Of the Characteristics of Pope

May 18, 2019 by Essay Writer

In Pope’s “Epistle: To a Lady of the Characteristics of Women”, he condemns the “wise wretch” of a woman who is not only too wise, but has “too much spirit”, “too much quickness” and does “too much thinking”. He bitterly exposes what “Nature conceals” (Pope ln 190) in women by purposefully selecting “the exactest traits of body or of mind” (Pope ln 191) and finding faults in such specimens as Narcissa, Flavia, Atossa, and Chloe only to make apparent the high standards that his own model of perfection, the lady for whom he is writing the epistle, achieves. And yet even the Lady’s reputation is falsely inflated, for it is only after listening to his tirade on women that she is honored by Pope. The Lady claims “women have no characters at all” (Pope ln 2) in attempts of consoling him for being the “nothing so true” that a woman has “once let fall” (Pope ln 1). She convinces him that the rejection he has faced is unworthy of the dejection he experiences, observable through his bitter, angry tone throughout the poem. His rejection is a “matter too soft a lasting mark to bear” (Pope ln 3) and yet in the first fifteen lines he is not an emotional participant but a cold, jealous observer of the very setting he has created, a situation in which he yearns to exist. “I must paint it,” (Pope ln 16) he says, intentionally setting himself apart from scene. He lets his “folly grow romantic” (Pope ln 16) through capturing an image of his ideal, and yet here in the very first lines of the poem he shies away even from any sort of fictitious sexual assertion and instead puts himself in physical seclusion. When he calls for the ground to be prepared (ln 17) he is metaphorically referring to the preparation of his own “colored” emotions upon the literal canvas that is the text of this poem. Pope could care less about what he finds to be good and bad characteristics in women, for in this poem there is an internal struggle for power within Pope between his own fears and insecurities and his generalized conception of the role of women.Wanting to be contained by a woman, Pope fears this as an impossibility because of a woman’s seemingly ever-mutating emotions. “Tis to [women’s] changes [that] half their charms [he] owes”, and yet this instability and ephemeral nature of women’s passions is what frightens him the most. It is the Cynthias who are ever changing and the Papillias who fly out of his reach that frustrate Pope into writing a somewhat misogynistic piece of work, for the reality of attaining a woman is in itself so impossible, that the possibility of finding an ever accepting, lasting love is outside of his range of conception. He wants to be loved and yet he hides from the pain that he is certain will be further inflicted upon him. The lover of a woman “purchase[s] pain with all the joy [that she] can give” (Pope ln 99) and yet he will “die of nothing but a rage to live” (Pope ln 100). This is Pope’s ultimate fear- not living fully- and yet without a woman he is not able to live fully either. He is the “nothing” referred to here, as in the first line of the poem, for his purpose is to do nothing but live. His existence is wholly in the verbal entity of “nothing but a rage to live” and yet it is from this force that Flavia’s lover dies. Man is killing himself by pursing Flavia’s love, for Pope literally dies of his accord but instead blames Flavia’s wit as the culprit. Pope condemns a woman’s humor, but goes on to use Simo’s mate as an example of vulgarity in humor. She “laughs at Hell” (Pope ln 107) he exclaims and likens her to a fool, and yet his own awe and jealousy of sin’s “charm (Pope ln 15) is disregarded.Pope wants a woman to contain him in ways a woman who is “fine by defect and delicately weak” (Pope ln 44) can never do. He wants to be as desirable as the “good man” (Pope ln 9) over which Fannia is leering, but he cares not “whether the charmer sinner it, or saint it” (Pope ln 15), for he simply desires to be the one who charms. Parallels can be drawn to Genesis here, for like the serpent that lures Eve to eat the forbidden apple from the Tree of Knowledge, the sinner’s charms are at work. Similarly the saint is alluring with the appeal of moral rectitude, God being an implied force here, and also Zeus is referred to as the Swan who seduces Leda (footnote 2). Evil and good act in one and the same way, merely as a process of gaining love and what’s more- respect. Although Pope paints a light scene with purity from “naked Leda” (Pope ln 10) and “simpering angels, palms, and harps divine” (Pope ln 14), he disregards both of these processes of gaining women and instead focuses on the physical attainment of the woman. In