Popes Poems and Prose


An Exploration of ‘Dulness’ In Pope’s Dunciad

July 3, 2019 by Essay Writer

One of Pope’s most fundamental premises in The Dunciad is the idea that the demise of the word cannot be blamed solely on the Grub Street hacks but also on academicians at large. Not only does the ‘uncreating word’ of Chaos (IV 653) pose as a religious and moral Armageddon – this allusion to the reinstatement of conditions that existed before creation being perhaps the most sinister image in the poem’s entirety – but also as a semantic and creative apocalypse. The textual critics such as the Tibbaldian hero of the previous editions of The Dunciad, clearly contribute to this dissolution, and their effect on the author’s ‘wits’ whom they study is violent and brutal: When Dulness, smiling – ‘Thus revive the Wits! But murder first, and mince them all to bits… …Let standard authors, thus, like trophies born, Appear more glorious as more hack’d and torn, And you, my Critics! in the chequer’d shade, Admire new light through holes yourselves have made. (IV 119-126)Among the vast army of personae attacked by Pope in The Dunciad, two characters, Dr Busby and Richard Bentley are satirised at some length and as such, are held as the arch propagators of academic Dulness. Being projected very much as Dulness’ chief representative in schools, Busby’s heavy pedantry and a heavier hand is shown to debar pupils from genuine enlightenment: We ply the Memory, we load the brain, Bind rebel Wit, and double chain on chain, Confine the thought, to exercise the breath; And keep them in the pale of Words till death. What’er the talents, or how’er design’d, We hang one jingling padlock on the mind. (IV 157-162)Warburton’s annotations to these lines likens the versified mnemonics in rote-learning as practiced by Dr Busby in Winchester to the bells put onto draught horses’ bridles, emphasises Pope’s own satire of an inescapable academic world in which, words instead of being a means to knowledge, are built into a barrier against it. This idea of textual Dulness as repressive, burdensome, and imprisoning has also been presented earlier to the reader: Beneath her footstool, Science groans in chains, And Wit dreads exile, penalties, and pains. There foam’d rebellious Logic , gagg’d and bound, There, stripp’d, fair Rhet’ric languish’d on the ground (IV 21-24)But Pope’s satire extends beyond Busby’s stick-wielding classroom habits to political Dulness, immaturity and consequently independence, in the sense that the ‘Boy-Senator’, even after leaving school, still cringes in fear of being punished. As Valerie Rumbold notes, “…when such young men leave school Walpole takes on the absolute power of a Busby over them, making nonsense of their supposed role as representatives of a free people.” Pope seems to suggest that this education can be of little use as it takes no more account of the varying demands life will make on the students than it does of their varying talents. Seemingly, Busby’s academic Dulness not only stunts free-thinking creative growth, but also his influence resurfaces as a debilitating trait in his students later on in their careers.Yet another perfect bête noire for the ‘ancients’ such as Pope, Bentley’s mangling of the text of Milton’s Paradise Lost is also exemplary for corrupting words in what is considered to be a superficial, unnecessary, and irrelevant exercise: Turn what they will to verse, their toil is vain, Critics like me shall make it prose again. (IV 213-214)Bentley’s enlightened concern with accuracy is deliberately confounded with his Enlightenment arrogance, his inability to allow the dead poet his autonomy. As J. Philip Brockbank notes, “Our education, as transmitters of literary tradition, have some place in the creation story, and their function, according to Pope, has been to subdue all creative art to dullness.” Having once censured ‘Dunce’ scholars such as Bentley and Theobald who either over-analyse texts (particularly problematic if the mistakes found therein are from Pope’s own works) or fragment literature to a series of meaningless words and disjointed letters, which cease therefore to signify, (“Tis true, on words is still our whole debate,/ Disputes of Me or Te , of aut or at,/ To sound or sink in cano , O or A,/ Or give up Cicero to C or K” {IV 219-222}) Pope’s satire on Dulness is further applied to the incongruity of things. The way the characters in The Rape of the Lock attach immoderate importance to particular objects (the lock of hair itself), is one of Pope’s chief sources of social and cultural comment. In it, there is also a tendency for routine objects to be invested with almost religious significance and to be registered as precious or attractive. The same method is employed in The Dunciad, but the transitions which the objects experience are different. As critic Martin Blocksidge notes, “Wherein The Rape of the Lock the trivial was made significant, in The Dunciad, the potentially significant is trivialised in order to present a view of culture and learning which has become fatally fragmented and concerned with mere shards rather than with real objects.” The whole superficiality of learning and apprehension is summed up in Pope’s treatment of the young man undertaking his grand tour. Pope offers a criticism of tourists which has with time become commonplace enough: that they are likely to visit places simply for the joy of having been there, rather than because they are particularly well equipped to get anything out of what they see. Pope’s ‘young Aeneas’ makes a breezy whistle-stop tour of Europe: Intrepid then, o’er seas and lands he flew, Europe he saw, and Europe saw him too…(IV 293-294)Not only are Europe’s cultural monuments cheapened by the young man’s indiscriminating avidity before them (‘The Stews and Palace equally explor’d/ Intrig’d with glory, and with spirit whor’d’ {315-6}), some are degraded by time anyway. For example, the once-great city of Venice is now merely effete and vicious: Where, eas’d of Fleets, the Adriatic main Wafts the smooth Eunuch and enamour’d swain. Led by my hand, he saunter’d Europe round, And gather’d ev’ry Vice on Christian ground; (IV 309-312)Introducing a satirical account of what was considered to be a necessary part in the completion of the education of the member of the ruling class in the eighteenth century, this Grand Tour did little to mature the minds of the young travellers but instead was blamed for introducing foreign corruption into politics, religion and culture, as well as allowing the men to indulge in unrestrained debauchery in a city of decadent carnivals involving masking and fancy dress. And Venice, in ‘dull’ decline despite a proud tradition of liberty, can furthermore also be seen as a specific warning to Britain.

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Fortasse, Pope, Idcirco Nulla Tibi Umquam Nupsit (The Rape of the Lock)

June 21, 2019 by Essay Writer

Alexander Pope is known for his scathing but intelligent critiques of high English society. His acclaimed poem The Rape of the Lock does support female passivity and subordination in marriage; however, the fact that they are endorsed in Pope’s satirical world demonstrates his detestation of these ideas, and more importantly, of the society (comprised of both males and females) that upholds these conventions.In many aspects Belinda is infantilized; her judgment and intelligence reduced to that of a child and subject to an authority figure of some sort. For example, Pope writes: “Some secret truths, from learned pride concealed/ To maids alone and children are revealed” (ROTL 1.37-38). Here, the “learned pride” represents the men, who, for all their erudition, are not privy to the existence of the chimerical creatures. Women, however, are not above believing in the machinery because they are nave as children are. Her “ideas crowd a vacant brain,”(ROTL 1.83) suggesting that she is not capable of any substantial considerations, certainly not anything transcending her “infant thought[s]”(ROTL1.29). Later, she is depicted as juvenile and unreasonable during her crying fit, while the Baron is heroic, surpassing even Aeneas in steadfastness for his refusal to return the lock of hair (ROTL 5.5).Another way she is compared to a child is her inability to fend for herself and thus needing the Sylphs, who “guard the purity of melting maids” (ROTL 1.71). Belinda was “claimed” (ROTL 1.105) by Ariel, which demonstrates how the woman is not only objectified by the men she encounters, but by the Sylphs as well. Although it is specified that their sex is interchangeable, Ariel, the Sylph chiefly responsible for Belinda’s well-being, is identified as a male with the masculine pronoun “he” (ROTL 1.115, etc.). By defining Ariel as a man, Pope places Belinda under the care of yet another virile figure.An important aspect of the child/woman comparison is that the ignorance is attributed to innocence. This is meant to demonstrate the virtue and sexual purity a woman was expected to possess, but this wholesomeness is undermined throughout the poem by the repeated suggestions of Belinda’s sexual desire and even the satiation of this desire. First, the poet describes how a “birthnight beau…even in slumber caused her cheek to glow.” (ROTL 1.23-24) This hints at sexual desire so potent within Belinda that she cannot escape it while sleeping. Pope’s discussion of female desire extends to the root of it and the facility by which a man can incite it. For example, in Canto 1, Lines 86-90 Pope writes:And in soft sounds, ‘your Grace’ salutes their ear’Tis these that early taint the female soul,Teach infant cheeks a bidden blush to know,And little hearts to flutter at a beau.”The lines suggest that flattery “taints” the female soul from youth. Additionally, their blushing cheeks and fluttering hearts denote the awakening of their passions. Belinda’s yearning is mostly fiercely attacked in lines 105-110. Here Pope juxtaposes her honor to a brocade. This implies that her worldly goods (a brocade was usually made of rich fabric and were very expensive) were esteemed on the same level as her nobility. Next, it indicates that her honor would be as easy to stain as an article of clothing. The point that Pope makes in his mentions of female desire is that attention is sought more than sexual gratification. For instance, Belinda is described as having “a thirst of fame” (ROTL 3.25) when she sits to play ombre with the knights. Pope’s use of sexually charged vocabulary (“thirst”, “invites”, and “burns”) implies that her attention mongering is as satisfying as a sexual experience.The act of cutting the lock itself is the greatest statement on female compliance. The Baron is glorified for acting in the name of love in Canto Two, lines 30-34:He saw, he wished, and to the prize aspired.Resolved to win, he meditates the way.By force to ravish, or by fraud betray;For when success a lover’s toil attends,Few ask if fraud or force attained his ends.The diction in these lines demonstrates how the Baron saw Belinda as a trophy to be won by any means. Later, he boasts of his conquest, claiming that “so long [his] honor, name, and praise shall live!” (ROTL 4.169) Although the act is not worthy of the uproar expressed in the mock epic, it would be contestable even in modern times. Instead of facing any retribution, he was exculpated from the opening lines of the poem when his motives for the assault are explained to be no stranger than those that “Could make a gentle belle reject a lord” (ROTL 1.9-10) Belinda cements the notion in her last speech when she voices the notion that “she who scorns a man must die a maid” (ROTL 5.28). The assumption in these lines is that a woman is obligated to accept any man that courts her without regard to her personal preferences and that it is dishonorable to die without a husband. Both ideas weaken the woman because they undercut the possibility of an independent woman being socially acceptable in their society. It is here that the reader realizes that the roles of victim and perpetrator are switched and Belinda will assume culpability for everything that happens to her.Pope makes a strong statement about the role of women in The Rape of the Lock, but it is important to consider that the statement is not encouraging the behavior and standards he presents; rather he condemns those who maintain those conventions. He is not attacking women in general; he is attacking the kind of woman he describes in the mock epic (and probably the kind of woman that rejected him.)

