The Rape of the Lock
The Rape of the Lock Context
The Rape of the Lock describes a trifling incident of real. Robert, the seventh Lord Petre, well-known for his amorous and frivolous nature, loved Arabella Fermor, who was very famous for her grace and elegance in the fashionable society of London. He snipped off a lock of her hair and offended her because she did not respond to his love. This trifling incident gave rise to a serious quarrel between the two important families of Berkshire.
Lord Petre threatened to convert this family quarrel into a deep-seated hostility. It caused a deep stir in the Roman Catholic society of London because both the Petres and the Fermors belonged to it. John Caryll, a common friend of both the families (who was also a life-long friend of Pope), requested the poet to write a mock-heroic poem based on this trifling incident. In a letter to Joseph Spence, Pope wrote the following lines regarding the occasion of the poem:
“The stealing of Miss Bella Fermor’s hair, was taken too seriously, and caused an estrangement between the two families, though they had lived so long in great friendship before. A common acquaintance and well-wisher to both (i.e., John Caryll) desired me to write a poem to make a jest of it, and laugh them together again. It was with this view that I wrote the The Rape of the Lock”.
The First Edition of The Rape of the Lock
Pope wrote the poem in less than a fortnight in 1711. The first edition of the poem contained only two cantos and was published by Bernard Lintot in 1712 anonymously in a volume of miscellaneous poems. It proved successful in bringing about the desired reproachment between the two families.
Second Edition of The Rape of the Lock
Soon after the first edition was out, Pope came across a French book called Le Gomte de Gabalis written by the Abe de Montafancon de Villars. It dealt with the Rosicrucian doctrine of sprits. Pope was much fascinated by the treatment of spirits in the French book and introduced it in the second edition of the poem to heighten the mock epic effect. The second enlarged edition containing five cantos was published in March 1714 under Pope’s name.
Third Edition of The Rape of the Lock
Third edition of the poem was brought out in 1717 with minor changes, and it found a suitable place among the poet’s works.
The Title of the Rape of the Lock
Pope has given a very suitable title to the poem. It clearly points out that Belinda’s hair was forcefully cut off and taken away by the Baron. This trifling incident was the cause of great hostility between the Petres and the Fermors. This incident is the main subject of the poem. Hence the title is appropriate.
The Rape of the Lock Characters
Most of the characters described in the poem have been identified with one or the other person in real life. Only Clarissa remains unidentified, Belinda and Petre are the two chief characters of the poem. Miss Arabella Fermor has been presented as Belinda. She represents the fashionable ladies of the period. She is devoted to all the frivolities and gaieties of the society. She considers it her sacred duty to deck her person with the various offerings of the world, with ‘India’s glowing gems’ and ‘Arabia’s perfumes’ and with ‘puffs, powders and patches.’ She proudly moves in the company of young lords and ladies. All are attracted by her beauty. She suffers on account of her extraordinary fondness of gay parties.
The Baron, Lord Petre, has been indentified with Robert the seventh Lord Petre, who cut the lock of Miss Arabella Fermor. He is given to all the frivolities of which all lords and ladies of the age were proud of. As a result of this cutting of the lock of Belinda, a serious quarrel arises between the two families.
John Caryll, to whom this verse was due, was a second cousin of Lord Petre. He has been mentioned only in a line. Sir George Browne has been represented as Sir Plume. He was the first cousin of Miss Arabella’s mother. He has been very faithfully presented in the poem. Thalestris has been identified with Elizabeth, the sister of Sir George, who was married to John Morlely. She takes an active part in the struggles, and scatters death with her eyes.
The Rape of the Lock Summary
At noon when the Sun was accustomed to awaken both lapdogs and lovers, Belinda was still asleep. She dreamed that Ariel appeared to whisper praises of her beauty in her ear. He said that he had been sent to protect her because something dreadful — he did not know that was about to befall her. He also warned her to beware of jealousy, pride, and above all, men.
After Ariel had vanished, Shock, Belinda’s lap-dog, thought that his mistress had slept long enough, and he awakened her by licking of his tongue. Rousing herself, Belinda spied a letter on her bed. After she read it she promptly forgot everything that Ariel had told her, including the warning to beware of men.
Belinda, aided by her maid, Betty, began to make her toilet. Presenting before her mirror, she guilty of the pride against which Ariel had cautioned her.
