Gulliver’s Travels

by: Jonathan Swift

Mary Burton Gulliver

When I came back, I resolved to settle in London, to which Mr. Bates, my master, encouraged me; and by him I was recommended to several patients. I took part of a small house in the Old Jury, and being advised to alter my condition, I married Mrs. Mary Burton, second daughter to Mr. Edmund Burton, hosier, in Newgate Street, with whom I received four hundred pounds for a portion.

Gulliver introduces his wife, Mary Burton. When Gulliver marries Mary Burton after completing several voyages as a ship’s surgeon, he takes a wife as a career builder. Unmarried men were viewed with suspicion. He marries beneath his own class: He comes from the landed gentry while Mary’s father works for a living as a shopkeeper. However, Mary does bring him a substantial dowry. Gulliver’s rare references to his wife often include amounts of money, suggesting that Gulliver regards his marriage as mostly a financial arrangement.

I stayed but two months with my wife and family; for my insatiable desire of seeing foreign countries would suffer me to continue no longer. I left fifteen hundred pounds with my wife, and fixed her in a good house at Redriff.

Gulliver explains that although he prides himself on being a good provider, he never stays home with his wife and family for long. He does not blame Mary for his departures and instead credits wanderlust for his constant traveling. In fact, Gulliver tells readers very little about his wife’s personality or emotions, but he documents his generous provision for her needs. Fifteen hundred pounds converts to a present-day equivalent of nearly $350,000, qualifying Gulliver as a good provider in any age.

I looked down upon the servants and one or two friends who were in the house, as if they had been pigmies, and I a giant. I told my wife she had been too thrifty, for I found she had starved herself and her daughter to nothing. In short, I behaved myself so unaccountably, that they were all of the captain’s opinion when he first saw me, and concluded I had lost my wits.

Gulliver recounts his behavior on his return from Brobdingnag. As he still identifies with its giant people, Mary believes he’s lost his mind. Gulliver sees the need to explain his behavior as habituation to a different scale of life. As a societal commentary, the scene portrays the difficulty of bridging the perceptual gaps between people and by extension nations.

I continued at home with my wife and children about five months, in a very happy condition, if I could have learned the lesson of knowing when I was well. I left my poor wife big with child, and accepted an advantageous offer made me to be captain of the Adventurer, a stout merchantman of 350 tons[.]

Gulliver explains his departure for his fourth voyage, to the country of the Houyhnhnms. This time his leave-taking would weigh especially heavy on his wife, who is pregnant. Gulliver briefly feels sorry for her before throwing himself into the next adventure, reveling in the compensation and admiring the captain. Mary must sustain the family on her own.

As soon as I entered the house, my wife took me in her arms, and kissed me, at which, having not been used to the touch of that odious animal for so many years, I fell into a swoon for almost an hour.

Gulliver recalls Mary’s embrace upon his return. In spite of all she has suffered at Gulliver’s hands, Mary remains fond of him. However, after living among the Houyhnhnms, Gulliver can no longer stand humans. Mary now lives with a husband whom she loves but who thinks of himself as a horse. Throughout the book, Mary Burton Gulliver represents loyalty, dependability, and compassion—the very qualities that Gulliver cannot seem to find in other human beings.