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The Rape of the Lock

Pope's portrayal of Belinda and her society in 'The Rape of the Lock'

This Lock, the Muse shall consecrate to Fame,
And mid'st the Stars inscribe Belinda's Name!

In 'The Rape of the Lock' Alexander Pope (1688-1744) employs a mock-epic style to satirise the 'beau-monde' (fashionable world, society of the elite) of eighteenth century England. The richness of the poem, however, reveals more than a straightforward satirical attack. Alongside the criticism we can detect Pope's fascination with, and perhaps admiration for, Belinda and the society in which she moves. Pope himself was not part of the 'beau-monde'. He knew the families on which the poem is based but his own parents, though probably comfortably off, were not so rich or of the class one would have to be in to move in Belinda's circle. He associated with learned men and poets, and there can have been little common ground between the company he kept at Will's Coffee House and those who frequented Hampton Court.

The incident at the centUse of the Mock-epic Style in The Rape of the Lock "The triumph of the Baron's rape is in exactly the same high language as it would be if he were Hector." In The Rape of the Lock, Pope uses the mock-epic style to satirise the seriousness with which a trivial misdemeanour (the theft of a few strands of hair) and the ways of gender polarised society can be blown beyond all sense of proportion.

Thus the male mentality, through the Baron, is portrayed as lacking depth or personality beyond that required to achieve its ends; men objectify and devise "strategems" (4,120) to conquer their female obsessions; they are "victor[s]" (4,162) who self-importantly congratulate themselves as meriting "wreaths of triumph" (4,161) when they have seized what they desire. The Baron claims that the "glorious prize" is his in perpetuity, whilst many conditions which will never be fulfilled ("while fish in...