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Allusion and Its Effects in Pope and Johnson

May 10, 2019 by Essay Writer

In some eighteenth century works, the emphasis on alluding to and drawing inspiration from the past proved to be one of the most effective methods in composing a satirical piece. Appearing in two forms, Juvenal or Horatian, a satire is “a poem, or in modern use sometimes a prose composition, in which prevailing vices or follies are held up to ridicule” (Drabble). Alexander Pope’s The First Satire of the Second Book of Horace Imitated alludes to the past as well as the present in a piece representative of Horatian satire. Serving as the example of Juvenalian satire is Samuel Johnson’s London: A Poem, In Imitation of the Third Satire of Juvenal. The significance of the allusions present in both pieces is central to understanding the overall intention of each satire.

Alexander Pope’s The First Satire of the Second Book of Horace Imitated, published in London in 1733, is Pope’s endeavor to defend himself and his satirizing works, by writing yet another satire (Pope 1-14). In the poem, he defends himself by alluding to some of his previous victims and subjects, declaring satire to be the truth as well as his guilty pleasure and if he ceased to write he would “think/ and for my Soul I cannot sleep a wink/…Fools rush into my head, and so I write” (Pope 29). Writing, particularly of the follies and vices of others is his primary passion. The poem is written as a dialogue between Pope and a friend who acts as his “council learned in the Law” and as Pope justifies his satire, the friend attempts to convince him of the dangers of his writing (Pope 27). Having the piece written as a dialogue allows the reader a chance to hear an outsider’s opinions as the text jumps from the friend’s main concerns followed by Pope’s justifications. Incorporating dialogue between Pope and another into the poem adds an extra dimension to it by allowing the reader to place themselves into the text as a second character in the dialogue.

The controversial nature of his allusions and subjects are the source of the displeasure towards his poems. Arguably, the “precise question is whether Pope’s verses constitute satire or libel” (Maresca 366). Is he merely making a mockery of those included in his works, or is he in fact guilty of slander against them? Pope defends his earlier works, referencing when he wrote satires that seemed “too bold/ Scarce to wise Peter complaisant enough/ And something said of Chartres much too rough” (Pope 27). Pope affirms he wrote satire and not libel since both references were to guilty men, thus Pope “undermines the charge of libel in the very act of presenting it by referring to his attacks” (Maresca 367). Pope believes he is not guilty of libel when the words he wrote were that of public opinion.

He satirizes the traditional poets methods of writing merely for the pleasure and satisfaction of others such as the poet “Sir Richard, rumbling, rough and fierce/ With Arms and George, and Brunswick crowd the Verse”, who writes what Pope considers to be shallow poetry written purely for the affections of royalty (Pope 29). Pope refers to what he sees as lesser poets thus providing an example to further defend that he must be the one to satirize the truth otherwise no one will. The friend encourages Pope to use his poetry to “Let Carolina smooth the tuneful Lay/ Lull with Amelia’s liquid Name the Nine/ And sweetly flow through all the Royal Line” because in immortalizing the royal family he has the greater possibility of immortalizing his own writing (Pope 31). Pope writes poetry in order to give insight into the human condition and to uncover the flaws that exists in everyone. When comparing Pope’s satire to Horace’s original, and in regards to writing poetry for the glorification of royalty, Pope’s and Horace’s “excuse for not writing heroic poetry is literally true of them; their talents are insufficient” (Maresca 386). Pope deems royalty unworthy of such immortalization without just cause.

Pope further alludes to the past when professing his dedication to remaining honest and true in his works:

My Head and Heart thus flowing thro’ my Quill,

Verse-man or Prose-man term me which you will,

Papist or Protestant, or both between,

Like good Erasmus in an honest Mean. (Pope 33)

Erasmus was one of the great sixteenth-century scholars, known for a number works including translations of the Bible and classics that helped revolutionize European literary culture (Drabble). In alluding to Erasmus, Popes draws a comparison between himself and another great intellectual. Erasmus authored The Praise of Folly in 1511 which satirized church dignitaries and theologians (Drabble). Erasmus satirized others and was still considered ‘good’ and ‘honest’, traits which Pope himself wishes he and his satires can be associated with as well. Pope draws from the past in order to compare and relate them both with one another, allowing for the association to positively impact Pope’s own reception with his readers.

Pope further defends his use of satire in the lines:

I only wear it in a Land of Hectors,

Thieves, Supercargoes, Sharpers, and Directors,

Save but our Army! and let Jove incrust

Swords, Pikes, and Guns, with everlasting rust! (Pope 35)

Pope has alluded to the past as well as the present here in order to defend his satire. He uses satire against the “Land of Hectors/ Thieves, Supercargoes, Sharpers, and Directors” who represent the “corrupt and vice-ridden England” that exists in the present (Maresca 390). His inclusion of the government arises from his use of the term “Minister” which “emphasizes the fact that the court is principally responsible for the disorder of England and so indirectly responsible for Pope’s compulsion to write satire” (Maresca 391). Pope cleverly brings the satire full circle in claiming those who criticize his use of it are the sources of his material for writing it. His ultimate defense is that he must write it. Along with these present allusions, Pope’s use of “Jove” alludes to the the ancient Roman god, also known as Jupiter. Jove is the king of the gods, and the allusion to him emphasizes the power Pope places in the notion of peace. He asks for peace in asking Jove to destroy the weapons of their armies, in the same way he asks for peace from his readers.

Samuel Johnson’s London: A Poem, In Imitation of the Third Satire of Juvenal was published in London of 1738 (Johnson 1). This poem employs Juvenal satire to express Johnson’s disappointment and disgust over the present state of his beloved city of London. As Pope did, Johnson also alludes to the past and the present, though since the poem is Juvenal satire, the allusions are less playful and more abrasive and critiquing (Drabble). Having the poem be an imitation of the Third Satire of Juvenal immediately associates the poem with the past. In constructing his poem this way, each line though different from the original, still bears some connection to it. The structures and ideas within the lines of Johnson’s London were written in a manner reflective of the original, bringing the past to his new poem.

Within the first stanza of the poem Johnson emphasizes the poor state of London:

I praise the Hermit, but regret the Friend,

Who no resolves, from Vice and London far,

To breathe in distant Fields a purer Air,

And, fix’d on Cambria’s solitary Shore,

Give to St David one true Briton more. (Johnson 3)

His use of the phrase “from Vice and London far” presents the reader with the association between vice and London essentially equating one with the other. London has become so corrupt and broken that it is nearly synonymous with the term vice. Even a “true Briton” can no longer take up residence there, seeking relief where there is a “purer Air” (Johnson 3). His use of “true Briton” to describe the personae of the speaker, Thales, in the poem implies a strong sense of pride, but even that pride is not powerful enough to make one stay in London. Thales acts as “a stereotype of the good man ‘harass’d’ by the vileness of his city…[who] must endure the agony of exile in order to survive as a ‘foe to vice’” (Bloom 116). Johnson draws such a critical distinction between Thales and the vice-ridden Londoners. In presenting the image of this fractured London, Johnson reveals how society has “in itself the elements of its own destruction, an enemy within which will subvert and betray it” (Varney 204). When Johnson asks “For who would leave, unbrib’d, Hibernia’s Land/ Or change the Rocks of Scotland for the Strand” he draws subtle allusions of the past in using more classical names Cambria and Hibernia to refer to Wales and Ireland (Johnson 4). These more classical terms imply a sense of history or the overall passing of time.

Some of the most powerful allusions to the past are included in the third stanza of the poem:

Struck with the Seat that gave Eliza Birth,

We kneel, and kiss the consecrated Earth;

In pleasing Dreams the blissful Age renew,

And call Brittannia’s Glories back to view;

Behold her Cross triumphant on the Main,

The Guard of Commerce, and the Dread of Spain. (Johnson 5)

The suggestion of the “consecrated Earth” where Queen Elizabeth was born brings up what is considered one of the greatest reigns of England. Elizabeth I ruled from 1558 to 1603, and during her successful reign was immortalized in countless works of literature and art (Drabble). Her inclusion in the poem draws a clear distinction between the present London of Johnson’s poem, and London back in its days of greater glory. In alluding to Elizabeth I Johnson begs the reader to consider the seriousness of his poem in forcing the reader to make their own comparisons between London of the present and the past.

Since the poem refers to one of the most renowned political figures of England, it draws a stark contrast between past and current administrations. Politics has a heavy hand in influencing London and many of the downfalls Johnson see within it. London “reflected and contributed to the volatile political atmosphere of 1738 and its popularity was undoubtedly bolstered by its fiercely engage content and tone”, thus making it one of Johnson’s most publicized works (Varney 203).

Further emphasis on the political issues in London in 1738 are brought up as Johnson asks readers to “call Britannia’s Glories back to view/ Behold her Cross triumphant on the Main/ The Guard of Commerce, and the Dread of Spain” (Johnson 5). Looking to the past is necessary to comprehend Johnson’s insistence that London is rapidly falling apart. When compared to “Britannia’s Glories” of the past, London in 1738 appears in even greater shambles. He reminds readers of the days when the English army was triumphant and defeated the Spanish Armada, drawing another comparison to its present lack of victories. The depth of Thales’ pain for London’s downfall is evident as he “is more shaken by the world he decries and may even have taken on something of its fated and self-destructive character. He is more a product of the world he lives in and less independent” (Varney 205). This description reveals the level of involvement of Thales, how unbearable and destructive the nature of things are. If London falls, all of its people will fall with it. Johnson cannot stress the importance enough.

