Luis Quintanilla's illustrations for Gulliver's Travels

Jeremy Kahn

Luis Quintanilla provided engravings for the illustration of the 1947 Gulliver's Travels from Crown Publishers, New York. His interpretation of Gulliver's voyages are blended well into this edition, and though realism is not a strength, he conveys well the sense of bizarreness and frustration that Gulliver must have encountered on his voyages and Swift no doubt meant to convey.

In his frontispiece illustrations for the first two parts of the novel (the trips to Lilliput and Brobdingnag) Quintanilla reveals a rather strong bias in favor of a very political interpretation of these two parts of the voyage:

In the frontispiece for the first part, his trip to Lilliput (and its neighboring, similar, arch-enemy country Blefuscu), Quintana chooses to use a pseudo-navigational map. However, though the countries shown are Lilliput and Blefuscu, the silhouettes are those of Britain and France, a parallel pair of similar yet eternally bickering and warring countries. Doubtless, Swift had intended to parody the warring states of Europe when describing, for example, the Bigendian-Littleendian Wars, but his parody might not have been directed quite so pointedly at his country of citizenship. Does Swift indeed believe his own people to be so ineffectual and tiny as the Lilliputians? Nevertheless, Quintanilla's hint is a fascinating one.

In the frontispiece of the second part, the voyage to Brobdingnag, Quintanilla chooses to use the same technique (he uses less literary illustration style for the pictures inserted in the text, but at the front of all of the Parts he uses this style of inserting a map). But here, instead of a European nation, Brobdingnag's silhouette is that of the United States of America. This choice, too, is fascinating; the Brobdingnagians are hugely powerful without even a sense of their immense physical power, but what they gain in power they lose in tact and fine-grainedness of motor and productive abilities. These are characteristics attributed to Americans by more authors than Swift. Unfortunately, I cannot remember the name of the (British, needless to say) author/politician who described America as "A very large, friendly dog in a very small room." So Quintanilla's guess is probably not too far off.

On a little more research, though, I discovered that Swift died in 1745, far too early to be thinking of the United States as a rising power of its own right (the USA wasn't even a country yet!). So Quintanilla is abstracting Swift's parody far beyond what Swift might have meant.

But even if this was an accurate historical interpretation of the story behind Gulliver, there is still a problem. By setting a fixed interpretation on a satire like this one (or Flatland, for that matter, one reduces the ability of the satire to be flexible in more than one direction. A non-political interpretation of Gulliver, as a commentary on the general human condition, for example, is no longer as immediate when the illustrations beat in the idea that these nations of extremes in size correspond to political nations of our world.

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