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Published: 26-11-2019

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Belinda: Wronged On Behalf of All Women

On the surface, “The Rape of the Lock”, by Alexander Pope, seems to be a mild satire on the recent rise in materialism and the especially female habit of excessive consumption. Initially published in 1712, the poem was situated amongst numerous other satires on the identical topic, which includes Jonathan Swift’s “The Lady’s Dressing Room”. However, upon further examination, the poem appears to be far a lot more troubling than what critics have known as gentle social commentary dedicated to a friend or a brilliant use of the mock-epic style. The eighteenth century marked the transformation of several social and economic conventions, and these transformations resulted in an increase in power for several girls. This shift towards equality was troubling to a lot of men, who became anxious to restore their dominance and force women back into a position of subservience. I will argue that Pope uses Belinda to embody several elements of British femininity, including consumerism and an adherence to the societal standards for relationships, and in carrying out so, he employs her many imperfections as a signifies to highlight women’s accurate inferiority.

The dedication of the poem is cited as a single of the main reasons that “The Rape of the Lock” is regarded as a mild social satire. Inspired by a real-life event in which Lord Petre reduce a lock of hair from the head of Miss Arabella Fermor, Pope claimed that the poem was intended to pacify the socially tumultuous scenario. Addressed to Fermor herself, Pope explains that the poem was “intended only to divert a few young ladies, who have very good sense and excellent humor adequate to laugh not only at their sex’s little unguarded follies, but at their own” (Pope). He goes on to clarify the function of the sylphs and gnomes, and he reassures Fermor that she was not the inspiration for Belinda, saying “The human persons are as fictitious as the airy ones and the character of Belinda, as it is now managed, resembles you in absolutely nothing but in beauty” (Pope). Nevertheless, the patronizing nature of the letter is evident all through. Pope seems to imply that Fermor’s gender tends to make her not only unable to grasp the notion of supernatural creature but also nave sufficient to think Pope’s transparent assertions.

One more indication that the poem was eventually not intended as a friendly gesture lies in the history of the dedication. Cynthia Wall explains that “Pope supplied Arabella Fermor a decision of dedications, prose or poem. . . She chose the prose letter that has traditionally prefaced the poem” (Wall 175). The poem which she rejected as in the end published beneath the name “To Belinda on the Rape of the Lock”, and it consists of quite a few other insinuations of female inferiority. Pope writes, “Nature to your undoing arms mankind/ With strength of physique, artifice of mind/ But provides your feeble sex, created up of fears,/ No guard but virtue, no redress but tears” (Pope 15-18). He also delivers a measly attempt at consolation, saying that Belinda need to not mourn the loss of her hair due to the fact it was critical sufficient to inspire a poet. All round, the dedication and its alternative each serve as distressing reminders that Pope’s intentions had been likely not as honorable as many have claimed. While he claims to be writing in honor of Arabella Fermor, the dedication belittles her in such clear techniques that one can not ignore his disdain. Coupled with Pope’s use of the epic kind, it becomes evident that Pope utilized “The Rape of the Lock” as a signifies to express his utter disgust for all the qualities possessed by women.

Critics have written numerous analyses of the mock-epic style discovered all through Pope’s poetry. This style of writing was not just a coincidence. Alexander Pope started his profession translating numerous of the classical operates, which includes those by Horace and Homer, and was therefore really familiar with the literary conventions of epic poetry. These conventions can be noticed numerous times throughout “The Rape of the Lock”. The poem opens with the invocation of a muse. The classical authors known as upon a single of the nine Muses, even though Pope cites his friend John Caryll, writing, “This verse to Caryll, Muse! is due” (I, 3). The second epic reference is in the author’s description of Belinda as the excellent woman, far above the standards of the typical men and women. Belinda is characterized as “fairest of mortals” (I, 27), possessing “graceful ease” (II, 15) and a beauty which rivals the sun. As in the epics, the poem is marked with several supernatural interventions Odysseus was protected by the gods, and the Sylphs and Gnomes watch more than Belinda. The classic armament scene in which the warrior is assisted in his preparation for battle can be seen in Belinda’s dressing scene as “awful Beauty puts on all its arms” (I, 139). Pope writes, “The busy Sylphs surround their darling care,/ These set the head, and those divide the hair,/ Some fold the sleeve, while other people plait the gown” (I, 145-148).