The allusions used by Pope and Johnson serve primarily to add a new dimension and depth to their satires, whether Horatian or Juvenal. Drawing from the past in order to make a point about the present proves a successful means for each. In his First Satire of the Second Book of Horace, Pope defends himself over his use of satire. He sharply defends himself where others have found reason to critique him, not for the quality of his writing, but for his subjects. In his writing Pope believes in “the virtuous intent of his satire, and points out that under other kings satirists, not flatterers, had been rewarded with royal favor” (Maresca 391). Pope alludes to Erasmus to bring similarities between the two of them, with the hopes of receiving the same respect Erasmus received. Drawing from the past brings an element of time to the work. Pope connects the past and present, almost questioning why Erasmus was so well received for his satire while Pope is so harshly judged. This all relies on the distinction between satire and libel, and in walking the fine line between the two, Pope is making himself subject to such criticisms.

Johnson’s efforts to draw inspiration and allusion from the past seems to have a greater and more profound effect upon his work than on Pope’s. His allusions come from a variety of areas whether historical, political, mythological, or cultural. In order to emphasize the social and political issues occurring in London in 1738, he takes advantage of these allusions to stress the changes that have changed London from the most wonderful city, to a decrepit and fallen city. He uses historical political figures such as Elizabeth I and Edward III to remind prideful Londoners of the glory their nation once possessed. In addition to reminiscing about better days, he reveals what he believes are the problems with London at present- from vanity, to poverty, to shame, and all the vices employed therein. London is such a success “not just because of the accuracy, mordancy, and poetic brilliance with which Johnson has suited Juvenal’s satire…but because Johnson fuses with his public satire a deeply impassioned presentation of the mind in distress” (Varney 204). Johnson’s Thales is so passionate about the city he loves that it effects his actual being; it is not just about the city of London, but of the physical and emotional state of Londoners themselves. He possesses a strong love for London, even in its current troubled state, and his words serve to reignite such spirit in his fellow Londoners.

Works Cited

Bloom, Edward A., and Lillian D Bloom. “Johnson’s London and Its Juvenalian Texts”. Huntington Library Quarterly 34.1 (1970): 1-23. JSTOR. Web. 9 November 2011.

Drabble, Margaret, and Jenny Stringer. The Oxford Companion to English Literature. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. eBook.

Johnson, Samuel. London: A Poem, In Imitation of the Third Satire of Juvenal. London, 1738. Eighteenth Century Collections Online. Web. 9 November 2011.

Maresca, Thomas E. “Pope’s Defense of Satire: The First Satire of the Second Book of Horace, Imitated”. ELH 31.4 (1964): 366-394. JSTOR. Web. 9 November 2011.

Pope, Alexander. The First Satire of the Second Book of Horace, Imitated. London, 1733. Eighteenth Century Collections Online. Web. 9 November 2011.

Varney, Andrew. “Johnson’s Juvenalian Satire On London: A Different Emphasis”. The Review of English Studies 40.158 ( May 1989): 202-214. JSTOR. Web. 9 November 2011.

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Homer and the Influence of Material Excess in Alexander Pope’s “The Rape of the Lock” and “The Dunciad”

April 30, 2019 by Essay Writer

‘From Pope’s perspective as satirist’, writes Michael Seidel, ‘London is stuffed with the bodies of dunces and awash in printer’s ink’, hitting upon the early 18th century’s proliferation of print culture and its wider implications that Pope was so interested in. This proliferation manifests itself in multifarious ways in his satires The Rape of the Lock [1712] and The Dunciad [published and revised in 1728, 1729, 1742 and 1743] in which material culture saturates and overwhelms both poems. Both texts also share their roots in Homer’s Iliad, a choice which elides in some ways with the saturation of material culture, as the ‘epic’ by its very nature is concerned with grandeur, prizes, and trophies. Although some critics have perceived Pope’s satires as mocking works, outrageous parodies of sincere matter, in this essay I will discuss his use of Homer’s work as a framing and comparative device to ridicule his contemporary material culture as petty and illusory, during an age which was just beginning to develop self-awareness about its legacy and place in history as well as the world, in literary debates about newness vs returning to classical antiquity, and the emerging perception of England as a mercantile capital of the world. Tensions between the illusory and tangible, and worldly and domestic weave through Pope’s satires, centred round the chaos of the material world, which constitutes a central target for Pope’s attacks on his contemporary world, in turn mocking those who [sometimes quite literally] buy excessively into its false sincerity or promises.

Pope’s Rape of the Lock is often referred to as a ‘mock epic’, or, ‘satiric burlesque’ by Seidel for example, who describes the mode as ‘a substitute literary program, a way of rearticulating an important part of any culture’s reassessment of its literary inheritance’. For writers in Pope’s era, this notion of ‘inheritance’ was centered largely on the classical writers of the Augustan period, Homer being whom Pope took inspiration from for his satire. However, to state this, or to label Pope’s work ‘mock’ epic or ‘burlesque’ implies that the epic itself is the locus of his satire, when in fact, much the opposite is true. In spite of claims that his works ‘do violence to Homer’s passages, adulterate them’, it seems clear from Pope’s corpus of work, including a translation of Homer’s Iliad, strongly implies his reverence for the ancient poet:

‘He was a Father of Learning, a Soul capable of ranging over the whole Creation with an intellectual View, shining alone […] leaving behind him a Work adorn’d with the Knowledge of his own Time […] A Work which shall always stand at the top of the sublime Character’[.]

Pope’s admiration of the poet’s work is clear in his depiction of it as standing ‘at the top of the sublime character’, and far from mockery, this passage illuminates Pope’s desire to emulate Homer’s role. He perceives him as ‘capable of ranging over the whole creation’, producing a ‘work adorn’d with the knowledge of his own time’, an position Pope attempts to achieve, as Seidel describes the Dunciad as ‘a monumental instance of how the scope of satire expands in the early eighteenth century to absorb virtually everything modern society can display and produce’. By taking on this same role and absorbing the epic conventions he so admires, the satirical nature of Pope’s works arises from the changed scope of what ‘society can display and produce’, rendering his own world disappointing in comparison to that of the epic. The notion of ‘prizes’ or ‘trophies’ are motivations in both The Dunciad and The Rape of the Lock for example, yet whilst the Trojan war is fought over Helen, the woman prized enough to ‘launch a thousand ships’, the ‘prize’ of concern in The Rape of the Lock seems barely a quarter of the worth, as merely a lock of hair:

‘This Nymph, to the destruction of mankind,/Nourish’d two Locks, which graceful hung behind’[.][Canto II, 19-20]’

These two lines work in a way much like the chronology of Pope’s work following Homer’s; the ‘destruction of mankind’ on line 19 sets up anticipation something terrible or disastrous, yet they are met on the following line with an image of two locks of hair, hanging benignly and ‘gracefully’ from the Lady’s head. This is exemplary of the classical hyperbole and sense of inflation Pope proliferates throughout the poem as he exposes the concerns of those in the poem to be hysterical and excessive. Through this same method, Pope plays on anxieties of his age of its legacy in history, by substituting a mighty warrior and his weapon with Belinda and her bodkin:

’Now meet thy fate, incens’d Belinda cry’d,/And drew a deadly bodkin from her side./(The same, his ancient personage to deck,/Her great great grandsire wore about his neck,/[…]Form’d a vast buckle for his widow’s gown […] Then in a bodkin grac’d her mother’s hairs/Which long she wore, and now Belinda wears’.[Canto V, 88-90,92,95-6]

Pope fashions a history to the bodkin akin to that of those included in classical epics in reference to the warrior’s weapons. Again, Pope here employs hyperbole, scaling down a mighty weapon to a ‘bodkin’, a kind of needle which is inept to inflict any ‘deadly’ blows. Much like Helen reduced to a lock of hair, the bodkin provokes a feeling of loss in reflection upon the classical epic, and more importantly, an inflated perception of petty material goods as important or powerful. Whilst the weaponry objects attributed to Homer’s warriors leave them a legacy of heroism, Pope expresses ridicule for the frivolous object[s] Belinda and her recent ancestors are remembered by, in every case here being merely decorative, worn ‘about [a] neck’ or gracing ‘her mother’s hairs’. Satirising a real incident, Pope fashions a perspective around the closed, civilized world his characters inhabit, and his Homeric frame both expresses the pettiness of their argument, but also mocks the habit of sensationalising and placing excessive faith in objects of little real importance.

Whilst I have analysed specific objects of ridicule in Pope’s satire, what has not yet been addressed is the mass proliferation of material things in his work. The Rape of the Lock is ornate, decorated with objects, exemplified by Belinda’s toilet which strikes parallels to a virtuosi’s curiosity collection:

‘Here files of pins extend their shining rows,/Puffs, Powders, Patches, Bible, Billet-doux./Now awful Beauty puts on all its arms’[Canto I ,137-142]

In an almost sacrilegious fashion, the ‘bible’ is jumbled carelessly amongst Belinda’s ‘puffs’ and ‘powders’ as though equal in value. It is here then that an opposition arises, where we see that not only are petty objects inflated to false values, but that things of importance are neglected. In The Dunciad, this complaint is the centre of Pope’s attack upon the proliferation of print culture, which as he saw it, brought a ‘new wind of commercial and material order in England’ as writing became heavily involved with economic capital. In this mock epic, he again appropriates part of Homer’s work in his heroic couplet form, but also structurally, as we see the goddess of Dullness at ‘war’ with reason, and dark at war with light. Much as with Rape of The Lock, the framing device poses The Dunciad’s ‘war’ as fought for ignoble ends. Pope mourns for a lost purity in writing as figures and tropes from Homer’s epic multiply, and become warped or excessive. Homer’s Hera, for example, who is described as cow-eyed, becomes an ugly ‘Juno of majestic size,/With cow-like udders, and with ox-like eyes’[Book II, 155-6] in Pope’s work. We see two different kinds of ‘excess’ arise between The Rape of the Lock and The Dunciad, where in the former, Homer’s heroic style applied to the argument makes it appear excessive and overblown, using this to mock the treatment of petty commodities as prized, worldly goods, and in the latter, elements of Homer’s work are directly magnified and multiplied to ugly proportions in order to condemn those writers he deems to be muddying the waters of the literary sphere. With the rise of print culture and the lapsing of the licencing act in 1695, Pope sees the literary sphere as overwhelmed with bad writers and bad work, looking only for money, rather than the purity he finds in Homer’s work:

