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Sky Sports and the 18th century huzzies

2011 January 27
by Paul Vallely

Andy Gray, the disgraced Sky Sports presenter, could have saved himself a lot of bother had he taken the trouble to read a bit of 18th century literature. Not, some might suggest, the natural reading matter of the former Scotland striker. But he might have learned from the great satirist Jonathan Swift that it is possible to conduct a discourse at two levels – the hidden one of them far more offensively sexist than anything the £1.7m a year ex-soccer pundit managed to come up with in his off-air comments.

For where digital technology has sullied the reputation of Mr Gray it is about to do the opposite for Dean Swift. Until now academics had thought that the 65 letters, published first in Swift’s masterly A Journal to Stella in the 1760s, had been censored by editors concerned to preserve the great cleric’s reputation. The two Dublin spinsters to whom they are written are addressed by Swift variously as “agreeable bitches”, “naughty girls” and “huzzies”  along with very dodgy references to the “horror” and “filth” of the female body.

But digital imaging analysis by an Oxford academic (female) suggests it was Swift himself who made these alterations as part of a flirtatious game of handwriting cat and mouse. “The reader has to undress the text to enjoy it fully,” says Dr Abigail Williams. If only Mr Gray had had so subtle an interlocutor.

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