Gulliver's Travels: Laputa and Flandona Gagnole

A linguistical essay on Swift's sexism, the Flying Island and the Astronomer's Cave. By Richard Stoney of Orleans, CA, USA

There has been much discussion on the significance of the flying/floating island of Laputa and FLANDONA GAGNOLE in part 3 of Swift's Gulliver's Travels. This essay will point out his tendency towards wordplay and punning. I have divided FLANDONA GAGNOLE into three segments: FLAN, DONA, and GAGNOLE.

FLAN: Consider these words from various languages:

--Eng. FLAN, an adjective, noun and verb, with these definitions: "a shallow, not very hollow"; widen upwards, bevel externally; slightly basin-like; broad with sloping sides, ". In regards to this last definition, Oxford English Dictionary lists this quote: "1781: HUTTON Tour to Caves Gloss., Flan, 'shallow'". FLAN can also refer to the roundness of a tart, from the Old French. As an illustration of these definitions, consider this following passage from 3-3-2+3 of the book:

"The flying or floating Island is exactly circular; its Diameter 7837 Yards, or about four Miles and an Half, and consequently contains ten Thousand Acres...The Declivity of the upper Surface, from the Circumference to the Center, is the natural Cause why all the Dews and Rains which fall upon the Island, are conveyed in small Rivulets towards the Middle, where they are emptyed into four large Basons...At the Center of the Island there is a Chasm about fifty Yards in Diameter, from whence the Astronomers descend into a large Dome, situated at the depth of an Hundred Yards beneath the upper Surface".

Cambridge Italian-English, English-Italian Dictionary Signorelli and 3 other dictionaries offer three basic definitions of FLAN, "open tart; flong (typography); matrix". This final connotation was almost universally used by the dictionaries quoted (another defined FLAN as "mold"), and it is this final definition on which I now focus, although it seems that Swift has added to the definitions of It. FLAN. Oxford English Dictionary offers this definition of MATRIX: "an embedding or enclosing mass, especially the rock-mass surrounding or adhering to things embedded in the earth, as...fossils, gems, and the like." In that context, Gulliver writes, "This Stone cannot be moved from its Place by any Force, because the Hoop and its Feet are one continued Piece with that Body of Adamant which constitutes the Bottom of the Island". (3-3-4)

The island is covered with a "Coat of rich Mould ten or twelve Feet deep" (4-3-2). MATRIX also means "the body on which a fungus or lichen grows" (mold is a type of fungus). But Oxford English Dictionary offers a quote on the subject which post-dates Travels by about 125 years, so I was unable to determine whether this meaning was, in fact, used in Swift's day. Likewise, MATRIX is a "rectangular arrangement of quantities or symbols", as we see in the (symmetrical?) placement of the "four large Basons". But, again, this meaning is post-dated by 125 years.

Now we come to the critical crux of the matter: In English MATRIX primarily means "uterus, womb, place of creation," derived from the Latin word for "mother". In her article, The Flying Island and Female Anatomy: Gynaecology and Power in Gulliver's Travels, Susan Bruce believes that the word LAPUTA (la puta, "whore") should be considered in the context of the lives of the island's inhabitants and 18th-century science: "Laputa is a circular island with a round chasm in its center, through which the astronomers descend to the dome like structure of the FLANDONA GAGNOLE, or 'astronomer's cave.'" In this cavity, Swift tells us, "The greatest Curiosity, upon which the Fate of the Island depends, is a Load-stone of a prodigious Size, in Shape resemb;ing a Weaver's Shuttle", by means of which "the Island is made to rise and fall, and move from one Place to another"...Laputa bears an extraordinary resemblance to the descriptions given to us in midwife manuals of the movable uterus, attached only to the vagina, rising and falling, influenmced by the lodestone. Laputa, I want to argue, is a representation of a female body which is entered by, and controlled by, men. In "A Voyage to Laputa", the desire to enter the body, evinced earlier by Gulliver, realizes its fulfilment in the realm of a representation, and Gulliver and the Laputians are ble to enter the female body at will and, by doing so, negate the monstrous potential for resistance to male power. It is this which engenders the name of the island: in a paradigmatic instance of misogyny, the achievement of male control over the female render the body the whore: la puta." There is also the Slovak word FL'ANDRA, which means "slut, tart".