‘Now thousand tongues are heard in one loud din:/The Monkey-mimics rush discordant in;/Twas chatt’ring, grinning, mouthing, jabb’ring all,And Noise and Norton, Brangling and Brevall,Dennis and Dissonance, and captious Art’[.][Book II,227-231]

The alliterative turns are to be waded through here, as the lines move rapidly from ‘t’ sounds through to ‘n’s and ‘b’s, making it a mouthful to read, especially out loud. On this point of readerly difficulty in the poem, Aubrey L. Williams supposes that ‘so weighty, and occasionally, so unassimilated are the materials of history and personality that the poem’s organizing principles and central themes at times struggle through the mass of detail painfully, if at all’. Whilst this comes across as a criticism of Pope’s style, this confusion or struggle can be usefully considered as deliberate stylistic excess, utilized as part of the poem’s emphasis on the literary world’s overcrowding, mirroring the way in which he perceives his own literary world to be a chattering ‘mass’ of bad work. Pope sees a ‘thousand tongues’ as negative, strongly advocating Dryden’s succinct decree: ‘Learn to write well, or not to write at all’, and suggesting that for an age to be remembered, it is better to have one skilled ‘tongue’ like Homer’s producing great work rather than a ‘thousand’ producing work of poor quality, as he saw in his contemporary world ‘ “little hope of maintaining the principles and standards or literature, largely derived from the classic past” ’[.]

In looking at the two satires’ depictions of excess, Barbara Benedict’s notion of ‘the material replac[ing] the moral’ seems especially fitting, for it was not simply that the ‘trophies’ or valued objects of Homer’s Iliad had degenerated into meager locks of hair, but also that the material elements of things were pored over excessively, negating moral good or satisfaction. For example, Pope levels his attack at one point in The Dunciad at Sir Thomas Handmer, who edited Shakespeare into exceptionally ornate editions:

’The decent Knight retir’d with sober rage,/ “What! no respect, he cry’d, for Shakespear’s page/But (happy for him as the times went then)/Appear’d Apollo’s May’r and Aldermen,/On whom three hundred gold-capt youths await,/To lug the pond’rous volume off in state’.[Book IV, 113-118]

With ‘sober’ rage, Sir Thomas laments a lack of respect for Shakespeare’s ‘page’, or writing, yet at the appearance of a hundred ‘gold-capt youths’ he is pacified in an instant, as all moral outrage dissipates in the face of material wealth. This is of course the crux of Pope’s satire in Dunciad, as he depicts both writers and the booksellers who [quite literally] chase them as mercenary and greedy, neglecting the moral duty to produce good literature in favour of material gain. In fact, the feeling of being overcome by bad writers and literature goes as far to suggest that words or essays have a physical weight, with ‘show’rs of Sermons, Characters, Essays,/ In circling fleeces whiten all the ways:/So clouds replenish’d from some bog below,/Mount in dark volumes, and descend in snow’.[Book II,361-364] Belinda’s lock of beautiful hair is the primary material desire of The Rape of the Lock, and petty collections are amplified to heroic status, whilst poets and booksellers of The Dunciad dedicate themselves to churning out hack literature and amassing material wealth. Yet all of these things are exposed by Pope as excessive in nature, and ultimately, illusory gains. In The Rape, Belinda’s lock literally disappears: ‘The Lock, obtain’d with guilt, and kept with pain/In ev’ry place is sought, but sought in vain’[Canto V, 109-110] and the quarrel comes to nothing, whilst in The Dunciad, writers and booksellers compete for prizes like ‘a pig of lead’[Book II,281], and in their ‘dull’ literary pursuits, all become the same, or as Pope puts it: ‘ “Reader! These also are not real persons … Thou may’st depend on it no such authors ever lived: all phantoms’. Their work amasses to so little that the authors and their work may literally be conceived of as meaningless, or transparent.

Excess, especially in the case of material objects, is pervasive in Pope’s satire, and it is Homer’s Epic that provides the springboard from which Pope mocks both the superfluous concerns given to petty matters, as well as the excessive propagation of hack literature by those writers deemed not qualified to write. In writing his satires, Pope drew directly from the contemporary world he perceived in order to control, and tame or change it, as is often the intention of satire generally. By means of his own ‘excess’, whether that is in heroic form laid over petty subjects, words and characters accumulating physical weight and presence, or the distorting of classical tropes and figures, Pope attempts to contain that ‘excess’ he so despises in his own world. It seems nothing characterizes this better than his constant re-revisions of The Dunciad in particular, as over the years the real people he satirizes change and transform, and as Rosenblum notes, if somebody made ‘a suitable act of submission to Pope’ he/she could be ‘taken out of the poem’. Pope contains his real-world subjects within his satires to display their foolishness, and thus hypothetically, until they make a ‘suitable act of submission’ to prove their innocence, they remain the subjects of ridicule for their investment in petty, meaningless masses of things.

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The Difference Between Augustanism and Romanticism

April 15, 2019 by Essay Writer

Alexander Pope’s poems ‘An Essay on Criticism’ and ‘Windsor Forest – To the Right Honourable George Lord Landsdowe’ compared with the critical extract of William Wordsworth’s Preface ‘Poems Volumes 1’ creates a basis in which one can demonstrate the difference between Augustanism and Romanticism. Pope was regarded as ‘one of the primary taste makers of the Augustan Age’ whose works appraised the work of Augustan Age writers such as: Horace, Ovid and Virgil. Whereas Wordsworth was a primary influence in the launch of Romanticism in literature through the joint publication of ‘Lyrical Ballads’ with Samuel Coleridge. This essay will first define both movements, providing historical context to analyze both movements separately. It will then discuss Augustan conformity and taste with Romanticism and its individualistic style. And, by comparing Wordsworth’s Poem ‘Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey, on revisiting the banks of the Wye during a tour’ and Pope’s ‘Windsor Forest’ this essay can compare their use of nature and place in their respective literary movements, and the poetic form that naturally follows.

Augustanism was a literary period dating approximately from 1700-1745, reacting against the lack of discipline of Renaissance poetry, which had an excessive aptitude for innovation – rather than understanding that ‘many of the important genres of this period were adaptations of classical forms: mock epic, translation, and imitation’ with Pope explicitly imitating Horace, mirroring his ‘informal candor and conversational tone, and applying the standards of the original Augustan Age to his own time, even addressing George II satirically as “Augustus.’ Notably, the availability of literacy, the relatively low printing cost expanded the readership through social, class and economic backgrounds. Emergence of coffee houses where people discussed literature, recognizing the importance of literature in the public sphere. Rapid improvement within science and medicine began to replace the religious understanding of the world, encouraging a rational and intellectual mind-set. Thus, contrasting with Romanticism, and what it valorizes within its movement. Unlike Augustanism that favors a communal understanding of society and politics, Romanticism focuses on: interiority, deep thoughts and individual emotion. One could argue that poets like William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge created a more accessible form of through breaking traditions. Those traditions are found in Pope’s poetry, with structured and applausive literature dedicated to classical Augustan Age literature. Romanticism aims to avoid using allusions, which restrict the readership to the highly educated. Wordsworth states this his Preface that he ‘[chose] incidents and situations from common life and to relate or describe them, in a selection of language really used by men’ underlining his purpose of creating a poetry that reflects verity, and the beauty in the complexity of nature.

Furthermore, ideas of Augustan conformity versus a Romanticist’s individualistic viewpoint is shown through Pope’s ‘An Essay on A Criticism’ and in Wordsworth’s preface. The Romanticist’s ability to create poetry that can be fully comprehended by anyone who reads it, with a stress on the verisimilitude found in life and nature, means that Romanticism is ultimately most accessible than Augustan literature, and its allusiveness. Augustan literature is littered with classical allusions, such as in Pope’s poem ‘An Essay on Criticism’ focusing on what constitutes bad poetry and criticism. He begins to discuss attributes of bad writers and taste. He alludes to Horace’s Epistles on lines 67-8 ‘Would all but stoop to what they understand / First follow Nature, and your judgment frame.’ Strengthening his own belief of following the rules in the creation of good writing and taste. The Augustan age was believed to be a golden age of Classical Rome, omitting a superiority and complexity in language that can only be achieved through ‘a set of skills which, although it requires innate talents, must be perfected by long study and practice’ A strong belief in order, structure and acknowledgement of the classics is they only way in which one can create great poetry in the viewpoint of Augustanism. In Juxtaposition, Romanticists like Wordsworth are focused on the sensuality of nature, and its synergy with the mind. For example, Wordsworth states that ‘we shall describe objects, and utter sentiments, of such a nature and in such connection with each other…[we] be in some degree enlightened, and his affections ameliorated.’ Suggesting that our feelings are directed by our thoughts and understanding connection with nature creates an enlightenment and amelioration within the self. Romanticists have a personal response that is self-created, rather than a communal understanding the Augustan literature like Pope’s ‘Essay on Criticism’ encourages. Pope’s concern of the literary commerce, and the spread of bad writing and criticism is entirely different to Wordsworth’s intentions for his poetry, with emotion and feeling as central focus. He also criticizes modern writing for its preoccupation with what he calls ‘a craving for extraordinary incident’, condemning ‘frantic novels’ similar to that of Pope.

