Essay from Z.I. Mahmud

In The Rape Of The Lock the metamorphosis of the epic gains full poetic freedom.

In the vein of the statement, ‘If Pope be not a poet, where is poetry to be found?” wherein, Dr. Johnson’s putting forth of rhetorical question might further be justification in the vindictiveness in sublimity and elevation of the loftiness and grandiosity revealed by the five cantos. Thus, exclaiming the marvels of gifted poet Alexander Pope, Dr. Johnson’s critical appreciation ought to be quote worthy regarding Pope’s work, ”The most airy, the most ingenious and the most delightful of all his compositions.”

The Rape of The Lock is a mock heroic epic by the Restoration epoch literary lion Alexander Pope attempting to ameliorate rivalrous relationship between Fermors and Petres Libertinism and profligacy of the monarchical sovereignty of Queen Anne (1701-14) has been satirised in the mock epic. .

No other poetic other than Shakespearean composition reaped heroic couplets and in as much the narrator of the poem soars and sinks, magnifies and diminishes his characters, condescending towering climaxes and descending towards abysmal depths. In so far
poetic effect such as high seriousness and low comedy, optimism, gloom, mirth and despair and a host of other atmospheres or poetic states have been painted in the sustained heroic couplet. Professor William Frost is right when he says that in the Rape of the Lock, “Every poetic and logical energy is brought into focus, no syllable giving the effect of having been placed or selected at random.” “Sound and Sense” are wedded, so too, are the relation of “rhyme and reason”.

Written in epic manner with allegorical characters, the work jestfully satirizes Belinda with Great Britain, the Baron as the Earl of Oxford, who at the time of the poetry headed Queen Anne’s government, Clarissa with Lady Mesham and Thalestris with the Duchess
of Marlborough (both Lady Mesham and Duchess of Marlborough had political influence because of the Queen’s attachment to them, and were rivals for her favour). The burlesque mockery of supposedly pernicious aspects of high society is never altogether in
the stroke of seriousness evoking Hazlitt in dilemma of “whether to laugh or weep”. In the words of Hazlitt : “No pairs are spared, no profusion of ornament, no splendour of the poetic diction to set off the meanest things. The balance between the concealed irony and
the assumed gravity is as nicely trimmed as the balance of power in Europe. The little is made great, and the great little. You hardly know whether to laugh or weep. It is the triumph of insignificance, the apotheosis of foppery and folly. It is the perfection of the mock heroic.” Incarnation of Miltonic character of Raphael paralleling as the Ariel by Pope is intending the lofty exploit of employing a sylphlike supernatural and celestial machinery in order to advise and warn the Baron of thievery in unlocking Belinda’s lock.

Examine the disposition of the heroine figure in the Rape of The Lock by the literary lion of the Augustan epoch Alexander Pope.

The ambiguity of the romantic affection and moral censure on the narrators part is deliberate and derives from the mood of lighthearted geniality and in part from the imagery of a glamorous world of coquettes and sylphs. Love, admiration and regret are ingeniously woven into the fabric of the poem to a much greater degree than that of the mock heroic satire. Miss Arabella Fermor is the main feminine disposition casting heroine figure in the mock heroic couplet The Rape of The Lock. Alexander Pope’s dedicatory poetic verses were intended to revere and venerate Miss Arabella’s fallen tresses. Pope satirized mildly and genially the restrained and refined manners of
the upper classes aristocracy in the light of Belinda’s personae. For this whim of satirical exploits, Pope throws Belinda in the Hampton Court wherein, ministers of the State, “sometimes counsel take- and sometimes tea”.

“This Lock, the Muse shall consecrate to Fame,
And midst the stars inscribe Belinda’s name.”

Belinda at her dressing table is the heiress of a whole race of previous lady charmers from the playhouse girl in Restoration Comedy to the old coquette in fashionable London society.
Although Belinda supernaturally divined to be a goddess deity, but her envisioning of a fairland of jewels, china, lapdog and snuff boxes epitome of a Narcissist as put forth by Alexander Pope.

By virtue of poetic satire, Belinda’s elevated elegance and charming sublimity “Belinda smiled and all the world was gay.”… “new glory to the shining sphere!”.. Belinda’s visionary sightedness epitomizes the metaphor for iridescent blaze glowing in the brightness of solar
luminosity as poetically graced in naturalistic impressions. To Pope, Belinda’s metaphysical and symbolist manifestations of being a priestess and the deity herself upon the toilette-the dressing
table scene alluding to wondrous face and lightning eyes. Furthermore, her glory of the adventurous conquest of baron knights over a game of cards and finally to the emerging victor in
the epic encounter of Beaux and Beauty justified the serendipity of her heroic spectacle and marvelous feat in more than mere flimsy and bawdiness.

Belinda with her sparkling manner of -being -feminine divinity contrasts Clarissa with true Englishness of- being -a -governess by Freudian psychology and cultural anthropology. On the contrary, Clarissa is moral and heroic in the most pedestrian manner with grayed tresses whether curled or uncurled and faded lock whether painted or unpainted. Despite a minor character with subsidiary role, Clarissa is no less important. She is one of those not mystical but of elusive Characters in poetry whose words and actions might be baffling us with paradoxical inferences.

Her keen sense of priorities reinforces Alexander Pope’s own attitude to the bright world of ‘Sol’ and she also serves as a foil to the poem’s glittering ‘toyshop’. To Belinda, on the other hand, Pope promises immortality of divinity; Belinda triumphs with christening celestial graces of beauty.

Spinsterhood must be the worst of all evils for a lady. Examine the significance of these lines by Leslie Stephen in the context of the locks.
Examine the objectification of women and discrimination towards the feminine gender with textual references and critical evidence.

Belinda’s locks are a wrecking havoc in the Rape Of the Lock. Even supernatural and celestial machineries such as the fantasy characters’ sylphs were clipped into halves by shears in their endeavours to transmogrify cabbage into roses for Belinda’s sake. Locks whether grayed or grayed, neither coloured nor uncoloured and either curled or uncurled should be regarded as mortal tresses in ephemeral space-time subject to state of mortification.

Locks should be greyed and faded by the essence of time and thus, it would be a disaster to retain Belinda’s locks forever, notwithstanding owing to Clarissa’s statements “Since painted, or not painted, all shall fade …And she, who scorns a man must die a maid:”

Marilyn Francus commentary of Alexander Pope’s condescending mock epic towards women’s vanity pointed out, “The negative inscription of the female reflects both the tendency to revise in favour of the male and the oppositional relationship between the sexes; what constitutes the strength in the female weakens the male.”

Notes and Further Reading

Introduction G.S. Rousseau Twentieth Century Interpretations of The Rape Of The
Lock pages: 1-14

Introductory J.S. Cunningham Twentieth Century Interpretations of The Rape Of
The Lock pages:

Pope and Gender Valerie Rumbold, Pat Rogers Editorship of Cambridge
Companion To Alexander Pope, pages: 222-26

The Case of Miss Arabella Fermor Cleanth Brooks Twentieth Century
Interpretations Of The Rape Of The Lock pages: 29-45