Regarding the island's up-down motions, Susan Bruce adds, "The uterus was also still thought to be be mobile in the eighteenth century, and hence 'Aristotle' [a pseudonym, see below] in his Compleat Masterpiece instructs his reader to 'observe that the two Ligaments hanging on either Side the Womb, from the Share bone, piercing thro' the Peritoneum, and joined to the Bone itself, causes the Womb to be moveable, which upon sundry occasions either fall low or raise high'".

In Italian, DONNA means "woman", so I propose that, in this case, FLANDONA means "womb-woman". And GAGNOLA means "she whines". In her aforementioned article, Susan Bruce unknowingly confirms this definiton: "The lodestone, for example, which Swift places in the center of the flying island was, in the early eighteenth century, the repositiory of a great deal of popular belief concerning conception and the female anatomy. It was thought useful in preventing miscarriages had occurred, and in Aristotle's Compleat Masterpiece the pseudonym 'Aristotle' tells us that 'a Loadstone caried about the Woman, not only causeth Conception, but Concord between Man and Wife: which, if it be true, I would have no married Woman go without one, both for her own, and her Husband's Quiet'". In 3-2-15+ 16, Gulliver offers two passages:

--"The Women of the Island have Abundance of Vivacity; they contemn their Husbands..., but are much despised, because they want the same Endowments [as their husbands]...The Wives and Daughters lament their Confinement to the Island."
--"...the Women [of Balnibarbi] in Conjuction with the Vulgar and illiterate...threatened to raise a Rebellion, unless they might be allowed the Liberty to speak with their Tongues".

In a related matter, there is the French word FLAN used in various phrases:

--DU FLAN!: "No way! No bloody chance."
--C'EST DU FLAN!: "It's a load of rubbish!"
--'A LA FLAN: "not serious, trivial, bunkum, claptrap, "pulling my leg".
--TES IDE'ES 'A LA FLAN!: "You and your lousy ideas."

An additional connotation of GAGNOLA is "she yelps". Conceivably Swift envisioned the entry of the cave by the astronomers as an analogy of a woman's yelps of sexual pleasure.

Now that I have dealt with the sexual aspect of all this, I would like to go back to the definition of English/French/Italian/Spanish FLAN, which is often translated to mean "tart". The word TART originally was a round closed/open filled pastry. Then it absorbed (in English) the meaning of "girl, woman wife". Here is a quote from Oxford English Dictionary, which, even though it post-dates Travels, is significant nonetheless: "1898...And his lady love's his 'donah,...or his 'tart'"

The general, overwhelming consensus has been to accept LAPUTA as "the whore". And the only definition of FLANDONA GAGNOLE that I have come across is "London, England", based, supposedly, on a letter-substitution scheme/pattern/code created in earlier years for correspondence solely between Swift and Stella. Not only is this interpretation very inappropriate for the occasion, but is so very loosely-constructed as to easily mean many things. For example, according to the "rules" of this code, BURGLUM in Part 1 of the book can mean "murder" or "burglar" at a time when Gulliver is woken up because of a fire.

One final item: in chapter 3, Gulliver explains the inner workings of the island and its movement: "To explain the Manner of its Progress, let A B represent a Line drawn across the Dominions of Balnibarbi." Then he goes on to describe how the island moves up, down and obliquely. According to drawings found in my copy of Travels, this line A B divides the island in half. But what does it have to do with anything?: nothing at all. I propose that this line represents nothing but a dividing line separating the two external sides of the female organ.

Another sexual analogy: In paragraph 3-3-14, Gulliver mentions the town of Lindalino. Cf. Sp. LINDA, "lovely"; LIN~O, "ridge between two furrows". This definition is very similar to a region of the female pubic region called MONS VENERIS: Latin MONS, "mountain, heap" but, in this case, more like a protruding "mound"; VENERIS, "of loveliness", related to Venus, goddess of love. In the next paragraph, Gulliver writes, "...a great River runs through the middle of the Town." Trouble is, addition of this passage must be considered a sexual non sequitur snuck in by Gulliver since it has nothing to do with the subject at hand: the king's handling of a rebellion.

There has been much speculation on the source of the word GULLIVER. I would propose--with complete respect for women's liberation and their continuing advancement--that GULLIVER is a pun. Cf. Skt. GULA, "penis"; VIIR, "be powerful", base word for VIIRA, "man". "Power of a man's penis"? This interpretation is not far-fetched considering Swift's love of wordplay and SANSKRIT PUNS IN BEGGAR'S OPERA, GULLIVER'S TRAVELS.

Bruce, Susan. "The Flying Island and Female Anatomy: Gynaecology and Power in Gulliver's travels in Genders, Summer/July, 1988, pp. 60-76
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