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Jun 25, 2019

Pope's "The Rape of the Lock"

The Rape of the Lock’ as a satire/social satire. {Link}
  1. Belinda as a symbol of the moral degeneration of the contemporary life
  2. Documentary value of ‘The Rape of the Lock’
  3. Element of satire in ‘The Rape of the Lock’
  4. Pope as a moralist in ‘The Rape of the Lock
  5. The Rape of the Lock as a satire on the contemporary beau monde.
  6. Character of Belinda in ‘The Rape of the Lock’
  7. Pope as a critic of women/fashionable life
  8. Pope's attitude towards women


Alexander Pope is undoubtedly one of the greatest ever satirists of all times (Walker, 1925). He is a poet of society (Griffin, 2015) the largest part of whose poetry is satirical and didactic (Warton & Rounce, 2004). His masterpiece The Rape of the Lock serves as a true embodiment of the Neo-classical values (Pope, 2016) and the protagonist, Belinda, the moral degradation of the contemporary English beau monde (Szwec, 2011). But, thanks to Pope’s poetic genius, the otherwise ordinary account of a family feud transcends the contemporary age and exposes universal evils of pride, vanity, hypocrisy, sentimentality, class-consciousness and indifference. Pope has painted a detailed picture of the following evils infecting these women.

Illicit relations
These women have illicit relations with the beaus, exposed by the poet through such sexual symbols as ‘melting maids’, ‘midnight masquerades’, ‘softening music’, ‘dancing fires’, etc. They indulge in these activities because they are dazzled by the charms by the fashionable life.

inconsistency in love
Because of their illegitimate relations, they are inconsistent in love and are not contented with anyone:
“With varying vanities, from every part
They shift the moving toyshops of their heart.”

Ambivalent attitude
It is interesting to note that just before the cutting of Belinda’s lock, when Ariel searched ‘the close recesses’ of her heart, he found ‘an earthly lover (Baron) lurking at her heart”. It shows the ambivalent attitude and confused as well as mixed feelings of these women. It is difficult to guard the chastity of these women as they themselves do not desire so. Pope warns:

“Oft have we known that seven-fold fence to fail,

Though stiff with hoops, and armed with ribs of whale;
Form a strong line about the silver bound,
And guard the wide circumference around.”

Slanderous Attitude
Their attitude is defamatory and libelous. When they sit together, they have nothing to do except to allure the beaus and slander other fashionable ladies who are their competitors:

“A third interprets motions, looks, and eyes;
At every word and reputation dies.”

Preferring social reputation to chastity
For them, social reputation (‘Honour’) is more important than chastity and they can sacrifice anything for it:

“Honour forbid! At whose unrivalled shrine
Ease, pleasure, virtue, all our sex resign.”

That’s why, Belinda, after the loss of the lock, complains:
“Oh hadst thou, cruel ! been content to seize
Hairs less in sight, or any hairs but these!”

So she is not shocked at the loss of chastity (‘Hairs less in sight’) but at the loss of her reputation (‘any hairs but these’, means the curls which were visible). The reason is that these curls enabled here to ensnare beaus.
Endless competition to hunt beaus
This is a type of society in which there is endless competition among the ladies to surpass each other in their ability to hunt the fashionable boys. That’s why, Belinda’s own friends are insincere. So we see her friend, Clarissa, providing the scissors to Baron to cut Belinda’s lock and another friend, Thalestris, trying to make her disgrace public:

“Belinda burns with more than mortal ire, 
And fierce Thalestris fans the rising fire.”

Never ending obsession with the beau monde
Pope humorously tells us that these women are so obsessed with the fashionable life that even after their death, they turn into spirits and perpetuate their interest in the fashionable circles by supervising the living ladies:

“Think not, when woman’s transient breath is fled,

That all her vanities at once are dead:
Succeeding vanities she still regards,
And though she plays no more, o’erlooks the cards.”

Self conceit
These aristocratic ladies suffer from self-conceit and each one of them considers herself some heavenly creature. The dream in which Belinda hears the address of a spirit, Ariel, is just a form of her self-praise and self-conceit. ‘Fairest of mortals’ is, in fact, an epithet which Belinda chooses for herself. But when reality is revealed to her, it is too late. Ultimately, the fashionable women who look down upon the whole world end up dying friendless, isolated and lonely. Pope describes their pathetic condition in these ominous words:

“And she who scorns a man, must die a maid.”


Belinda [Link]
Alexander Pope has designed The Rape of the Lock as the representative works depicting Belinda as the model of the common fashionable ladies of his time. Belinda is the chief attraction and she becomes the heroine of it. She is the only leading character. Yet her screams and the flashes of lightening from her eyes are compared to those of an epic hero.
There are several aspects of the personality of Belinda as portrayed by Pope in The Rape of the Lock. At the very outset of the poem, we see her as an idle and late-rising aristocratic lady who possesses keen interest in domestic pets. Her idleness is established when we see her sleeping unto twelve. Besides, they felt interested in the love letters of their so-called beloved. When Belinda at last got up from bed after having been licked by Shock, her eyes first opened on a love-letter.
Therefore, she is full of vanities and loves gilded chariots and ombre. At the same time, she is ambitious to get married to peers and dukes or to other high officials. This is why she frequently visits the Hampton Court in the river Thames. She passes an aristocratic life and mixes with the Barons recklessly.
Moreover, Belinda is the embodiment of the coquetry, the art, the artifice and the false pride. However, Ariel acquaints us with her flirtatious nature when exhorting his fellow spirits to remain vigilant. Ariel discovers surprisingly that in spite of all her pretence, she is amorously inclined towards a gallant.
Then, we get the picture of her shallow outlook about religious faiths and beliefs. She is a worshiper of beauty who prays to the goddess of beauty and offers all the items of cosmetics before her. She is a typical presentation of women’s excessive attention to self decoration and embellishment. She gathers all the fashionable items from all over the world-Indian glowing gems, Arabian perfumes, files of pins, puffs, powders, patches etc. In a satirical passage, Pope describes Belinda in a Confucius mood before her dressing table.

Here files of pains extend their shining rows,

Puffs, powders, patches, bibles, billet-doux.

Thus, assigned by her maid Betty, Belinda seeks to improve her bodily charms. However, she does not show any respect for the holly book, Bible.
Therefore, the moral bankruptcy of these ladies is further ridiculed when Thalestris points out the need for sacrificing everything, even chastity, for reputation. They consider that virtue might be lost, but not a good name.

To wind up we can say that The Rape of the Lock is a mockery of the manners of the tea-cup times of Queen Anne. Here, Pope seeks to throw light upon the fickle minded fashionable ladies of the 18th century England depicting Belinda as the representative character.

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