Background on Alexander Pope`s “The Rape of the Lock”

Background on Alexander
Pope’s “The Rape of the Lock”
On Pope:
• Roman Catholic living during
a time of Protestant
consolidation in England
• Self-taught to a great extent
• A diligent scholar from a very
early age
18th-Century Poetry
• Neoclassical
• Valued poetry with many
allusions to classic works of
• Works were often morally
charged and often politically
• Many poems privileged satire as
their dominant mode
“The Rape of the Lock”
• One of the most famous Englishlanguage examples of the mock-epic
• Published in 1712, when Pope was only
23 years old
• Poem served to Pope’s his reputation as
a poet; remains his most frequently
studied work
• Poem inspired by an actual incident
among Pope’s acquaintances in which
Robert, Lord Petre, cut off a lock of
Arabella Fermor’s hair, and the young
people’s families fell into strife as a
Device: Satire
• The strategy of Pope’s mock-epic
is not to mock epic poetry
• Mocks Pope’s society in its very
failure to rise to epic standards
• Meant to expose pettiness by
casting events against the
grandeur of the traditional epic
subjects and the bravery and
fortitude of epic heroes
Terms to Know
• “Rape” has several meanings in this era,
and in Pope's time the most common
meaning was something like
• Sylph: is a mythological creature in the
Western tradition; a “invisible spirit of the
air”; in Pope’s poem, they are guardian
spirits of virgins
• Nymph: is a minor female nature deity
typically associated with a particular
location or landform