Pope's portrayal of Belinda and her society in 'The Rape of the Lock'
This Lock, the Muse shall consecrate to Fame,
And mid'st the Stars inscribe Belinda's Name!
In 'The Rape of the Lock' Alexander Pope (1688-1744) employs a mock-epic style to satirise the 'beau-monde' (fashionable world, society of the elite) of eighteenth century England. The richness of the poem, however, reveals more than a straightforward satirical attack. Alongside the criticism we can detect Pope's fascination with, and perhaps admiration for, Belinda and the society in which she moves. Pope himself was not part of the 'beau-monde'. He knew the families on which the poem is based but his own parents, though probably comfortably off, were not so rich or of the class one would have to be in to move in Belinda's circle. He associated with learned men and poets, and there can have been little common ground between the company he kept at Will's Coffee House and those who frequented Hampton Court.
The incident at the centre of the poem is the Baron's theft of a lock of hair and the ensuing estrangement of two families. The opening lines of the poem introduce the reader to the satirical stance he is taking towards the society portrayed in the poem.
What dire Offence from am'rous Causes springs,
What mighty Contests rise from trivial Things, [I.1-2]
Pope suggests that they are taking a trivial incident too seriously, displaying an exaggerated sense of their own importance. Throughout the poem Pope continues to make this point through his use of the mock-epic style, which itself takes a trivial incident too seriously, and uses disproportionately grand language to describe an unworthy subject.
Belinda is belittled earl...
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...y men of the age. An affinity between them is revealed by Pope's empathy, fine judgements, and carefully aimed criticisms, and Pope must have been at least a little fascinated by the 'beau-monde' to apply his talents to this poem which, in an ironic way, celebrates Belinda and her world and, as Pope himself suggests in the final couplet of the poem, has preserved them for posterity.
This Lock, the Muse shall consecrate to Fame,
And mid'st the Stars inscribe Belinda's Name! [V.149-50]
Butt, John (Ed). The Poems of Alexander Pope. A one-volume edition of the Twickenham text with selected annotations. London. Methuen & Co Ltd. 1963. First published in University Paperbacks 1965, Reprinted with corrections 1968. Reprinted 1977
Cunningham. The Rape of the Lock. Oxford University Press. 1971
Gordon. A Preface to Pope. Longman. 1976
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