Grant Thomas

POPE, A. Rape of the Lock (London, 1714) 

The Rape of the Lock is a poem written by Alexander Pope who was born in London in 1688. Alexander Pope suffered frequently as a result of his religion; he was treated mostly as an outcast from university and social life within politics because he was a Catholic in a time of Protestant alliance in England. He received the majority of his interest and encouragement from his father, who was a linen-draper, and from his friends. Pope was affected throughout much of his life with tuberculosis which caused stunting and it was found in his spine.

Pope, at a mere 23 years old published The Rape of the Lock in 1712. The poem was inspired by an event in which Robert Lord Petre cut off some of Arabella Fermor’s hair and as a result the families descended into affray. Belinda in the poem represents Arabella Fermor. The Poem is about a woman called Belinda who gets extremely upset that someone has cut her hair. It seems designed to illustrate the great fuss that the upper classes could make over minor things. It seems that the poem shows her extreme reaction to this in order to demonstrate how concerned the upper classes can be with superficial matters. There is also a card game later on in the poem which again is seen to mock the upper classes for their making of a comparison from a card game to war.

Frontispiece

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The first Image “Frontispiece” depicts small cherubs’ names as “Sylph’s” in the poem, holding a mirror and tending to the woman’s beauty. The woman depicted is intended to be Belinda and the cherubs are the “Sylphs” that came to her in a dream telling her to beware of mankind, for later on in the poem men would cut some of her hair resulting in outrage. The “Sylphs” tending to her every need is perhaps another mockery of the upper class’ obsession with material qualities such as beauty and appearance that is a running theme throughout the poem.

Canto 1

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The first canto of the poem begins with Belinda in a dream, being approached and warned of men who will bring her danger. This is represented in the image entitled Canto 1 as there is a woman lying in a bed dreaming. The winged creature hovering over her in the image is to represent the warning she is being given of man. The dream is of a handsome youth who tells her that she is protected by “unnumber’d Spirits”. These spirits are an army of supernatural beings who once lived on earth as human women and are now warning her of men. Although at first glance it may appear as she is being tended to in bed ill, in the image Belinda is dreaming of this warning and then being awoken by her dog. The awakening of her dog is represented in the image by the dog on looking whilst Belinda is having this dream and waiting to wake her. The room in which Belinda is sleeping is again illustrated in the image as very grand and perhaps belonging to a vain woman. There is a large mirror and dressing table facing the bed suggesting again to this theme of the upper classes being extremely concerned with their appearance. As she is awoken towards the end of the canto, Belinda then approaches her dressing table and prepares herself for the events to come.

Canto 5

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The image before canto 5 of the poem is an image of unsettlement and panic. Within the canto, the Baron refuses to back down against the women’s objections. Clarissa delivers a speech in which she questions why society adores beauty and praises good looks, referring people to be similar in appearance to angels however the society does not draw similarities between the qualities these angels have. It is merely cosmetic and someone who possesses the qualities of an angel yet not the appearance is not credited so. Women are frequently called angels, she argues, but without reference to the moral qualities of the angels.

She argues that as beauty is a short term possession the other qualities of an angel are even more important and we must have these to fall back on. However this falls on deaf ears as Belinda is unable to see past the shock of her hair being cut. Belinda and accomplices launch an attack on the offender (The Baron) and this is what the image is depicting. The smoke is representing the tussle that is involved and the quarrel between the two sides. The image is illustrating the moment where Belinda gains advantage over the Baron by peppering him with snuff and then demanding her hair be returned. However the hair has been lost in all the mishap. The image shows even despite the argument and the speech no real development has been made in terms of understanding the view that looks are superficial and less important.

 

Grant Thomas