numerous accounts, Pope expresses how he is “fearful to offend” (Pope ln 29) women, and yet by charming women under the false pretenses of either being rebelliously wicked or supremely good, he no longer is at the mercy of women but gains power and thus control through seduction of the mind. However this is only a reality in Pope’s fantasy scene, in actuality it is women who have gained power over men through the same methods of seduction that Pope mentions, and unlike Pope, have been successful in controlling the opposite sex.Pope writes this poem in response to his failed attempt at love, but with his bitter realization that the reception of love is forever forsaken, “Love, if it makes her yield, must make her hate” (Pope ln 134), he recognizes that the power of love is itself feminine and thus the power of love that he craves will always be in a woman’s control. With venomous jealousy, Pope recounts the story of Calypso who “without virtue, without beauty, charmed” (Pope ln 46) Odysseus and his men. Calypso “touched the brink of all [that] we [men] hate” (Pope ln 52), and yet what is truly hated is simply the subordination of men to a woman. Pope’s insecurities are exposed when he exclaims that Philomede with “soft passion, and taste refined” (Pope ln 84) “makes her hearty meal upon a dunce” (Pope ln 85). He is afraid that he will be made a fool out of love, for in loving a woman he will be submitting to her. In submitting to her, he naturally resents her. This explains why Narcissa is at once applauded for her “tolerably mild” nature (Pope ln 53), and why many lines such as these tend to glorify the domestic, submissive women in this poem. Pope, like Papilla, too is “wedded to [his] amorous spark” (Pope ln 37) and yet he finds it easier to blame women for what can only be labeled as his own failure for personal fulfillment, for he lacks the power over women that women conversely have over him.Offend her, and she knows not to forgive; Oblige her, and she’ll hate you while you live: But die, and she’ll adore you-Then the bust And temple rise- then fall again to dust.Pope can only gain love in death, and yet even that is only for an ephemeral moment. In falling to dust he again becomes nothing, for he is a forgotten memory of someone who was never loved. He is nothing more than dust, worthless.Pope remains bitter about the loveless women who abandoned him and let him become “nothing” in their metaphysical presence, and again creates a fantasy where he envisions that they “regret [what was] lost” (Pope ln 234) but pretend they don’t. Pope rejoices in the literary deconstruction of the women that destroyed him, but he too ironically fits his own description of the bitter ladies who were “young without lovers, old without a friend” (Pope ln 246). With this proclamation, Pope suddenly describes the Lady as a “sober moon”, serene, virginal and modest (Pope ln 254). Stripped of her sexual powers over him, the Lady is no force to be reckoned with. He says the Lady is “softer than a man”, but goes on to state that she has the same characteristics of a man and still even more characteristics specific to a woman. By comparing her to a man, he has elevated her to the status of a man, perhaps an even higher echelon than man, but becoming insecure of a her supremacy in relation to himself, he singles out the one attribute he favors most in his own Lady Blouth. She is “a woman seen in private life…Bred to disguise, in public” (Pope ln 199/204). By making her importance appear more tarnished, he is able to boost his own perception of power.He references woman’s subservience to men only to boost men’s own egos and false senses of authority. He recognizes this by outright stating that no matter what type of lady, whether she is submissive or authoritative, that which makes a true lady is the “charm” with which she manages herself. Pope uses this word intentionally to note the shift in power, for he originally uses that word exclusively to describe a man’s seduction of a woman in his fantasy first scene. He celebrates the Lady’s good humor and wit and says very poignantly that she is a contradiction. She “never shows she rules” (Pope ln 262) and yet she is able to maneuver her man in ways in which he does not even realize. This strategy helps her charming “submitting sways” (Pope ln 263) that do not reflect in her own submission but in that of her spouse. Pope is not dense, and fortunately or not, he is not Aphrodite’s dunce, but he recognizes the power relationships for what they are and does his best to differentiate himself from the “dross” for the noblewomen (Pope ln 291) and finally attempts to redeem himself as a poet, not as a man.

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