Another major difference between both Augustanism and Romanticism in relation to Pope and Wordsworth is the use of place in Pope’s poem ‘Windsor Forest’ and Wordsworth’s ‘Tintern Abbey’. Pope makes nature act as a metaphor for the emergence of industry, with technology and the printing press rapidly improving ‘Here Ceres’ gifts in waving prospect stand/…Rich Industry sits smiling on the plains’. Pope argues that nature and politics combine, and the effects of the political stability as a result of a Queen Anne’s reign. Afterwards, alludes to tyrants such as William the Conqueror’s destruction of the New Forest, littering lines 50-65 with predatory, war and animalistic qualities of the tyranny that existed such as ‘his prey was a man/…And makes his trembling slayes the royal game’. Windsor Forest acts as both a visual representation of; the history of political instability, its current peaceful reign, and the potential for more future prosperity – he shows this in the apostrophe to peace ‘Augusta’s glittering spires increase/ And temples rise, the beauteous works of peace’ suggesting that power will only come from peace, rather than the tyranny that was used in the past. Anne’s reign restored the balance of nature, representing a new era of political stability, which is then furthered by alluding to Mount Olympus – making Windsor Forest into a classical paradise. On the other hand, Romanticism stresses the importance of the mind and nature, and as Wordsworth describes this as ‘passions of men are incorporated with the beautiful and permanent forms of nature.’ Taking Wordsworth’s poem ‘Tintern Abbey’ as an example of place to compare to Pope’s ‘Windsor Forest’ we can see the difference in use of nature in both literary movements. In Wordsworth’s poem, he discusses an individual response to nature. Entirely contrasts to Pope’s use of nature, as Windsor Forest simply acts as a metaphor for the tyranny that existed, and the peace that can be achieved in the future. Wordsworth furthers the beauty in nature in ‘Tintern Abbey ’with ‘These forms of beauty have not been to me/ As is a landscape to a blind man’s eye:’ but rather, nature being a spiritual guidance, instead of God. Both writers recognize the significance of nature, but Pope has an almost sociological and communal purpose for nature, compared to Wordsworth’s individual response to nature’s complexities, and its importance in the development of the human mind.

Naturally, both Romanticism and Augustanism follow their own conventions when it comes to form in their poetry. Pope’s ‘Windsor Forest’ adheres to the dominant poetic form in this period – the heroic couplet with an iambic pentameter rhyming scheme. A strong example of this is Pope’s reference to Discors Concordia ‘Not chaos-like together crushed and bruised, / But, as the world, harmoniously confused’ The use of complex language, with classical allusions, paints beautiful imagery that flatter his readership. You could argue that the use of heroic couplets, paired with classical allusions only distances the reader from the poet, or rather, only the highly educated can fully understand his poetry. Another example of this is ‘Here too, ‘tis sung, of old Diana strayed, / And Cynthus’ top forsook for Windsor Shade’ where Pope compares Queen Anne to the goddess of the moon, Dianna, which glorifies Anne’s reign of Britain. Form and language plays an important part in strengthening Pope’s points, rather than Wordsworth, whom attempts to illicit an emotive and individual response from the reader. Romantic form avoids the rigidity of the Neo-classical form, with a poetry that emulates the spontaneity and innovation in natural speech. Wordsworth follows Romanticism’s conventions by using Blank verse – and an unrhymed iambic pentameter to achieve this. Wordsworth argued that this disrupts and slows down the reading process, encouraging his readership to pause and stress the final syllables of each line, and then pause bringing out the ‘passion’ of the poem’s subject and sound. Wordsworth states that ‘[to] speak a plainer and more emphatic language…may be more accurately contemplated, and more forcibly communicated’ suggesting that for Wordsworth, form, narration and its accessibility in its ease of reading, are ultimately the driving force for the success of their poetry. Establishing the idea that form, conformity and narration all create good poetry. Whereas for Pope, structure and acknowledgment of the classics produces successful poetry.

Pope’s poems ‘An Essay on Criticism’ and ‘Windsor Forest’ reflect Augustan literature through its discussion of taste, conformity to the Augustan Age literature, structure and allusiveness. This juxtaposed with Romantic literature, favoring the response of a free, individualized poetry, avoiding classical literature. Wordsworth’s aims of using real situations that is easily relatable, with vivid descriptions and imagery, and the stress on the importance of nature in the development of the human mind – all of which, allow there to be an accessibility that isn’t found in the same way Augustan literature. Pope’s poetry only favors an elite society, only those with extensive education and awareness of classical literature can appreciate the meticulous poetry of Alexander Pope; and his ability to articulate, satirize and voice his comments on society and politics. His imitation of Horace adds flair to his work which allowed him to be a part of the literary commerce, permitting him to speak with authority, mirroring that same authority found in the classics. Despite Romanticism avoiding these references, it achieves a different purpose, of evoking a human response only created because of the synergy between humanity and nature. It may appear to be an adolescent and immature mind set, but once could argue that the modernity of neoclassicism creates a dogmatic and arrogant society, but undeniably, a product a more educated society full of literary discussion. Or in the case of the Romanticism movement, the encouragement of striving towards a harmonious society that understands the importance of nature and its driving effects on humanity.

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Puffs, Powders, and Pillars: The Strength of Form and Unresolved Tension in The Rape of the Lock

April 4, 2019 by Essay Writer

The verse of Alexander Pope often succeeds in conveying far more meaning than its words, taken at face value, might suggest. In The Rape of the Lock particularly, what at first seems like a light-hearted ribbing of upper class preoccupations, soon reads like a multi-layered meditation on class, religion, and social priorities. Certain tensions become clear to the careful reader, certain ironies and couched critiques are found to result from the way the poet has manipulated the form. These individual tensions rarely see resolution and it is these perpetually competing ideas that keep the poem relevant and worthy of continued consideration. Pope’s heroic couplets, using techniques such as unexpected emphasis, antithetical rhyme, and purposeful redundancy, engineer a construct of tensile force upon which he is able to build complex webs of multiple meaning. He creates a suspended series of intricate tensions that are never resolved, but which instead push against and counteract one another eternally. It is these everlasting pillars of competing ideas that ensure the poem’s legacy.

In the early part of the eighteenth century, the heroic couplet “was far and away the dominant verse form in Anglophone poetry and perhaps the characteristic form of verbal discourse in English” (Hunter 258-9). Pope found in it an agile method through which dynamic linguistic and metaphorical intricacies could be presented in The Rape of the Lock. A pair of poetic lines written in iambic pentameter, the heroic couplet was popular with contemporary readers and was, therefore, a mechanism through which he could make an instant connection with the audience he hoped to reach. However, popularity among his readership was not the only reason Pope may have chosen heroic couplets to author his solicitation for a détente between Arabella Fermor and Lord Robert Petre. This particular form gave him ready access to various rhetorical techniques that would allow him to sculpt the messages he wanted to convey in restrained ways. J. Paul Hunter explains that “form . . . does make demands and have implications. Verse forms are not decorative afterthoughts or neutral frames for messages” (269). Establishing definitive determinations about specific forms is an unfeasible, perhaps undesirable, pursuit, but one may study patterns and poetic tendencies of how forms are used to gain a better understanding of their effect on the reader. Forms can not have ideologies, but “traditions of usage create poets with habitual assumptions and readers with particular expectations, so that it may be possible – even obligatory – to think practically about the ideology of form in particular historic moments and for particular groups of authors and readers” (Hunter 258). Additionally, just as a form’s reception may change among groups of readers, so too, does the nature of a form change. Whereas to its contemporary readership, the heroic couplet provided a comfort of familiarity as well as an acceptable arena for critical wit, so over time the couplet has proven, in The Rape of the Lock, a lasting girder for a poem whose relevance has not faltered.

Many critics believe that much of the poem’s power stems from the fact that its couplets are self-contained statements. The poem’s overall themes are significant, but if they are remarkable or enduring, it is due to the power of the individual couplets, several of which in and of themselves, stand alone in terms of literary merit. (Though I agree with this idea, not all scholars support it. Hunter, for example, disagrees, claiming that Pope’s thought was never complete within the bounds of two lines unless he was writing a poem that consisted only of a single couplet (268).) While the nature of this particular poem is narrative and plot-driven, there is still room among its various couplets for individual analysis. “Heroic couplets had not always been written in the way Pope wrote them. He may be said to have regarded them as if they were stanzas, self-contained; or, if not quite that, as having a beginning, middle and even though at the end stood a gate, a gate which on some occasions he opened to allow the sense to drive through” (Cunningham 104). Within a self-contained unit, one can make an independent statement. Pope accomplishes this through dynamic structural and linguistic manipulation of meaning and emphasis.

For Pope, action takes place within, as opposed to between the couplets, which are “a flexible framework allowing perpetual activity” (Chico 252).Within the two lines, ten iambs, and twenty syllables, the potential for phrase division, types of rhyme, and plot advancement are many. Pope seems to have taken up the challenge to look at this form in new ways. How could it be manipulated to convey various levels of meaning? As forms change, “they carry within them various aesthetic hierarchies, material and theoretical indices, and ideological imperatives” (Chico 264). These layers and levels when left to be threaded together by the narrative alone may remain illogically discrete. In the hands of a capable poet, however, they may be woven into an intelligible, if multi-faceted, whole by the sophisticated rhetorical techniques the poet may choose to employ.

One such technique is the manipulation of a reader’s expectation. Inherent in the structure of the heroic couplet are echelons of expected emphasis. Playing with expectation is an immediate way to start a reader out of complacency and to present a rhetorical strain that may need to be reconciled. The manipulation of these expectations goes a long way toward creating and harboring a tension that permeates the poem. “Each couplet involves . . . four fundamental units . . . divided rhetorically by a caesura and syntactically by some crucial grammatical relationship that implies cause and effect” (Hunter 267). These four half lines and their cause and effect relationship solicit certain expectations from a reader as far as which of the half lines will be emphasized. “The structure of the heroic couplet when divided into half lines creates primary emphasis for the final half line, culminating in the rhyme word, and secondary emphasis for the first and second half lines, leaving the first half of the second line without important emphasis” (Goosenik 191). This third half line serves as a break for the reader’s breath and concentration as he or she gears up for the punch that will come in the final rhyme’s most important half line. Therefore, by placing seemingly unimportant elements in a position of anticipated emphasis or by placing generally accepted items of importance in a position without emphasis, the poet produces irony and places himself at odds with the expectations of his reader. Such is the case in the following couplet:

Or stain her honour, or her new brocade; Forget her prayers, or miss a masquerade (2.107-8 )

“Prayers” is placed in the third half line, the position of least emphasis. This indicates that to Belinda and her kind, prayers, and one can then infer, religion, are of little import. What is important, according to the tension of the line, is a masquerade ball. “For anyone with the religion of Belinda, going to prayers and attending the midnight masquerade is merely a matter of the time of day. The functions of the two activities are basically identical” (Goosenik 195). Later in the poem, when discussing Hampton Court Palace, the poet describes the location in terms of how Queen Anne utilizes it:

Here thou, great ANNA! Whom three realms obey, Doest sometimes counsel take—and sometimes tea. (3.7-8)

The counsel of her political advisors, according to the arranged emphasis of the couplet, matters little compared to conversational gossip of those she may entertain. “By placing what should be significant in the unemphatic position and what should be trivial, but is important to Belinda’s world, in the most emphatic, Pope allows rhetorical structure to convey irony” (Goosenik 191). That irony, then, houses a tension, between what should be important and what to Belinda and Queen Anne is important. The careful reader realizes this and should begin to see the unlikely resolution of this tension, the unlikely change in Belinda’s outlook and priorities. The lack of a moral catharsis by the characters of the poem, despite evidence suggesting one is necessary, raises it beyond the realm of simple fable or fully resolved morality play. The astute reader should feel compelled to consider the work further, finding meaning in the ironies and hoping, futilely, yes, but as humans tend to do hoping, nonetheless, that upon the next read, the tension may perhaps be resolved.