The necessity for armament becomes apparent in the a number of occurrences of battle. Initial, Belinda engages in a tense card game called ombre. Following nearly securing a victory over two lords, Belinda requires portion in the feast following a battle, which in this case is a luxurious cup of coffee. Subsequently, after the Baron cuts off Belinda’s lock of hair, the males and girls engage in a passionate battle. In contrast to the weapons found in other epic battles, the men are equipped with their wits and the ladies should fight making use of their eyes or mouths. Pope writes, “Chloe stepped in, and killed him with a frown/ She smiled to see the doughty hero slain,/ But, at her smile, the beau revived again” (V, 68-70).

What function does the satirical mock-epic style serve in “The Rape of the Lock”? Scholars have presented quite a few attainable explanations. Cleanth Brooks theorizes that the mock-epic style was intended to portray the incident as trivial, saying, “His decision of the mock-epic fits beautifully his general difficulty of scaling down the rape to its proper insignificance. The scene is lowered and the characters become modest and manageable figures whose actions can often be plotted against a bigger background” (Brooks 110). On the other hand, Felicity Nussbaum argues that “the mock-heroic ‘Rape of the Lock’ teases Belinda even though it displays her entrapment in the rigid rules of courtship” (Nussbaum 137). I contend that Pope uses the mock-epic style in order to show the utter inferiority of women. Epic poetry traditionally featured a hyper-masculine hero in a setting of warfare and male competition, and Pope juxtaposes these masculine components by placing a feminine character in the part of protagonist. Nonetheless, Belinda eventually fails in this function, and Pope blames the failure on the reality that her femininity tends to make her unable to function in a traditionally masculine planet.

This masculine globe was accentuated even additional with the growth of trade. The eighteenth century signaled a drastic revolution in the British economy as an improved mercantilism led to a much more extravagant normal of living. This expansion of trade was manifested in each larger earnings for numerous of the elite and the prevalence of luxury things, such as imported fabrics, coffee, and spices. Females have been granted more acquiring power, and many females spent their newfound wealth on elaborate costumes and imported makeup. The alterations in economy resulted in related changes in the English society. The distinction among the aristocracy and the merchant class significantly expanded, and commodities became the most substantial signifies of measuring one’s location in society. Even so, as with numerous social and economic modifications, there is typically a backlash. In an work to reinforce their dominance, men focused upon the most obvious signs of progress, and ladies have been blamed as becoming the principal result in for this move towards excessive consumption.

As a result, women have been continually criticized for their vain nature and lack of self-control. They had been seen as the embodiment of the evils connected with commercialism, and their nearly ridiculous fixation on fashion became a frequent subject for satire. Laura Brown explains, “The image of female dressing and adornment has a really distinct, constant historical referent in the early eighteenth century-the goods of mercantile capitalism. The association of girls with the items of trade is a strong cultural motif in this period, and the concern with female adornment . . . is a prominent expression of that association” (Brown 112). Clarissa’s speech just before the battle among the sexes comments on the short-term nature of ornamentation. Pope writes, “But considering that, alas! frail beauty need to decay,/ Curled or uncurled, because locks will turn to gray/ Considering that painted, or not painted, all shall fade,/ And she who scorns a man need to die a maid”” (V, 25-28). At very first glance, it appears as although Pope makes use of Clarissa as a car to inspire a adjust in the society which forces women to value their appearance. Even so, the conclusion of her speech reinforces the necessity of marriage, negating any progress towards empowerment. Cynthia Wall explains, “Clarissa counsels resignation, reinforcing a status quo that punishes a lady who scorns a man or rejects a lord-by definition denying her the capability and the appropriate to choose” (Wall 34). Also, the reaction which her speech receives from the other females in the poem indicates its effectiveness. Pope writes, “So spoke the dame, but no applause ensued,/ Belinda frowned, Thalestris named her prude” (V, 35-36). The response seems to imply that if females themselves do not support Clarissa’s speech, why ought to society cease its criticism of girls?

