John Gay

David Nokes

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First published in 1995, David Nokes’ major biography of John Gay (1685-1732) was the first full-length life of Gay for over fifty years, and drew on hitherto unpublished letters. Presenting Gay as a complex character, torn between the hopes of court preferment and the assertion of literary independence, Nokes offers both a lively and accessible read for the non-specialist and a comprehensive scholarly study.
Best-known for The Beggar’s Opera, Gay is here revealed as a contradictory figure. Nokes argues that Gay’s self-effacing and self-mocking literary persona was largely responsible for perpetuating an image of himself as a genial literary non-entity. Often cast as a neglected genius, dependent on others, he in fact left a considerable fortune after his death. Depicted by his friends as both a childlike innocent and a rakish ladies’ man, he produced the most successful and subversive theatrical satire of his generation, and volumes of bestselling Fables.


David Nokes was for many years a professor of English Literature at King’s College London, where he taught eighteenth-century literature and pioneered the Creative Writing course. His books include Jonathan Swift, A Hypocrite Reversed, which won the James Tait Black Memorial prize in 1985, and biographies of John Gay (1995), Jane Austen (1997) and Samuel Johnson (2009). His adaptation of…

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