Alexander Pope is known as one of the greatest neo-classical poets. He was born in 1688 in London. His parents were Roman Catholics. Pope was a sickly child and all-through his life he remained a weak disabled man. But inspired of his ailments and physical disabilities, he developed a keen love for studies at a very early age and went through the great works of Homer, Virgil, Ariosto. Tasso and Ovid. He could not get any university education, but that did not mitigate his love for studies. He started composing verse when he was quite young, and drew the attention of elders specially of Wycherley. His first poems appeared in 1709 and in 1711 he wrote Essay on Criticism. This work at once attracted the attention of all and he began to be admired as a young poet with a great future. In 1712 he published The Rape of the Lock mock-heroic poem that as suited the best tastes of the age. Pope now engaged himself in translating Iliad and Odyssey and in editing Shakespeare’s plays. These translations brought him a great fortune. Later in his life he wrote the Dunciad. Essay on Man and some satires, and Epistles where he imitated Horace. On May 30, 1774, this true representative of the Augustans breathed his last.
Several causes made Pope a satirist. His physical disability was perhaps the greatest of them. If he had enjoyed the pleasure and blessing that health offers to a man, he would not have been a rabid castigator of the foibles and weaknesses of men as well as of the female sex. Secondly, being a Roman Catholic, Pope could not tolerate the assault on his faith by the Protestants. The inhibitions and restrictions, persecution and harassment to which the Roman Catholics were subjected in the day of Pope annoyed him. He expressed his anger through satires. Lastly, his extremely suspicious and irritable temperament made him a satirist. He was vindictive and satirised to those who tried to find fault with him.
The Rape of the Lock is his finest satire on the social life of his age. Warton remarked. “I hope it will not be thought an exaggerated panegyric to say that The Rape of the Lock is the best satire extant: that it contains the trust and liveliest picture of modern life: and that the subject is of a more elegant nature as well as more artfully conducted than that of any other heroic-comic poem”. In this mock-heroic poem Pope has satirised feminine frivolity.
He came out with the most unpleasant and shocking remark. ‘Every woman at heart is a rake’ and showed that all women were frivolous and their chief interest was in love-making. The fashions, fris sities and gaieties of women of his time have all been satirised in the poem. He has exposed the trivialities of fashionable life and the vagaries of the feminine mind. It is no wonder that lady Arabella Fermor, the loss of whose lock occasioned the poem, was displeased and offended. But the poem is not really a satire against her; it is against the weakness she shared with half the world. Through her Pope has criticised the whole of the female sex.
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Addison, in one of the Spectator Papers, wrote about the general condition of fashionable women of those days. “The toilet is their great scene of business, and the right adjustment of their hair the principal employment of their lives. The sorting of a suit of ribbons is considered a very good morning’s work; and if they make an excursion to a mercer’s shop or a toy- shop, so great a fatigue makes them unfit for anything else all the day after. Their more serious occupations are sewing and embroidery.
Pope has a better understanding of the fashionable life of ladies than Addison and his The Rape of the Lock presents an impressive and real picture of the life of his age. According to Elwin, the world of fashion is displayed in The Rape of the Lock “in its most gorgeous and attractive colours, and everywhere the emptiness is visible beneath the outward splendour. The beauty of Belinda, the details of her toilet. her troops of admirers, are all set forth with unrivalled grace and fascination, and all bear the impress of vanity and vexation”.
The fashionable ladies of Pope lay in their beds till late in the day. They were awakened by the ringing of hand bells and knocking of slippers. Lap dogs were their favourites. They lay with their mistresses in their beds. After leaving their beds, the ladies go to their toilet with the assistance of their maid-servants. The toilet was the most expensive process to beautify them and consisted of jewels, cosmetics, powders, rows of pins, perfumery, and paints.
They visited fashionable spots in gilt coaches or in sedan chairs. The Hyde Park was a common resort for fashionable ladies. There they indulge themselves in dance, music and revelry. They also played Ombre with stake. Tea and coffee were their favourite drinks. They invited their lovers to their bed-rooms. Love-making was their chief game and their most sacred business was to look as attractive as they could. In short, coquetry was an important part of their life. We see that Pope has satirised all this in The Rape of the Lock.
Pope, though not so harsh as in the case of women, has not spared the fashionable men. his age. Chivalry was dead then and they tried to win their object by fair or 1. means. The Baron’s rude act of cutting the lock of Belinda bears evidence to this fact. The men were fops with no brains. Their chief interest was in love-making. They craved for the company of attractive ladies. They drank and gambled. They ogled at ladies from the side-boxes in theatres. Their language was also affected. The Rape of the Lock confirms it.
Pope remains to be one of the most interesting poets in English literature. He certainly lacks the breadth of imagination of Shakespeare: he certainly lacks the philosophical insight of Wordsworth. But his greatness lies in his representing the best claims of his age and in his ability to transmute his ideas into lucid and elegant poetic equivalents. He is concerned with the manner of expression”.
“Trus wit is Nature to advantage dress’d
What of it was thought, but ne’er so well express’a”.
Thus, we see that pope’s The Rape of the Lock presents a faithful but satirical picture of the social life of the lords and ladies of his age.