The Rape of the Lock
As the beauteous Belinda sleeps toward noon, a guardian sylph warns her in her dreams of a dire event to occur that day. Undeterred, she rises to her makeup table as usual, then sails off down the Thames for a tea party at Hampton Court. Here the world quite properly admires her, but then the “rape” occurs: An amorous young lord (the Baron) snips off one of the two curls carefully trained to dangle just so down the back of Belinda’s lovely neck.
Belinda screams in horror, and a loud scene ensues. The party chooses sides; women slay men with frowns and revive them with smiles. Meanwhile, the lock of hair is lost in the scuffle, but the invisible sylphs observe it as it mounts heavenward to take its shining place among the stars.
Pope gives this fluffy action epic proportions: the Invocation, the Argument, the supernatural interventions, the epic similes, the epic combat, the set descriptive pieces--Belinda’s makeup to do battle, the voyage down the Thames, a card game, the tea service--recall the epics of Homer, Virgil, and Milton, especially Milton’s PARADISE LOST. (Pope at the time was also translating Homer’s ILIAD.) An epic sums up a culture: To the fashionable English world, Belinda is a cultural heroine, the loss of her lock a significant action. (THE RAPE OF THE LOCK was based on an actual event which caused two families to fall out.)
Pope makes the comedy abundantly clear through his heroic couplets (rhyming iambic pentameter lines). As delicate, balanced, and carefully trained as Belinda’s two bouncing curls, Pope’s urbane verse likewise sums up his age.
Bloom, Harold, ed. Alexander Pope’s “The Rape of the Lock.” Edgemont, Pa.: Chelsea House, 1988. Contains eight articles that examine such topics as the poem’s satirical intent, its social context, Pope’s miniaturist tendencies, and the game of ombre. Includes a selected bibliography.
Clark, Donald B. Alexander Pope. New York: Twayne, 1967. Provides in-depth studies of several individual poems, including The Rape of the Lock. Includes pertinent historical, biographical, and philosophical information.
Grove, Robin. “Uniting Airy Substances: The Rape of the Lock 1712-1736.” In The Art of Alexander Pope, edited by Howard Erskine-Hill and Anne Smith. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1979. Focuses on Pope’s revisions of “The Rape of the Lock.” Provides many useful observations pertaining to Pope’s aesthetic values.
Pollak, Ellen. “Rereading The Rape of the Lock: Pope and the Paradox of Female Power.” Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture 10 (1981): 429-444. Reads the poem from a feminist perspective. Argues convincingly that the poem is an allegory of the social and sexual initiation of a woman.
Wimsatt, William K., Jr. “The Game of Ombre in The Rape of the Lock.” Review of English Studies, new series 1 (1950): 136-143. Discusses in great detail the poem’s most dominant image. Wimsatt also concludes that Pope manipulated the rules of ombre to suit his purposes.