Both The Rape of the Lock and Moll Flanders can easily be analyzed through sexual and gendered readings; the protagonists in both texts are female characters portrayed by male authors, who, through their representations of their heroes, can be viewed as misogynist or – though the term did not exist back then – feminist. The arguments, however, are indeterminate. Pope (1688-1744), for instance – who became known for his feminization of the mock-epic poem through his well-known work The Rape of the Lock – is a writer who is continuously debated upon. According to Carol Fabricant, Pope has in equal measure been acclaimed by critics for alleged exceptional kinship with the female sensibility, and been seen by a growing amount of feminist critics as “the voice of phallic authority, as a symbol of the oppressive power of patriarchy”.1 Opinion about him range from Maynard Mack claiming Pope “had always a special sympathy for the lot of women”, to Ruth Salvaggio asserting quite forcefully that “[Pope‟s poetry] imprisoned women within representational categories created by men”2.
On the other hand, from the late seventeenth century, when the middle-class began to rise and a significant incentive to educate women surfaced – notably the creation of the concept of marriage as companionship and the successive need for a wife with whom one may have an intelligent conversation with – Daniel Defoe (1660-1731), one of the most influential writers of his time, was a firm activist for women‟s education. The reason for this may have been because, as one of the first novelists, he realised that women were increasingly part of his readership, but his participation helped transform society and made a key impact on women‟s standing3, altering their gendered identity. This dissertation studying the texts from both authors will firstly verify if the representations are regressive or progressive, and secondly will attempt to determine whether an objective conclusion about these representations is achievable.
In Moll Flanders, women‟s options in life are very limited. They can either be a wife, a mistress, a servant, a criminal, or a prostitute. Which one a woman chooses – or more likely, is forced to choose – depends on the income they have access to. During the course of the story, as the amount of money she possesses changes, Moll shifts between these separate roles, her perseverance, skills in the art of manipulation and unbelievable amount of good luck accompanying her. For Moll, her good looks and feminine qualities are a means to an end, the end being financial security. In acting like a prostitute and marrying strategically, Moll effectively uses her body like a commodity to her own advantage. However, as a woman, she has no option but do so in order to survive. “All women are thought of as either married or to be married.”4 In seventeenth century England women‟s status were confined to their sexual status and relationship to men, and Moll Flanders illustrates this, the regulations the protagonist is constrained to exposing the want for gendered and sexual identities to remain unchanged.
Carole Fabricant, „Defining Self and Others: Pope and Eighteenth-Century Gender Ideology‟, 39:4, (Fall, 1997), pp. 503 Fabricant, „Defining Self and Others: Pope and Eighteenth-Century Gender Ideology‟, pp. 503 3
Jack Holland, A Brief History of Misogyny: The World’s Oldest Prejudice, (Hachette UK, 2006) 4
Anonymous, „The lawes resolution of women‟s rights‟, fol. 6, (London, 1632) 2
Sex in the novel is a kind of currency. For Moll, it is a transaction like marriage 5. Whether consciously or unconsciously – within marriage and outside of it – women like Moll trade it for housing and food; some even make it their profession. In the text, sex and love are certainly not always associated; occasionally sex is not even associated with pleasure, instead being frequently linked to basic survival and power in...
Bibliography: Primary Sources
Defoe Daniel, Moll Flanders, Penguin Classics, 2007
Pope Alexander, The Rape of the Lock, Vintage Classics, 2007. Print.
Anonymous, „The lawes resolution of women‟s rights, London, 1632, fol
Holland Jack, „A Brief History of Misogyny: The World‟s Oldest Prejudice‟, Hachette UK,
Kahn Madeleine, Narrative Transvestism: Rhetoric and Gender in the Eighteenth-century
English Novel, Cornell University Press, 1991
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