732, is a masterpiece of satirical writing that offers a biting commentary on societal norms and values. It is a searing critique of the vanity of women and the society that enables it. It is also a testament to Swift's enduring legacy as a master satirist.

The Poem's Structure and Style

"The Lady's Dressing Room" is written in heroic couplets, a form of poetry that consists of two rhyming lines in iambic pentameter. The poem is divided into three parts, with each part focusing on a different aspect of a fashionable woman's dressing room. The first part describes the room itself, the second part describes the various cosmetics and perfumes that the woman uses, and the third part reveals the shocking truth about the woman's appearance.

Swift's style in the poem is characterized by wit, sarcasm, and irony. He uses vivid imagery and graphic descriptions to create a sense of disgust and revulsion in the reader. He also employs a number of rhetorical devices, such as hyperbole, irony, and paradox, to heighten the effect of his satire.

The Hypocrisy of Society

At its core, "The Lady's Dressing Room" is a scathing critique of the hypocrisy of society. Swift is deeply critical of the superficiality and shallowness of fashionable women who spend hours preening and primping themselves to look beautiful. He is also critical of the men who enable this behavior by fawning over these women and rewarding them for their beauty.

Swift's use of graphic imagery and descriptive language is particularly effective in exposing the hypocrisy of society. He describes the various cosmetics and perfumes that the woman uses in great detail, highlighting their artificiality and their potential harm to the body. He also describes the disgusting state of the woman's dressing room, with its dirty water and used cosmetics scattered about.

The Dangers of Vanity

While "The Lady's Dressing Room" is primarily a critique of societal norms, it also serves as a warning against the dangers of vanity. Swift is deeply critical of those who prioritize their appearance over their inner selves. He warns that vanity can lead to obsession and even madness, as is evidenced by the shocking revelation in the poem's final stanza.

Swift's critique of vanity is also evident in his use of irony and paradox. He emphasizes the artificiality of cosmetics and perfumes, highlighting the fact that they are not natural or healthy for the body. He also emphasizes the absurdity of the woman's obsession with cleanliness, noting that the very act of trying to be clean can actually make one dirty.

The Legacy of Jonathan Swift

"The Lady's Dressing Room" is a testament to Jonathan Swift's enduring legacy as a master satirist. Swift was a deeply critical and insightful writer who used satire to expose the hypocrisies and follies of his society. His writing is characterized by wit, irony, and a deep understanding of human nature.

Swift's influence can be seen in the work of many other writers who followed in his footsteps. His use of satire to critique societal norms and values inspired writers such as Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain, and George Orwell. His legacy continues to inspire writers today, reminding us that satire can be a powerful weapon against the follies and hypocrisies of our own time.


In conclusion, "The Lady's Dressing Room" is a scathing critique of society's hypocrisy and a warning against the dangers of vanity. Swift's use of graphic imagery, descriptive language, and rhetorical devices is particularly effective in exposing the shallow and superficial nature of fashionable society. The poem is a testament to Jonathan Swift's enduring legacy as a master satirist and a reminder of the power of satire to expose the follies and hypocrisies of our own time.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Lady's Dressing Room: A Satirical Masterpiece by Jonathan Swift

Jonathan Swift, the renowned satirist, is known for his sharp wit and biting commentary on the society of his time. One of his most famous works, "The Lady's Dressing Room," is a scathing critique of the vanity and superficiality of women in the 18th century. Written in 1732, the poem is a masterful example of Swift's ability to use humor and irony to expose the flaws of his contemporaries.

The poem tells the story of Strephon, a young man who is infatuated with a woman named Celia. One day, Strephon sneaks into Celia's dressing room while she is out, hoping to catch a glimpse of her beauty. However, what he finds instead is a room filled with filth and disgusting objects, including a chamber pot and a used menstrual pad. Strephon is horrified by what he sees and realizes that Celia's beauty is nothing more than a facade.

Swift uses this story to make a larger point about the nature of beauty and the way it is constructed in society. He argues that women are not naturally beautiful, but rather they use cosmetics and other tricks to create the illusion of beauty. This illusion, he suggests, is a form of deception that is used to manipulate men and maintain power over them.

The poem is divided into three parts, each of which explores a different aspect of the theme. In the first part, Swift sets the scene by describing Celia's dressing room in vivid detail. He uses graphic imagery to paint a picture of the filth and squalor that Strephon finds there, contrasting it with the idealized image of beauty that he had in his mind. This contrast is meant to shock the reader and challenge their assumptions about what beauty really is.

In the second part of the poem, Swift shifts his focus to Strephon's reaction to what he has seen. He describes Strephon's disgust and disillusionment, as he realizes that the woman he idolized is not the perfect creature he thought she was. This is a powerful moment in the poem, as it highlights the way that men idealize women and project their own desires onto them. Strephon's disillusionment is a reminder that beauty is not an inherent quality, but rather a construct that is created by society.

In the final part of the poem, Swift brings his argument to its conclusion. He argues that women use their beauty as a weapon to manipulate men and maintain power over them. He suggests that men are foolish to fall for this deception, and that they should see through the illusion of beauty to the true nature of women. This is a bold statement, and one that would have been controversial in Swift's time. However, it is a testament to his skill as a satirist that he is able to make such a provocative argument in a way that is both humorous and thought-provoking.

Overall, "The Lady's Dressing Room" is a masterpiece of satire that continues to be relevant today. Swift's critique of the way that society constructs beauty and the way that women use it to maintain power is as relevant now as it was in the 18th century. The poem is a reminder that beauty is not an inherent quality, but rather a construct that is created by society. It is a call to see through the illusion of beauty and to recognize the true nature of women. Swift's wit and humor make this argument all the more powerful, and ensure that the poem will continue to be read and appreciated for generations to come.

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