The Rape of the Lock by Alexander Pope

The Rape of the Lock

The Rape of the Lock

Key Facts

Title: The Rape of the Lock

Author: Alexander Pope

Published: First published in 1712, revised and expanded in 1714

Type: Mock-heroic epic poem

Setting: London, early 18th century

Main characters: Belinda, Baron, Ariel, Thalestris, Sir Plume

Themes: Vanity, gender roles, social class, satire, beauty, power

Significance: One of the most famous examples of mock-heroic poetry, satirizing the high society of Pope’s time and commenting on the absurdity of its values and behavior. The poem’s enduring popularity has made it a classic of English literature.

The Rape of the Lock is a mock-heroic poem by Alexander Pope that was first published in 1712. The poem was inspired by an actual incident that occurred between two prominent Catholic families in England, the Petres and the Fermors. Lord Petre, a young man, cut off a lock of hair from Arabella Fermor, a beautiful young woman, which caused a great scandal and led to a bitter feud between the families. Pope uses this incident as the basis for his poem, which satirizes the vanity and frivolity of the aristocracy in 18th century England.

The poem begins with a mock-epic invocation of the muse, asking her to inspire him to tell the story of “the fair” Belinda, a young woman who is the object of much admiration and desire. Belinda is presented as the embodiment of all that is beautiful and desirable in a woman, and her toilette is described in great detail. She is attended by a host of sylphs, supernatural beings who are responsible for guarding women’s virtue and beauty.

The central event of the poem is the cutting of Belinda’s lock of hair by the young Lord Petre. The scene is described in great detail, and the language is deliberately exaggerated to make the incident seem more important than it really is. The cutting of the lock is depicted as a kind of sacrilege, and the sylphs are helpless to prevent it. Belinda is devastated by the loss of her lock, which is described as a symbol of her beauty and virtue.

The rest of the poem is devoted to Belinda’s revenge on Lord Petre and the Petre family. She and her friends contrive a plan to retaliate against Lord Petre by staging a mock battle on the Thames River, in which they will steal his snuffbox. The battle is described in great detail, and again the language is deliberately exaggerated to make the scene seem more heroic than it really is. Belinda emerges victorious, having secured Lord Petre’s snuffbox, but the victory is hollow, and she is left feeling empty and disillusioned.

The Rape of the Lock is a masterpiece of English literature, and it is widely regarded as one of the greatest poems of the 18th century. It is a tour de force of wit and satire, and it demonstrates Pope’s skill at using language to create a vivid and memorable picture of the world he is satirizing. The poem is also notable for its use of the mock-epic form, which was a popular genre in the 18th century. The mock-epic was a kind of parody of the heroic epic, which was a traditional form of poetry that celebrated the deeds of great heroes.

The Rape of the Lock is a social satire that pokes fun at the vanity and frivolity of the aristocracy in 18th century England. Pope’s use of the mock-epic form allows him to satirize the aristocracy by comparing their trivial pursuits to the heroic deeds of ancient heroes. The poem also satirizes the social conventions of the time, particularly the role of women in society. Belinda is presented as a victim of the social expectations placed on women, who were expected to be beautiful and virtuous but were also subject to the whims of men.

In addition to its satirical content, The Rape of the Lock is also notable for its use of language. Pope’s language is highly polished and refined, and he uses a wide range of literary devices to create a vivid and memorable picture of the world he is satirizing. The poem is full of witty and memorable lines, and its use of rhyme and meter makes it highly musical and pleasurable to read.

Major Characters

1. Belinda – A young and beautiful lady around whom the poem revolves. She is known for her charm, beauty, and social status.
2. Baron – A young man who is infatuated with Belinda and attempts to steal a lock of her hair.
3. Clarissa – Belinda’s friend who advises her to be cautious of the Baron’s advances.
4. Thalestris – A warrior queen who appears in Belinda’s dream and advises her to fight against the Baron.
5. Ariel – A sylph who is tasked with protecting Belinda’s beauty and her lock of hair.
6. Umbriel – A gnome who travels to the Cave of Spleen to retrieve a bag of tears to add to the conflict between Belinda and the Baron.

Minor Characters

• Belinda’s cousin, Thalestris – a termagant and strong-minded woman who is based on a real-life friend of Arabella Fermor, the woman who inspired the poem.
• Sir Plume – an admirer of Belinda who gives her a snuff box as a love token.
• The Baron’s sylph, Clarissa – one of the supernatural beings who watch over Belinda and try to protect her from the Baron’s mischief.
• The gnome, Umbriel – a dark and mischievous spirit who descends to the Cave of Spleen to obtain some material to aid the Baron in his scheme.
• Ariel – a sylph who acts as Belinda’s chief protector and who delivers a speech about the importance of beauty in the world.
• Caryl – a young man who writes love poetry to Belinda but is scorned by her.
• Hampton – a character mentioned in passing as one who tries to prevent the Baron from cutting off Belinda’s lock.
• Jove – the king of the gods, who is appealed to for justice in the poem’s mock-heroic conclusion.
• Thirsty Fops – a group of men who follow Belinda to the coffeehouse and comment on her appearance.
• Chief Baron – the head of the legal system in Britain, mentioned in passing as someone who might be able to solve the dispute over the lock.