The condemnation of ladies is seen continuously all through “The Rape of the Lock” as Pope characterizes Belinda as the epitome of excessiveness. He describes Belinda’s “joy in gilded chariots” (I, 55) and the “sparkling cross she wore/ Which Jews may kiss and infidels adore” (II, 7-eight). He criticizes her overly prideful nature as he writes, “Think not, when woman’s transient breath is fled/ That all her vanities are dead:/ Succeeding vanities she nevertheless regards” (I, 51-53). He also mocks the female technique of values, saying that Belinda can not distinguish between what is actually essential and what is mere frivolity. The author describes Belinda’s inability to choose among her intrinsic qualities or her material possessions. Is it worse to “Stain her honor, or her new brocade/ Forget her prayers, or miss a masquerade/ Or lose her heart, or necklace at a ball” (II, 105-109)? Nicholson elaborates on these juxtaposed values, saying, Pope “shows industry values confounding a traditional ethics as they refashion the human character, accommodating it to distinct priorities. In Pope’s construction, a commercialized society rewrites virtue and leaves Belinda without having any anchoring sense of morality” (Nicholson 40).

All of these representations of extravagance serve to highlight Belinda’s superficial nature and her close bond with consumption. Nicholson further explains that Pope portrays “Belinda as a consumer, the embodiment of luxury, whose ambience is defined by the wealth of objects with which she surrounds and decks herself” (Nicholson 28). Pope employs Belinda to represent not merely a single greedy woman but rather the belief that all ladies equally as ostentatious. By representing all ladies in Belinda, Pope utilizes her fall from arrogance in order to humble all of womankind.

One more crucial example of Pope’s derogatory representation of girls can be seen in Belinda’s toilet scene, in which Belinda adorns herself with several imported beauty products. Pope writes, “The numerous offerings of the world seem/ From each she nicely culls with curious toil,/ And decks the goddess with glittering spoil./ This casket India’s glowing gems unlocks,/ And all Arabia breathes from yonder box. The tortoise here and elephant unite/ Transformed to combs, the speckled and the white” (I, 130-136). This toilet scene, which was a widespread literary convention in the eighteenth century, is used to specifically tie females to mercantilism. Laura Brown writes, “The artifice through which Belinda’s beauty is either produced or awakened is attributed to the merchandise of trade and defined through a catalogue of commodities for female consumption” (Brown 113). This explicit association of girls with trade reinforces the propensity to blame women for the difficulties linked to the improved commercialism, basically placing men in a permanently elevated status.

While Belinda as a entire personifies the feminine habit of excessive consumption, her vanity is most naturally encompassed in her locks of hair. Pope describes “two locks which graceful hung behind/ In equal curls, and well conspired to deck/ With shining ringlets her smooth ivory neck” (II, 20-22). The hair is described as beautiful sufficient to ensnare man’s imperial race (II, 27), and following the Baron cuts it off, it is placed in the sky as a constellation. Pope describes the “ravished hair,/ Which adds new glory to the shining sphere!” (V, 141-142). On the other hand, as Felicity Nussbaum claims, “Each bit of praise for Belinda in ‘Rape of the Lock’ is mitigated by satiric diminution” (Nussbaum 141). In this instance, the beauty of the lock is negated by the quantity of superficial work placed into sustaining its appearance. Pope asks, “Was it for this you took such continuous care/ The bodkin, comb, and essence to prepare?/ For this your locks in paper durance bounds,/ For this with torturing irons wreathed around?/ For this with fillets strained your tender head,/ And bravely bore the double loads of lead?” (IV, 97-102). Pope wraps Belinda’s femininity into her lock of hair, and by destroying her lock, he primarily manages to destroy her whole gender.