Pope manipulates emphasis in other ways, as well. As Belinda prepares herself for the day, the poet enumerates the “unnumbered treasures” upon her dressing table. Among the gifts and grooming products brought to her from around the globe, one finds “[p]uffs, powders, patches, bibles, billet-doux” (Pope 1.138). Each item featured in a list has a predetermined emphasis. The penultimate item in an alliterative listing such as this one is necessarily the least emphasized and, one would think, the least important. “Pope places [“bibles”] which should be of paramount importance in the least emphatic position in the line to show the reader that the values of Belinda’s world are upside down” (Goosenik 195). Instead of explicitly stating this, however, Pope uses his inherent understanding of how an audience member will read the line to convey his meaning subtly without having to articulate it. He lets particular word placement and expected emphasis work together to make his point for him. Instead of stating that Belinda treats religion as just another reason to be seen in public, he sweeps its iconography up with the accoutrement of makeup and places the key to moral redemption, “bibles,” in a position where it will most likely be overlooked or ignored.

In addition to the mechanisms by which Pope is able to manipulate emphasis, the meter of the heroic couplet offers him an array of avenues by which to craft meaning and orchestrate tension. The ten two-syllable iambs of a couplet aid conciseness and present a “firmly controlled progression” (Cunningham 103). The aforementioned comfort that a reader of the day would have found in the reading of iambic pentameter afforded the form a certain accessibility. That comfortable reader is, therefore, more susceptible to messaging not explicit in the words of the poem. “The metre whispers to the reader the sense, the tone, the nuance which those words have not needed to be used for” (Cunningham 107). The potential of meter for varied rhythms and manipulated accent work to keep the reader engaged. Pope was loathe to put his audience to sleep. He crafted lines that bounced, with syllables that insisted on punctuation and invited animation.

Where wigs with wigs, with sword-knots sword-knots strive, Beaux banish beaux, and coaches coaches drive (1.101-102)

In this couplet, the normal emphasis of the iambs is stressed further. The percussive accent of the words “wigs” and “swords” equates them ridiculously. The “pleasurable effects of poetry are produced by subliminal verbal patterning” (Ligget 17). Our mind wants to find reasonable meaning in the messages it receives. The reader, therefore, would readily take a clue such as the punctuated words in a line’s carefully composed meter and draw parallels between them.

These sorts of illogical unions are reinforced throughout the poem through the use of sophisticated rhetorical techniques such as zeugma and chiasmus. Using these tools, Pope is able to juxtapose competing ideas and thereby further develop his intricate web of small tensions. Zeugma is “the yoking of two distinct idioms to a single verb [and] is the single most effective of Pope’s rhetorical tricks, in so far as it creates an ironic clash between seemingly disparate orders of value” (Norris 151). In a line we have previously examined, we see the verb “stain” referring to both Belinda’s “honour” and her “new brocade.” The implication, of course, is that by staining her dress, Belinda’s reputation, or honour, is thereby damaged. By connecting the one verb to the two incongruent nouns, Pope implies a level of parity between the young woman’s character and her outward appearance. Again, we find ironic tension between what should be important and what, in fact, is important to Belinda nestled lyrically in a single line. The couplet continues with another example, “Or lose her heart, or necklace, at a ball” (Pope 2.109). “The metaphorical meaning of both ‘stain’ and ‘lose’ is first emphasized and then we are asked to attach to it as object, unexpectedly, a noun which works with it in the literal sense only. The shock of inappropriate relation is conveyed” (Doody 217). This discordance may be read as humorous or discomfiting. The reader’s preconceived condition will affect his or her reaction. What does not change, though, is the tension between what should be valued and what is valued not at all.

With chiasmus, we find two parallel phrases balanced against one another, but with their parts of speech reversed. This technique is a mechanism by which “the poem plays with the concepts of dissimilarity and resemblance” (Cohen 207).

The hungry judges soon the sentence sign And wretches hang that jurymen may dine (3.21-22)

In line 21, the subject, “hungry judges” precedes the action “sign.” This imprimatur allows for two things: wretches, guilty or not, will go to the gallows sooner and the jurymen may get home to eat. The gravity of what the judges have done and the carelessness with which they have done it are pitted against one another. So, too, is the permanence of the wretches’ death, set against the temporary satiation of the jurymen. “Pope uses chiasmus to cross-connect moral significance with slight occasion” (Nicholson 84). In another example from Ariel’s warning to his fellow sylphs, we see threats to character and virtue being feared evenly with threats to material things.

Whether the nymph shall break Diana’s law, Or some frail china jar receive a flaw; (2.105-106)

These sorts of rhetorical origami, coupling and folding opposite ends of possible meaning to create a decorous artifact, allow Pope the freedom to comment on the ambiguities he is witnessing among the upper class as well as create a pleasing piece of poetry that the same upper class will purchase and enjoy. When the narrator explains the Baron’s desire to obtain one of Belinda’s locks, “[b]y force to ravish, or by fraud betray,” the degree of his determination is implied. (Pope 2.32). A man may take something by force, but he may then be subject to the ridicule of others. The speaker undercuts the crime of taking something by force, however, by suggesting that once a deed is done, no one really remembers how it was accomplished.

For when success a lover’s toil attends, Few ask, if fraud or force attained his ends (2.33-34)

The narrator has prejudiced the reader toward acquittal before the crime has even been committed. A tension remains between a foreshadowed guilt and an ambivalent jury. Robert Markley suggests that these complexities see “Pope the champion of drawing room civility . . . replaced by Pope the incisive commentator on the political ambiguities of his day.” (73) I would argue, however, that one Pope is not being replaced by another. Instead, techniques such as zeugma and chiasmus allow his various messages to coexist. The opposing implications push against one another, resisting the other’s attempt to alter or weaken it, thereby reinforcing the strength of each as well as Pope’s statement over all.

In The Rape of the Lock, Pope is touching on several pairs of competing elements: Belinda versus the Baron, the sylphs versus that which threatens their lady, the insular upper class English set and the outside world from which they are now obtaining their trinkets. Between these individual sides, tensions exist. Pope could have chosen to write in monosyllabic, masculine rhyme. The story would have been conveyed, but not endured. The nature of the end rhyme in many of Pope’s couplets is one means through which new tensions may be discovered upon multiple readings. Antithetical rhyme, in which the last two words of each line rhyme but have opposite meanings, is one such mechanism. For example, the last words in each of the lines below imply wholly different meanings:

Know farther yet; whoever fair and chaste Rejects mankind, is by some sylph embraced (1.67-68)

By associating the notion of chastity with a signifier for intimate contact, Pope is playing one notion of success off another. Belinda’s virtue, traditionalists might think, lies in her virginity. However, in her mind, her virtue lies in the nature of her outward appearance. She is not bothered that her honor may be compromised. She exclaims, “Oh hadst though, cruel! been content to seize/Hairs less in sight, or any hairs but these” (Pope 4.175-6). She would not have minded so much a more private violation. As long as she is blemished in a way that others can not see, to her, virginity and intimacy are of one accord. We have entered now “a world in which appearances have actually become substitutes for things themselves where virtue has been reduced to reputation” (Pollak 77). When Ariel is explaining to Belinda that she is surrounded by protective sylphs, he says,

Some secret truths, from learned pride concealed, To maids alone and children are revealed. (1.37-38)

Belinda has little use for anything concealed. She believes anything she possesses of value should be on display for all to see. “These antitheses follow Pope’s normal satiric pattern of inversion of values” (Goosnik 193). The reader must balance what he understands to be a properly aligned moral compass with what he is being told Belinda believes. More than likely, these two visions will be at odds. Pope’s genius lies in his ability to craft language such that the tension is conveyed, but does not prompt us to stop reading. We want to read on, perhaps seeking a resolution that may never come.

Antithesis does not only occur in end rhymes. We see more than one antithetical pairing in this couplet:

Safe from the treacherous friend, the daring spark, The glance by day, the whisper in the dark (1.73-4)

Hunter believes that “often, the force of a couplet hangs on our noticing the conflict between the words.” (266). In these lines, we notice much. A “treacherous friend” is an oxymoron, which Margaret Anne Doody refers to as “the governing figure of speech of Augustan poetry, the central figure of its poetic thought” (217). Which friends are to be trusted? What treachery lurks behind the intentions of those we believe to be our allies? “Spark,” the text’s endnotes quote Mr. Johnson, may be defined as “a lively, showy, gay man,” someone who may prove treacherous to a virginal young woman. “Spark” is also used as a pun, to form an antithetical rhyme with “dark.” In the second line, “day” serves as an additional counterpoint to the impression of dark. “Glance” and “whisper,” each potentially furtive forms of communication, play off one another, as well. Ariel is continuing in this couplet his explanation that he and the other sylphs protect “the purity of melting maids” (Pope 1.71) when their virtue is threatened by a flirtatious beau. Such circumstances are, indeed, moments of passionate confusion for young women, knowing in their heads how they should act; feeling with their hormones how they would like to act. The contrasts in this couplet capture that dissonance, the idea that something can be good and bad, light and dark, desired and undesirable all at the same time.