The Sun, journeying across the sky witnessed its brilliant rival, Belinda, boating on the Thames with her friends and suitors. All eyes were upon her, and like the true coquette she smiled at her swains but favored no one more than another.
Lord Petre, one of Belinda’s suitors, admired a lock of her hair and vowed that he would have it by fair means or foul. So set was he on getting the lock that before the Sun rose that morning he had built an altar to the god of Love and had thrown on it all the trophies received from former sweethearts, meanwhile asking love to give him soon the prize he wanted and to let him keep it for a long time. But Love granted him only half his prayer.
Everyone except Ariel seemed happy during the cruise on the Thames. That spirit summoned his aids, and reminded them that their duty was to watch over the fair Belinda, one sylph to guard her fan, another watch, a third her favorite lock. Ariel himself was to guard Belinda’s lap-dog, Shock. Fifty sylphs were dispatched to watch over the maiden’s petticoat, in order to protect her chastity. Any negligent sylphs, warned Ariel, would be punished severely.
After her cruise on the Thames, Belinda, accompanied by Lord Petre and the rest of the party, visited one of the palaces near London. There Belinda decided to play Ombre, a Spanish card game, with two of her suitors, including Lord Petre. As she played, invisible sylphs sat on her important cards to protect them.
Coffee was served after the game. Sylphs guarded Belinda’s dress to keep it from being spotted. The fumes from the coffee sharpened Lord Petre’s wits to the points where he thought of new stratagems for stealing Belinda’s lock. One of his cronies handed him a pair of scissors.
The sylphs, aware of Belinda’s danger, attempted to warn her before Lord Petre could act; but as the lady bent her head over her coffee cup, he clipped the lock. Even Ariel was unable to warn Belinda in time.
At the Rape of the lock, Belinda shrieked in horror. Lord Petre cried out in triumph. He praised the steel used in the scissors, comparing it with the metal of Greek swords that overcame the Trojans Belinda’s fury was as tempestuous as the rage of scornful virgins who have lost their charms. Ariel wept bitterly and flew away.
Umbriel, a melancholy gnome, took advantage of the human confusion and despair to fly down to the centre of the earth to find the gloomy cave of Spleen, the queen of all bad tempers and the source of every detestable quality in human beings, including ill-nature and affectation. Umbriel asked the queen to touch Belinda with chagrin, for he knew that, if she were gloomy and melancholy, bad temper would spread to have the world. Spleen granted Umbriel’s request and collected in a bag horrible noises such as those uttered by female lungs and tongues. In a vial she put tears, sorrows and grieves. She gave both containers to Umbriel.
When the gnome returned to Belinda’s world, he found the girl disheveled and dejected. Pouring the contents of the magic bag over her, Umbriel caused Belinda’s wrath to be magnified many times. One of her friends, Thalestris, fanned and flames of the maiden’s anger by telling her that her honour was at stake and that behind her back her friends were talking about the rape of her lock. Thalestris then went to her brother, Sir Plume, and demanded that he should confront Lord Petre and secure the return to the precious lock. Sir Plume considered the whole episode much magnified from little, but he went to demand Belinda’s lock. Lord Petre refused to give up his prize.
Next, Umbriel broke the vial containing human sorrows, and Belinda was almost drowned in tears. She regretted the day that she entered society and also the day she had earned to play Ombre. She longed for simple country life. Suddenly she remembered, too late, that Ariel had warned her of the impending evil and unwilling to return the lock.
In spite of Thalestris pleas, Lord Petre was still adamant, Clarissa, another lady of Belinda’s circle, wondered at the vanity of women and at the foolishness of men who fawn before them. Clarissa felt that both men and women need good sense, but in making her feelings known she exposed tricks and deceits of women and caused Belinda to frown. Calling Clarissa a prude, Thalestris gathered her forces to battle with Belinda’s enemies, including Clarissa and Lord Petre, Umbriel was delighted by this Homeric struggle of the teacups.
Belinda pounced upon Lord Petre, who was subdued when a pinch of snuff caused him to sneeze violently. She demanded the lock, but it could not be found. Some thought that it had gone to the Moon where also go love letters and other tokens of tender passions. The lock was missing; but the Muse of poetry saw it ascend to heaven and become a star.
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