How contemporary life is mirrored in ‘The Rape of the Lock’? | What picture of the Eighteenth century social life do we get in ‘The Rape of the Lock’ ?
How contemporary life is mirrored in ‘The Rape of the Lock’?
The Rape of the Lock is a faithful and true reflection of the eighteenth century life in its manifold aspects. It is the typical expression of the age in which it was produced both as regards its social or moral characteristics and its literary and artistic taste, “As truly as Shakespeare is the poet of man as God made him dealing with great passions and innate motives so truly is Pope to the poet of society, the delineator of manners, the exposer of those motives which may be called acquired whose spring is in habits and institutions of purely worldly origin.” (Lowell)
The Rape of the Lock is a neat and perfect picture of the feminine frivolities of the upper strata of society and of the gay idle gallantries and luxuries of their male counterparts. It is a representative picture of ‘social pleasantry of the age’. In the words of Hazlitt, it is “the triumph of insignificance, the apotheosis of foppery and folly. It is the perfection of the mock-heroic.”
Hugh Walker sums up the social aspects of The Rape of the Lock when he says, “Raillery of fashion and the vanities of beaux and belles is the staple of The Rape of the Lock.” The poem directs our attention to both the ladies and fops of the times. It tells us about the state of social life in the upper strata of society.
Let us first turn to the life of ladies. The underlying picture of women presented in the poem is that “women are all frivolous beings whose one genuine interest is in love-making.” The poem tells us that fashionable ladies like Belinda used to get up very late in the day. Their maids waited in an ante-chamber. The ladies were awakened from their dreams of love in atmosphere of perfume. The ladies went to the bathroom and then they engaged themselves in the task of fashionable dressing and powdering the face, jewels, cosmetics, powders, rows of pins perfumery and paints lay in magnificent array on the toilet table along with small nicely bound copies of the Bible. The ladies took considerable time in dressing and toilet. Adorned and beautified they made their appearance in society. They drove in gilt coaches. A pleasure trip on the Thames and a joyous social meeting at the Hampton court were pleasurable diversions to break the monotony of theatres and balls. Women took part in gambling and playing cards. Wine was drunk heartily. Love making and coquetry formed the normal course of their lives. Affectation ruled their manners. They wanted to make themselves as attractive as possible and frivolity in every action was the watch word of their lives. Such was the state of women in the age.
The young gallants of the time were no less intent on this life of gay frivolities and fashions. Chivalry was dead as is shown when the Baron rudely cuts a lock of hair from Belinda’s hair. The fashionable gentlemen of the time were very punctilious about dresses. They were real fops “tailor-made men without any brains of higher ideals.” They lounged about fashionably in their wide skirted coats and high heel shoes, flaunting their snuff-boxes and their Malacca canes. They drove in coaches. They drank heavily and took part in games of stake. In the theatre they ogled at ladies from the side-boxes. They indulged in amorous intrigues and spent their time in idle frivolities. Such was the life of the fops and gallants of the time.
The picture of social life presented in the Rape of the Lock is critical and the poet exposes the foibles and frivolities of the eighteenth century in a delightful manner. The poem exercises a peculiar sensation as on the minds of the readers because the picture of social life is realistic and faithful. Pope here writes of the society which hew new. Of the life he saw and the people he lived with. He succeeds eminently in bringing before us in the Rape of the Lock the world of fashion in its most gorgeous and attractive hues. As one American critic has put it, “In the Rape of the Lock Pope has caught and fixed for ever the atmosphere of the age. No great English poem is at once so brilliant and so empty, so artistic and yet so void of the ideal on which all high art rests.” The Rape of the Lock does mirror the men and women belonging to aristocratic families, their crave for fashion, sophistication, ludicrous code of morality their vanity, meanness, treacheries, jealousies, superficialities and unending interest in filtrations an sexual intrigue.
The women of this class were pictures of vanity. They used i get up as late as in the afternoon, spend the rest of the day in making their faces up, dressing, putting on jewellery and thus fully armed with fashion, to go to Hampton Court in the evening and their flirt with gallant aristocratic Lords, dance with them, play cards, exchange glances and enjoy gossiping till early hours of the next morning. These ladies were experts in the art of coquetry: rolling their eyes, wagging their tongues, responding artfully to the advances made by the lords. They were pretenders and dissimulators and filled inordinately with a sense of self glorification. Whenever they got a new gown, they pretended illness, so that other people might come to see them. They loved their lap-dogs, their show-pieces with passionate zeal. But above all, they loved cosmetics and love letters and flirting with several men at a time, they extremely edjoyed being popular, to be called beautiful pursued by men and so on. they treated love light heartedly and toilet with religious devotion. They were fickle minded, inconstant, petulant, emotionally dangling between extreme joy and extreme sorrow.
Of the social manners of the aristrocrats, two find mention in The Rape of the Lock. One was their delight in the game of playing cards called “Ombre”. This game they played with the passion of the commanders fighting in the battle field or the devotion of the religious men. In the poem the description of this game played among Belinda and the other knights is one of the most brilliant parts of the whole narrative. The other social pastime was coffee-drinking. The eighteenth-century London was full of coffee-houses numbering into hundreds, and all educated men, politicians, poets, artists were given to drinking coffee which was considered to be the most invigorating stimulant.
English – Important links
- Essay on the Hellenic and Hebraic elements in “Paradise Lost” | Discuss, Milton was a child of both of the Renaissance and the Reformation.
- The Prologue as a Picture of Contemporary Society | Discuss the Prologue as a mirror to 14th century | Discuss The Prologue is a picture of contemporary society in Chaucer’s time.
- Chaucer’s Humanism | Discuss Chaucer’s Humanism
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