Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*London. Capital and largest city of Great Britain. With a population of nearly seven hundred thousand people in the eighteenth century, London is the setting of the final campaign of “The War of the Dunces,” which culminates in the obliteration of high cultural standards. At the core of its East End is the old walled section, known as “the City,” center for the lower and middle classes, business, the trades, markets, counting houses, the Royal (stock) Exchange, jails, shanties, butcheries, shipping, coal wharves, and tanning factories. The East End was noted for its mobs, crime, jails, poverty, ugliness, dirt, sooty air, open sewers, and foul odors. London’s West End is associated with the royal court and aristocratic elegance, leisure, gardens, lovely parks, large squares, and beautiful houses. The mock-heroic journey of the dunces from the East End to the West End and back symbolizes the conquest of high culture by low standards.


*Smithfield. Lower-class section of East London, site of a bazaar and the occasional dramatic entertainment “agreeable only to the Taste of the Rabble.” The mock-heroic invocation to the muse in the poem’s opening lines announces the theme of cultural degeneration: the bringing of “The Smithfield Muses to the Ear of Kings.”


*Rag-Fair. Located near the Tower of London, a place where old clothes were sold to the poor. It is the site of the cave of Poverty and Poetry, mythical source of low standards...

(The entire section is 635 words.)

The Dunciad Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Clark, Donald B. Alexander Pope. New York: Twayne, 1967. Provides a thorough examination of all of Pope’s major works. Interpretations and criticisms of several individual poems comprise the bulk of this study. Historical and biographical information are also provided.

Regan, J. V. “The Mock-Epic Structure of the Dunciad.” Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 19, no. 3 (Summer, 1979): 459-473. Focuses on the structure of The Dunciad. To illustrate how Pope’s poem follows epic conventions, as well as how it departs from them, Regan draws parallels between The Dunciad and Vergil’s Aeneid.

Rogers, Robert. The Major Satires of Alexander Pope. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1955. Convincingly argues that each of Pope’s satires reflects his own moral concerns on the ethical dilemmas he faced himself. This comprehensive overview of Pope’s satiric poems is essential for any discussion pertaining to the poet’s use of irony and wit.

Sitter, John E. The Poetry of Pope’s “Dunciad.” Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1971. This full-length study devoted to The Dunciad concentrates on the poem’s imagery, structure, and origins. Use of textual evidence makes the work an excellent starting place for critical analysis.

Williams, Aubrey L. Pope’s “Dunciad”: A Study of Its Meaning. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1955. In order to interpret Pope’s meaning and to comment on his imaginative powers, Williams examines the poem from every possible angle. Provides one of the most thorough treatments of The Dunciad.