In addition to her appearance, a woman’s identity was inexorably tied to her relationships with males. A lady was noticed as the home of her father till she became married, and then the father transferred her rights to her husband. This objectification was extensively accepted in the traditionally patriarchal society as girls were thought to be unable to take care of themselves. Couple of ladies owned home, and the occupations offered to girls had been incredibly low-paying. For that reason, females had been taught from an early age that their objective was to uncover a husband who could support them. Marriage was seldom viewed as a loving union, but rather one particular of financial security. Although wives had been expected to be submissive to their husbands, girls started to exhibit far more manage over their personal destinies. As a result, Pope makes use of Belinda as a model of the consequences for defying the social constraints placed on enjoy.

Girls in the age of Pope had been repeatedly praised for their wit and the capacity to balance intelligence with the suitable deference to their male counterparts. Even so, Pope portrays Belinda as possessing neither of the two. Clarissa explains the importance of character, saying, “Trust me, dear, very good humor can prevail/ When airs, and flights, and screams, and scolding fail./ Beauties in vain their pretty eyes may possibly roll/ Charms strike the sight, but merit wins the soul” (V, 31-34). Pope characterizes Belinda as relatively dim-witted, possessing “infant thoughts” (I, 29) and a “vacant brain” (I, 83). Also, Belinda does not recognize the perceived impropriety of a lady appearing a lot more intelligent than a man. Belinda possesses “learned pride” (I, 37), and motivated by her “thirst of fame” (III, 25), she dares to challenge the Baron and yet another young man to a game of cards. Diana M. Agy writes, “When Belinda challenges guys to ombre, we see her overstep her culturally defined status of subservient female” (Agy 233). Consequently, instead of the anticipated acquiescence, Belinda displays an unexpected need for power and comes dangerously close to winning the game. I contend that Pope makes use of this social transgression to symbolize the agency which true girls had been gaining and utilizes her as a signifies to punish all girls for their attempts at empowerment.

Ladies in the eighteenth century were also anticipated to comply with certain requirements for courtship. They must be playful and engaging but not to the point of providing guys false hopes. Women need to constantly maintain the look of propriety, whilst nevertheless remaining flirtatious in order to attract a appropriate husband. Nevertheless, Pope portrays Belinda as unable to find any sort of middle ground she is either characterized as a tease or a prude. Pope 1st characterizes Belinda as a tease, saying, “Favor to none, to all she smiles extends/ Oft she rejects, but never once offends. Bright as the sun, her eyes the gazers strike,/ And, like the sun, they shine on all alike” (II, 11-14). She is protected by the Sylphs, the guardians of all coquettes. However, as Ariel discovers upon peering into Belinda’s mind, there is “an earthly lover lurking at her heart” (III, 144). Even though the identity of this lover is never ever revealed, his presence in Belinda’s thoughts signals her transition from coquette to prude. Her care is then transferred to the gnomes, who defend these who never ever act upon their romantic feelings. This adjust was foreshadowed in the 1st Canto, when Pope writes, “Some nymphs there are, also conscious of their face,/ For life predestined to the Gnome’s embrace” (I, 79-80).

The mythological creatures watching more than ladies all through “The Rape of the Lock” are dually substantial within Pope’s attempts to debase females. First, the creatures are assigned primarily based upon a woman’s personality, and she can only be protected by one particular creature at a time. This attempts to compartmentalize the several complexities inside a woman’s mind. That is, a lady can be a coquette or a prude she can not have traits of every single. By limiting a woman’s potential to express her individuality, Pope manages to repress the essence of femininity. Next, Pope implies that the spirits not only guard the ladies, they dictate their thoughts and actions. Pope writes, “Oft, when the globe imagine females stray,/ The Sylphs via mystic mazes guide their way” (I, 91-92). He also describes the Sylphs as “these that early taint the female soul,/ Instruct the eyes of young coquettes to roll,/ Teach infant cheeks a hidden blush to know,/ And tiny hearts to flutter at a beau” (I, 87-90). These depictions of the Sylphs imply that they exhibit manage more than Belinda and other coquettes, which properly confiscates any agency held by Belinda or other girls.

