Comment on the toilet scene in “The Rape of the Lock”.

Comment on the toilet scene in “The Rape of the Lock”.

Comment on the toilet scene in “The Rape of the Lock”.

Lines 121-148 (at the end of the first canto) of the Rape of the Lock describe Belinda’s toilet scene.

There are various reasons for their perennial popularity. First the whole scene is a delightful and perfect illustration of Pope’s mock-epic method. The whole scene is a parody on the arming of Hector in Homer’s Iliad every, detail of the scene offers a ludicrously trivialised parallelism of Homer’s elevated, grand, impressive description of the arming of Hector for the most crucial battle in the whole of the epic. The recognition of this parallelism elicits delightfully comic laughter from the reader.

Secondly, it is a scene which satirically presents the crave of the eighteenth century aristrocratic ladies for artificial make up and embellishments. It was ridiculed by most satirists of the time. Swift wrote, for example, The Lady’s Dressing Table in his own characteristically cynical vein, he showed it as an evil and with good deal of anger. Disraeli is said to have observed on this fad of the century in the following words-

“This was the golden period of cosmetics. The beaus of the day used the abominable art of painting their faces as well as the women. Our old cosmetics abound with perpetual allusions to oils, tinctures, quantersences, pomatums, perfumes, paints white and red etc.

And Addison too wrote in an issue of The Spectator about the abnormal preoccupation of the women with cosmetics- “The toilet is their great scene of business, the right adjusting of their hair, the principal employment of their lives.”

Pope’s description is more detailed but his satire is not as harsh as Swift’s or even Addison’s it is amiable, delightful.

Thirdly, despite the satirical implication, the lines have a positive significance of their own they do not invite us to laugh at Belinda, but to smile with her and be delightful and gay. In fact, according to the leading critics of the twentieth century on Pope, the whole scene is more a homage paid to Belinda’s beauty and charm than a satirical portrait.

Fourthly, the whole scene may be looked upon as an aesthetic statement of the whole eighteenth century ethos of order. There is a “mystic order” on Belinda’s toilet table, and she proceeds in all seriousness in a systematic manner without disturbing the order of the things on the table. Through Belinda, Pope stresses the charm of elegance, refinement, systematic ordering, and so on.

Lastly, in these lines Pope has written his most sensuous poetry. Sensuousness is usually associated with Keats and the eighteenth century poets, particularly Dryden and Pope, are said to be completely devoid of it. The lines constituting the toilet scene are exceptions to the rule, exceptions which throw significant light on Pope’s poetic power. As a poet, Pope too derived pleasures from senses and the power to communicate them. The two lines.

This casket India’s glowing gems unlocks

And all Arabia breathes from yonder box.

excite both our visual and olfactory senses, and makes us perceive them through imagination.

For all these reasons, the lines of this scene are richly ambiguous as all good poetry is ambiguous and Belinda’s character emerges both positively charming with her heavenly grace and satirical with her artificial gestures, and both co-exist at the same time.

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Kumud Singh

M.A., B.Ed.

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