The Rape of the Lock

by Alexander Pope

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Does Pope's portrayal of Belinda in "The Rape of the Lock" contain elements of misogyny?

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The short answer is yes. Pope portrays Belinda largely as superficial and coquettish in a way that he judges detrimental to men:

This nymph, to the destruction of mankind,

Nourish'd two locks, which graceful hung behind.

The use of the word "destruction" is a typically mock-heroic exaggeration, but underlying this one can sense a subtle resentment by Pope of an attractive woman.

On the surface the misogyny, such as it is, comes off as playful, and Belinda is redeemed by the fact of her having inspired Pope to write what he self-consciously (and as it turns out, correctly) assumes will be remembered as a great poetic work:

This lock, the Muse shall consecrate to fame,

And midst the stars inscribe Belinda's name.

Here, Pope has none of the seething anger his friend Swift portrays in poetry about women. But elsewhere in his works, Pope would later much more acerbically depict women. He fell in love with the writer Mary Wortley Montagu, and at first alluded indirectly to his feelings for her in the closing lines of Eloisa to Abelard. But when she later evidently rejected him, Pope scathingly ridiculed her, referring to her as "Sappho" and using language that was demeaning and crude. We can partly excuse Pope not so much because the standards of his time were far different from our own, but because his criticisms of other men were, in general, at least as bad as those he directed against women.

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