Eighteenth century society was no distinct from our personal in that romantic relationships were still unavoidably linked to sexuality. The expression of sexuality was a relatively new phenomenon, instigated in rebellion against the Puritan lifestyle previously forced upon the English citizens. However, as with many conventions of the time, sex carried with it a gendered double regular. Though males have been encouraged to openly practice their sexuality, girls have been taught that virginity was their most important asset. With out their virtue, girls were not deemed to be “marriage material”. Nonetheless, as several critics have explained, innocence was often not valued as considerably as the appearance of innocence. Cleanth Brooks writes, “Chastity is, like fine porcelain, some thing brittle, precious, useless, and very easily broken” (Brooks 104).

Whilst Belinda is constantly lauded for her virgin status, Pope fills the poem with sexual innuendos to illustrate her deceptively virtuous nature. The poem opens with a description of Belinda as a “sleepless lover”, and her dreams “that even in slumber caused her cheek to glow” (I, 24). Despite the fact that the readers do not discover the identity of Belinda’s secret lover, we are alternatively presented with a substitute for her sexual desires-her dog, Shock. In the first Canto, the insinuation is obvious as Shock leapt from the bed and “waked his mistress with his tongue” (I, 116). Throughout the remainder of the poem, the dog is regularly worshipped as if he had been human. Pope appoints the supervising Sylph to watch more than Shock, and following the Baron cuts Belinda’s lock, “Not louder shrieks to pitying heaven are cast,/ When husbands, or when lapdogs breathe their last” (III, 1557-158). According to Nussbaum, “The lapdog assumes the part of a surrogate husband, and the satire mocks such unnatural behavior. The implication . . . is that ladies will resort to any implies to quench their insatiable desire” (Nussbaum 140). Pope’s accentuation of Shock both portrays Belinda as overtly desperate for sexual fulfillment and reinforces his earlier suggestion that girls are unable to distinguish among things of significance (a husband) or material issues (a dog).

Finally, the subtle references to sexuality are brought to the surface with Belinda’s “rape”. Although the term rape could be used to refer to a violation of Belinda’s very essence, I believe Pope purposefully chose a phrase so closely related with sex. The implication is that the lock of her was representative of her virginity, and by stealing it, the Baron has doomed Belinda to a life of shame. Thalestris tells Belinda that society will probably label her a whore for providing away her hair to the Baron. She says, “Methinks currently I your tears survey,/ Currently hear the horrid factors they say,/ Already see you a degraded toast,/ And all your honor in a whisper lost!” (IV, 107-110). Right after the rape, Belinda cries, “Oh, hadst thou, cruel! been content to seize/ Hairs less in sight, or any hairs but these!” (IV, 175-176), implying that she would rather have been physically raped than to drop the illusion of chastity. As Karen Aubrey elucidates, “Had he raped in the true sense of the word, Belinda’s humiliation would have at least been private and would have preserved appearances” (Aubrey 12). Thus, Belinda’s rape is far a lot more considerable than forced sexual intercourse. The Baron requires away both Belinda’s innocence and her capability to exist in a society which placed such an emphasis on the look of innocence.

The rape is only 1 of the methods which Pope uses in order to highlight women’s inferiority. Initially, the dedication letter subtly insults Arabella Fermor, patronizing her intelligence based just on the reality that she is a lady. Subsequent, the style of the poem points out the inability of ladies to function inside the masculine world of epic poetry. Ultimately, Pope makes use of Belinda to embody all of the aspects which the British connected with femininity, and then he systematically destroys these qualities. The outcome of “The Rape of the Lock” is that ladies are left without a appropriate signifies to define their identity, and Pope has achieved his goal of returning men to a position of total superiority. The poem is the ultimate humbling encounter for girls, emphasizing the consequences for a woman who attempts to escape from the social constraints of femininity.
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