Free The Rape of the Lock by Alexander Pope Essay Sample
When it comes to the poetic success of Alexander Pope, readers and critics mention his The Rape of the Lock as a work rightfully deserving the definition of a masterpiece of European literature. In fact, the admiration provoked by this poem first appeared in 1712 and until today continues to be unabated. In The Rape of the Lock, the readers will invariably find grace, easiness, quick wittedness and playfulness in relation to the main characters of the poem.
The theme of the poem accrued from a secular scandal: an ardent admirer, young Lord Pitre, a member of the noble Catholic families of England, dared to cut off the lock of a young lady, Arabella Fermor, that also belonged to a respectable Catholic family, which led to a conflict between two families. The quarrel between Lord Pitre and Miss Arabella Fermor, which occurred in the summer of 1711, became known to Pope, as it is commonly believed, according to his friend, John Karila, a distant relative of a Lord, who asked the poet to compose a poem about it. This friend intended to help to reconcile young people, but he failed in his intention.
The history of creation of The Rape of the Lock shows that the author of the poem decided to consider not only ethical or didactic problems. He uses a small secular scandal rather as a pretext for a new aesthetic experiment.It should seem that there is an ordinary inconspicuous case the manifestation of good-natured irony and the insolence of the cavalier and capricious anger of a young lady. However, exactly in this story, the reader can observe the demonstration of a mature Alexander Pope, the enlightener who uses one of the important ideological principles, which is the feature of tolerance.
Most researchers are convinced that a satirical pathos in The Rape of the Lock is predominant. Though this view is not accepted by literary critics, they assert that Pope expresses his entrancement by the beauty of Belinda and see an unambiguous praise of the society in general and the charmer Belinda in particular. Using the ironic style for satirical mockery of high society, the poet, simultaneously, makes sensible notion of his charm by the society, although does not consider himself as a part of it. Besides, the main character of the poem, Belinda, is, at the same time, superficial, flirtatious, charming and innocent.
In the poem of the English neoclassicist there is no positive hero in a strict sense, except, perhaps, the narrator. The atmosphere is of ironically humorous gaming story, and every character is dual-ambiguous.
Alexander Pope used the original incident in order to have a great success of his work. The story itself is not based only on Arabella Fermor. Most certainly, the reader feels her presence, and even her name appears on the first page marked with the capital letters. As the story unfolds in the poem, Arabella Fermor seems to be shifted from the protagonist position, which is rightfully considered to be hers, on the far corner of the story.It is possible to state that the main target of this presence the author saw in highlighting or emphasizing the estrangement of the prototype from the poem. Pope described Miss Arabella not as a participant but rather as just an observer. Perhaps, it was a deliberate challenge to show the reader how little the image of Miss Fermor actually means. Nevertheless, this directly contradicts with what the reader experiences while observing the description of the main character. It has no difficulty to highlight the image of Arabella Fermor in the description of Belinda.
It is possible to trace Alexander Pope's misogynistic attitude toward Miss Arabella Fermor. It is well known that education for women in the 18th century was not available, and the gap between the capabilities of both sexes ware enormous. Women were treated as unintelligent, and men behaved like they did not know anything about these creatures. Therefore, the author manifests the same attitude toward Arabella. In his letter, which he addresses at the beginning of the poem to the prototype of the protagonist, he wrote the following lines: I know how disagreeable it is to make use of hard words before a lady, but 'tis so much the concern of a poet to have his works understood, and particularly by your sex, that you must give me leave to explain two or three difficult terms.
This can be interpreted in numerous ways. Some believe that this is just a courtesy of Pope. On the contrary, it can be considered a courtesy by the fact that he disparages the mental abilities of Arabella and doubts that she will understand the meaning of his words. He is doubtful about her ability to comprehend complex terms, thereby hinting at her inadequacy. Thus, the author mocks the main character.
During the trip along the Thames River, it is mentioned about the two curls resembling shiny sable fur and contrasting white neck, which bears a similarity with the ivory. Pope precedes with the rape of the lock with a scene of the toilet, which ends after waking up of Belinda and before walking along the Thames and visiting Hampton Court. The purpose of the toilet here is to furnish the appearance of the female with a beauty that can be shown at a walk and during a social banquet. The beauty of Belinda is the object of her pride and vanity, especially her hair that fascinates the Baron. Pope notes ironically that the rape of Belindas lock is equivalent to the death of a spouse or a dog or the loss of Chinese vases. Pope confirms his idea that the main character is only concerned with her appearance, saying:
Not louder shrieks to pitying Heaven are cast,
When husbands, or when lap-dogs, breathe their last,
Or when rich china vessels, fallen from high,
In glittering dust and painted fragments lie!.
During the whole poem, Alexander Pope draws attention to the fine details of the outfit of Belinda, starting from the hem and whalebone and ending with earring and hair pins.
Belinda in the poem is often called a nymph, and in the verse about the toilet she is mentioned as a goddess. However, through the comparison of the mortal Belinda with the goddess and the application of metaphors from the religious sphere in the description of the ladies toilet, the idea of the divine in a person acquires the comic character.
In the first canto, it has no difficulty in finding the confirmation of the mentioned above fact that the author belittles the image of the heroine. As Belinda is the epitome of Miss Arabella, it is relevant to state that everything said about the main character can be contemplated to the prototype. When describing a morning scene of waking up, the author emphasizes the undeniable beauty of Belinda, but then he mentions that the beauty cannot be comparable to the mind. A woman cannot understand some things. In other words, her intellectual abilities are in a serious doubt, or it is even possible to say that they are turned to ridicule. He proves such an idea and makes it clear to the reader with the words:
...thy own importance know,
Nor bound thy narrow views to things below.
Some secret truths, from learned pride conceal'd.
To maids alone and children are reveal'd....
One more evidence that confirms the arguments of disguised mockery in relation to Miss Arabella the reader may find in the fifth canto. The author claims that no matter how irreproachable the beauty is, without mind it means nothing. It can be considered as a hidden message to Arabella Fermor.
The finale of The Rape of the Lock can be interpreted as a mockery of the main character. However, as its apotheosis, it should be emphasized that it is impossible to choose only one of the interpretations because the main thing in the author's tone is the ironic duality, implying that the game creates a continual switching between the positions.
The poem was written based on real events, and the main characters have actual prototypes. As a basis for describing the main character, Pope took the image of Miss Arabella Fermor and, consequently, all his words can be compared with the reference to her. Using wimple taunt of mental abilities, he describes only the beauty of the main heroine. His statements imply more than they express. At the first glance, it seems that he praises the beauty of the heroine, carefully describing her clothes and her shiny hair. Still, if the reader follows the plot, it can be possible to mention how clever and masterful Pope is in hiding his disdain and desire to ridicule the main character. Judging from the mentioned above evidences, one can conclude that Alexander Pope in his poem concealed the mockery of secular society, specifically of Arabella Fermor. Though he wrote in his letter that it was only a joke and it is not worth taking seriously, thanks to some bright moments in the cantons, it is possible to state that the author derided the woman as such, in particular Miss Arabella.