End rhyme may also be a source of tension when the two rhyming words are two different parts of speech. These oppositions are much more subtle than the techniques we have discussed thus far. They, nonetheless, contribute to recurring rhetorical strain in the poem. Take, for example, the passage just as Belinda’s hair is snipped from her head.

The meeting points the sacred hair dissever From the fair head, for ever, and for ever! Then flashed the living lightning from her eyes And screams of horror rend th’ affrighted skies. Not louder shrieks to pitying heaven are cast, When husbands, or when lapdogs breathe their last, Or when rich china vessels, fallen from high, In glittering dust, and pointed fragments lie! (3.153-160)

Three of the four couplets featured in the passage end in rhymes that pair two different parts of speech. Primarily, this technique keeps the poem from falling into a pattern of predictable, flat rhyme scheme. However, there is also a more intricate counter-balancing of ideas at play here. The lock takes on the character of a relic when it is described as sacred. To be dissevered is to end its reign as a beatific adornment. The scissors have caused it to rule no more. Yet, the finality of “dissever,” a verb meaning to remove and implicating to end, is paired with “for ever,” an adjectival phrase indicating permanence, eternity. Belinda may have hoped her youthful physical beauty would have been ceaseless, but now it is the end of her beauty that the poem indicates will be everlasting. The complexity of a notion such as this one is astonishing, all the more so as it serves a perfect example of the powerful tension that can be conveyed in a single couplet. The tensions extant in couplets such as these work against one another to form a tensile strength that serves as a strong support structure for any further, more explicit or over-arching meaning (Liggett 19). Hunter acknowledges this strain within couplets and argues that this formal tension serves to encourage “the preservation and acceptance of difference rather than a working out or modification or compromise” (266). After all, whether in terms of scholarship or entertainment, are not two passions played off one another in a perpetual state of tension far more interesting than the inevitable watered down reality of resolution? Though it is natural for the human ear, the human mind, to desire solution, it is just as natural to viscerally enjoy the discordant journey one takes to find it.

The last couplet in the above passage is one in which the antithetical rhyme actually crafts a visual impression of opposites. It is not the first time in the poem that the idea of precious china being broken is grounds for deep despair. Here, “rich china vessels” may fall “from high” – from a high shelf, perhaps, from a dining table top; or could the implication be that prized china sits in an even more reverent elevated location? The ultimate in material things may have origins in the divine. The narrator is suggesting that their demise would warrant the same amount of grief as the death of a husband. We see lofty attention paid to so material an object as the couplet paints the picture of a delicate specimen falling from an abnormally high place only to end up in fragments, lying decimated in the lowest possible position. Where it once had been acted upon, set in a place described particularly has “high,” the vessel now engenders the verb “lie,” and is strewn, ruined, in bits, much as Belinda believes her reputation and herself to be.

Even over the course of five cantos, the recurrence of certain rhyme pairs and line endings is not accidental. On three separate occasions, Pope rhymes “rage” with “engage.” Near the beginning of the poem, we read:

In tasks so bold, can little men engage, And in soft bosoms dwells such mighty rage? (1.11-12)

Soft bosoms would be the last place one might expect rage to harbored. The image is dissonant and continues the inter-textual tensions of the poem. When we find this rhyme pair again in Canto Three, we have a different set of players – no longer “little men” nor those with soft bosoms:

The rebel knave, who dares his prince engage Proves the just victim of his royal rage. (3.59-60)

In this couplet, we encounter rage in a locale more appropriate than a soft bosom. Additionally, we have moved away from “little men” and into the realm of princes. In Canto Five, when we see the rhyme pair for the final time, our combatants have been elevated even further, from princes to gods.

So when bold Homer makes the gods engage, And heavenly breasts with human passions rage; (5.45-46)

The metaphor of “bosoms” returns, but this time in the form of “heavenly breasts” raging with a passion perhaps, by this point, at home there. Through threads such as these, Pope’s metaphor progresses from a single couplet of somewhat illogical irony to a series culminating in divine reference and more appropriate emotion. The relevance for us exists in the fact that despite the repetition, despite the evolution of the metaphor, nothing is resolved. In this context, neither gods nor little men seem capable of bringing about a resolution. By Canto Five, the rage is still neither abated nor satisfied.

The ironies, tensions, and antitheses in the poem discussed thus far leave no doubt the fact that Pope found fault with the behavior and priorities of those about whom he was writing. Their misaligned concerns and elevation of material objects and outward appearance to positions more important than character are evident even if one does not know Pope’s personal situation. The resounding messaging in the formal language is clear. The more one knows about the poet, however, the more insight may be gained into the motives of the messaging and though not pertinent to the power of form in the poem, the poet himself is worth a brief mention. It is fair, I believe, to consider the facts of his life as a background for the tensions we find in the poem.

Pope was torn between the society upon which he was casting a satirical eye and a perspective outside of it. There were many ways in which he was at odds with the world to which he was born. A decidedly middle-class, physically malformed Catholic in eighteenth century England, he maintained a complicated relationship with the society that he admired. While his intellect and industrious nature obtained for him a comfortable existence, his accession to the upper class would never be possible. Much of Pope’s life and work, in fact, embodied this tense relationship. For example, he was recusant, that is, a person who refused to convert to the Church of England. However, his devotion to Catholicism could have been categorized as tepid at best. One can truly only speculate about in what ways Pope may have been torn, about the divides that may have existed between where he was in society and where he wanted to be, between what he thought of society and what he admired about it. We cannot, then, assign these speculations as the source or motive for his use of form to construct competing, unresolved tensions, but to consider them enriches one’s appreciation of the forces at play.

The narrative tension in The Rape of the Lock is not resolved. The lock is not recovered and Belinda is left with the lofty idea that the poem itself will serve as a far more enduring testament to her beauty than any physical adornment could have proven (Chico 263). Words can endure, yes, so this promise by the poet is possible, but not guaranteed. The mere fact that the poem is written does not ensure its longevity. Flat words composing easily resolved ideas may be fine for a moment’s entertainment, but do not have the strength to endure. The ironies and competing ideas pushing against one another in this poem form a lasting foundation for Pope’s ideas and critiques the likes of which are applicable in any age. The formal techniques available to him were the steel threads he used to craft tension upon which he was able to frame his narrative, articulate his argument, and ensure that we would still be excavating meaning from the poem today.

Works Cited

Chico, Tita. “Couplets and Curls: A Theory of Form.” Philological Quarterly 86.3 (Summer 2007): 251-268. EBSCO Host. Web. 30 October 2012.

Cohen, Ralph. “Transformation in The Rape of the Lock.” Eighteenth-Century Studies 3.3 (1969): 205-224. JSTOR. Web. 12 September 2012.

Crehan, Stewart. “The Rape of the Lock and the Economy of ‘Trivial Things.’” Eighteenth- Century Studies 31.1 (1997): 45-68. JSTOR. Web. 12 October 2012

Cunningham, J. S. “Appendix C: The Heroic Couplet.” The Rape of the Lock. By Alexander Pope. Ed. Cunningham. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1971. 103-107. Print.

Gosselink, R.N. “The ‘Dissolving Antithesis’: Technique in The Rape of the Lock.” Humanities Association Review/La Revue de l’Association des Humanites 24 (1973): 191-96. Print.

Hunter, J. Paul. “Form as Meaning: Pope and the Ideology of the Couplet.” Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation 37.3 (1996): 257-270. Print.

Liggett, Pamela Slate. “Pope’s Phonetic Triangles: The Heroic Couplet in The Rape of the Lock.” New Orleans Review 15.4 (Winter 1988): 17-22. Print.

Markley, Robert. “Beyond Consensus: The Rape of the Lock and the Fate of Reading Eighteenth- Century Literature.” Critical Essays on Alexander Pope. Ed. W. Jackson and R. P. Yoder. New York: Hall, 1993. 69-83. Print.

Nicholson, Colin. “The Mercantile Bard: Commerce and Conflict in Pope.” Studies in the Literary Imagination 38.1 (2005): 77-94. EBSCO Host. Web. 12 October 2012.

Norris, Christopher. “Pope Among the Formalists: Textual Politics and The Rape of the Lock.” Ed. Richard Machin and Christopher Norris. Post-Structuralist Readings of English Poetry. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1987. 134-61. Print.

Pollak, Ellen. “The Rape of the Lock: A Reification of the Myth of Passive Womanhood.” Poetics of Sexual Myth: Gender and Ideology in the Verse of Swift and Pope. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1985. 77-107. Print.

Wimsatt Jr., W.K. “One Relation of Rhyme to Reason: Alexander Pope.” Modern Language Quarterly 5.3 (1944): 323-339. Print.

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Analysis of “An Essay on Man”

March 23, 2019 by Essay Writer

The assertion of the first epistle of Pope’s “An Essay on Man” is that man has too narrow a perspective to truly understand God’s plan, and his goal is to “vindicate the ways of God to man” (Pope 16). The ignorance of man befits his place in the order of creation, and his confusion conceals the harmony of that order. The individual lines of this epistle appear to present a fatalistic universe, devoid of free will, where all things are fated to happen. Although if the work is viewed as a whole, Pope’s optimism shows through.

Pope begins by explaining that he can only comment on what can be known by man. “Through worlds unnumbered though the God be known,/’Tis ours to trace him only in our own” (1.21-22). Even though the universe my hold many worlds, only Earth can be known to man. It is the only frame of reference that Pope could write about, and his audience be made to understand. He advises his readers to put aside their hubris and consider “Is the great chain, that draws all to agree,/And drawn supports, upheld by God or thee?” (1.33-34). Only after man puts aside his ego and contemplates “the great chain,” will he be able to understand his place in God’s plan.

By saying, “Then say not man’s imperfect, Heaven in fault;/Say rather, man’s as perfect as he ought” (2.69-70), Pope is trying to illustrate that even perceived imperfection is part of the plan. Human imperfection should not be seen as a slight by God, but as a necessity. The epistle also states, “What future bliss, he gives not thee to know,/But gives that hope to be thy blessing now” (3.93-94), showing that human happiness is dependent on both hope and ignorance of the future. Mankind should not spend all its time trying to guess what God has planned, but merely have faith that life shall work out the way it should.

