Belinda is the most famous character in Pope's poetry. She is a bundle of contradictions. On one hand, she is the object of satire; on the other hand, she is the goddess of beauty and charm. In fact, Pope invokes her blessings as if she were the goddess of poetry. At another place, she is the representative of the decadent aristocratic society. Through her character, Pope describes the flippancy and depravity of the English society of the eighteenth century. Essentially here is the satire portrait of a frivolous and flirting girl. This is quite obvious in the scene at Hampton Court.
Belinda is an ideal girl of Pope. She loves lap-dogs more than her lovers. Even by noon, she is in no mood to leave her bed and keeps on dreaming about her lovers and how to make fool of them. The poet satirizes her for her idleness. Her dog knows when to wake her up. After waking up, she must perform her toilet. Her dressing table has a number of expensive beautifying articles like powder, paint and jewellery boxes. Her combs, perfumes and cosmetics consume a lot of her time.
In fact, Belinda is in love with her own beauty. The toilet table is like a church to her, her cosmetics are like her offerings to the goddess of Beauty. Pope calls her the goddess of Beauty. Apart from her maid servant, Betty who helps her in her toilet, there are a number of sylphs to perform the various duties assigned to them. In fact her character is due to the assistance of the supernatural creatures. As Pope remarks:
How awful beauty puts on all its arms;
The fair each moment rises in her charms.
On waking, her eyes fell on a love-letter full of romantic effusions of love. She made her toilette with the help of her maid-servant Betty, while the unseen Sylphs flew round helping her in the work. The toilette was performed, with various articles of luxury and price-jewels, cosmetics, pins, perfumes, powders, puffs, patches-as solemnly as if it were religious rite. In the end, Belinda's person shone forth in all its beauty, smiles and blushes on her face supplementing the labours of toilet.
The canto opens in the mock-epic manner with an invocation to the Muse. The poet seeks the blessings of the heroine - Belinda who may accept this poem, for whom he has a great regard.
The poet immediately states the subject of the poem, namely the cutting of the hair of a fashionable lady by a Lord and the quarrel that ensued. The poetic diction belongs to the eighteenth century technique - for example, the poet uses the word "Sol" which stands for the sun.
The supernatural machinery plays an effective part in the story. Ariel is the guardian-sylph. She warns Belinda in a dream that she will face a misfortune during the day. There are four different types of spirits namely, Salamanders, Nymphs, Gnomes, and Sylphs. The function of the sylphs is to guard the virtue of the young ladies.
Satirical elements are introduced in connection with the aristocratic life in the eighteenth century. The ideal life of the lovers and their beloveds, their fondness for fashions, the trifling niceties of manners and dresses are given in detail. It appears that love-making was the greatest pastime and entertainment of young men and women.
Women were by nature frivolous and they expected attention and gifts from the lovers, but they were rather inconstant in their love. Belinda's toilet is described in full. On her dressing table there are powders, perfumes, love-letters and the Bible.
Pope's Moralising Tone on Belinda's Toilet:
Pope s pointed and critical survey of his age is amply evident in his descriptions of the toilet of Belinda, the strange alter raised by the proud Baron and the 'nice conduct' of Sir Plume and his 'clouded cane.' Belinda's long and laborious toilet clearly demonstrates her vanity and pride which are certainly...