Pope shows his contempt for man’s pride by stating, “Snatch from his hand the balance and the rod,/Redjudge his justice, be the God of God!/In pride, in reasoning pride, our error lies” (4.121-123). Man is unwise to think that his ability to reason puts him on the same level as God, “And who but wishes to invert the laws/Of order, sins against the Eternal Cause” (4.129-130). This hubris is what leads to man’s unhappiness, because “to reason right is to submit” (5.164). If God is a perfect being, then man should accept that perfection and not question the direction the universe takes.

By stating, “the first Almighty Cause/Acts not by partial, but by general laws” (5.145-146), Pope is trying to make his readers understand that humans are not the whole of creation, and creation was not created wholly for them. There is an order to creation, where each position is filled by the correct life form. Man is where he should be in “the great chain” and should not envy the beasts below him or question God above. “The bliss of man […]/Is not to act or think beyond mankind’/No powers of body or of soul to share,/But what his nature and his state can bear” (6.189-192). This acceptance of creation is the key to man’s happiness, and that happiness is threatened by man’s ability to think and reason.

“Where, one step broken, the great scale’s destroyed:/From Nature’s chain whatever link you strike,/Ten or ten thousandth, breaks the chain alike” (8.244-246). So if one rises above or falls below their position in God’s order, it will destroy the whole of the plan. It then becomes clear that wanting to subvert God’s plan, even to the benefit of mankind, is madness. Instead man should come to understand “All are but parts one stupendous whole,/Whose body Nature is, and God the soul” (9.265-266). So, one should not fear or doubt, but admit they are powerless and accept their place in creation.

Although Pope’s language is harsh and seemingly fatalistic, a critical reading of the first epistle to “An Essay on Man” shows his optimism in God’s plan. Pope appears to believe that not only does God have a plan, but that plan serves the best interest of the whole of creation. Just because man has difficulties accepting his place in the plan, does not mean the plan is flawed, merely that man must accept that he is not the sole beneficiary. After all, “One truth is clear: Whatever is, is right” (10.292).

Works Cited

Pope, Alexander. “An Essay on Man.” Eds. Paul Davis, et al. The Bedford Anthology of World Literature. Book 4. Boston: Edford/St. Martin’s, 2003. 260-267. Print.

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Appearing Holy in a Superficial Society

March 1, 2019 by Essay Writer

The gorgeous and charming protagonist Belinda of “Rape of the Lock” by Alexander Pope goes to great lengths to beautify her outer appearance. Pope’s description of her elaborate beauty ritual is a clear sign of this- her primping process is detailed in a flurry of seemingly superficial trinkets, and amidst all of it are Bibles, grouped with the “Puffs, powders, [and] patches” (138). The wedging of the Bibles between baubles and beauty items has been interpreted to represent the divide between Pope’s Catholic and Protestant England, which is a contextual and symbolic understanding of the religious symbol. An article by Alex Hernandez explains this point, “The Bible, to some extent, came to absorb and encompass these tensions…” While I agree with this point, but believe it is overindulged in his essay. I argue that the Bible’s placement amid the beauty items bears a stronger usage, which is actually Belinda’s method of appearing moral among her superficiality. Although Hernandez’s essay effectively explicates the importance of the Bible among Belinda’s superficial trinkets to be the contradiction of Catholicism and Protestantism in his society, nevertheless I dissent that the Bible is actually not as imaginative as it is representative, and more significantly, Belinda uses the Bible and her cross necklace to portray an ethical appearance amidst her own vanity.

Hernandez does provide some reasoning as to how Belinda’s Bible connects to deceptive religiousness and ultimately shows how the abundance of personal trinkets such as her ivory and tortoise shell combs display her consumerism. Yet the more thoroughly elaborated point of his essay is regarding the Catholicism and Protestantism of 18th-century England tying into symbols in “Rape of the Lock.” Thus, I will elucidate more on the idea that items such as the Bible and cross Belinda wears not only show her own desire to be seen as devout, but can also be representative of the public’s attitude of superficial religiousness during her time period. Belinda’s possession of these religious symbols, as well as her desire to be seen as pious, will assist in my explanation of Belinda’s facade.

The first insight given to signify the insincere religiousness of Belinda is the Bible sitting among her beauty items. Among Belinda’s gewgaws surrounding the Bible are gems, shell and ivory combs, hair pins, puffs, powders, patches, and love letters. Many of these items represent youthfulness, or rather tools for youthfulness. Whereas these are tools used to attempt to gain a youthful appearance, the Bible is similarly used as a tool to gain a moral appearance. Just as “Betty’s praised for labors not her own,” Belinda may be praised for simply having the Bible (Canto 1, Line 3). Although we can consider that Belinda is making an earnest effort to be religious and faithful by possessing and actually reading the Bible, we as readers inherently understand the deceptive nature of the ownership of the scripture. Belinda likely never cracked open the book, as we can tell by its ironic placement among her trinkets. This Bible’s placement shows Belinda’s view of it- it is ranked among her beauty tools and novelties. The reader can infer from this that Belinda views the Bible as no more than one of her showy, beautiful combs or her cosmetics. If Belinda was truly a devout, avid Bible reader as she would likely prefer to portray, she might have had her holy book residing on her table or desk rather than on her dressing table. In seeing Pope’s deliberate description of where Belinda stores her Bible, we can interpret her spirituality to be lacking, like many other members of her society, which she reunes with in later in the poem. Belinda’s Bible in plain sight blending with her “glittering spoil” is representative of her own desire to be recognized as ethical, yet naturally being more drawn to her vanity items. This is not to say that Belinda was a completely unethical outright sinner, but she blatantly is ignorant to, or chooses to ignore, one of the most important themes of the Bible: humility (at least regarding her physical appearance.)

A direct comparison can be made between the Bible amidst Belinda’s vain beauty supplies and the “sparkling cross she wore [on her white breast]” among her vain appearance (Canto 2, Line 7). Both of these are used by Belinda to keep up a moral front, especially the cross, which seems like it is being worn and exploited by Belinda for its religious meaning, not because she a pious young woman. In the case of the cross, the placement is as significant as the Bible’s and can be interpreted as the opposite of what the holy cross represents because while “every eye was fixed on her alone,” the cross drew attention to her breast (Canto 2, Line 6). Belinda wearing the cross on her white breast further pushes the idea of her chastity and morality, yet this hint of religion is clearly more visible to the public. When she is in her own abode, the narrator informs us of the Bible which otherwise would not be noted by the other “high society” characters in the story in relation to Belinda. The cross is Pope’s way of showcasing Belinda’s attempts to prove her holiness, but in a more outright way than the Bible among the makeup. Whereas the Bible’s placement in the poem is for the benefit of the reader, the appearance of the cross on Belinda’s breast is for the benefit of the other characters in the story. These two items are especially attention-grabbing because of the heavy weight they held during Belinda’s time period. The Bible and cross accentuated Belinda’s appearance by adding a religious element to her, which combined with her undeniable beauty to make her even more desirable 18th century woman.

Although I do not disagree with Hernandez’s claim that Pope revealed religious sentiments for his time period through Belinda and her society circle by using the Bible and the cross, I argue that the more intentional and noteworthy purpose of the religious symbols is to show how society members presented themselves as pious worshippers, but in reality simply wanted to appear like they were devout so that they could focus on other worldly things. For example, when Belinda is in the process of getting reading for her outing at Hampton Court, it is made into essentially a religious ritual. Pope compares the women to religious figures in the church when he writes, “The inferior priestess, at her altar’s side, Trembling begins the sacred rites of Pride” (Canto 1, Lines 127-128). This blatant comparison in the form of satire reveals how highly the women regarded their beauty and beautification routines. Along with linking the glamorization of Belinda to a sacred ceremony, this extended metaphor reveals how seriously and highly regarded this process was for women, in Pope’s eyes, instead of a real religious ceremony. In this moment, and when Pope inserted the Bible and cross as ornaments, I do not believe Pope was attempting to make so much a claim about the religious diversity of his time, but rather a more focused, person-level approach at the people of his time who want to be seen as religious, but really are more devout to consumerism and beautification. Belinda (and her society’s) desire to be recognized as religious is not simply for the gain of looking pious to the social sphere, it is also for the gain of becoming more attractive to potential partners as religion was such a significant topic for the time period. Once again, if Belinda was truly a religious woman who studied the Bible, she would not be portrayed as proud. Belinda allows much too much effort to be put into her appearance to be regarded as humble as the Bible would preach.

The Bible, cross jewelry, and metaphor of the beauty or religious ritual all contribute to the significance of appearance and merits of being perceived as religious in Belinda’s society. The Bible’s placement was a very direct way of likening it to the superficial trinkets it was situated with, the holy cross weaving into Belinda’s gorgeous and non-humble appearance was also a direct way to bring Belinda even more attention, not just for her perfect beauty, but her religiousness as well. These religious symbols helped Belinda to have the best of both worlds- she may appear as a devout young woman who reads the Bible and adorns crosses, yet can also be the gorgeous center of attention as she does not abide by the humility principle of the Bible. Belinda synthesizes the best of both worlds- appearing religious and gaining social adoration for her delightful outer appearance. This is not to imply Belinda was immoral because she valued an appearance over the effort of true piousness, she is simply more focused on her appearance and worldly things at Hampton Court than actually carrying out the devout image she is expected to uphold. Ultimately, Belinda’s religious items and her deception of holiness reveal the society she lives in. As Hernandez writes, “[The Bible] becomes an ideological tool for a rapidly industrializing society.” Belinda utilizes this tool outwardly (in the form of the cross jewelry), in order to advance her social status, increase her desirability, and prove she was a well rounded, beautiful woman, who was also ethical and chaste because of her connection to religion. Belinda’s godly symbols make it possible for her to appear extremely appealing, yet also to portray the notion that she is a moral, desirable woman.

Works Cited

Hernandez, Alex Eric. “Commodity and Religion in Pope’s ‘The Rape of the Lock.’” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, vol. 48, no. 3, 2008, pp. 569–584. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/40071349.

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