Belinda: Character Analysis in The Rape of The Lock

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      Introduction. Belinda is the most famous character in Pope's poetry. She is a bundle of contradictions. On one hand, she is the object of satire; on the other hand, she is the goddess of beauty and charm. In fact, Pope invokes her blessings as if she were the goddess of poetry. At another place, she is the, representative of the decadent aristocratic society. Through her character, Pope describes the flippancy and depravity of the English society of the eighteenth century. Essentially here is the satirical portrait of a frivolous and flirting girl. This is quite obvious in the scene at Hampton Court.

      Belinda's Routine. Belinda is an ideal girl of Pope. She loves lap-dogs more than her lovers. Even by noon, she is in no mood to leave her bed and keeps on dreaming about her lovers and how to make fool of them. The poet satirizes her for her idleness. Her dog knows when to wake her up. After waking up, she must perform her toilet. Her dressing table has a number of expensive beautifying articles like powder, paint and jewelry boxes. Her combs, perfumes and cosmetics consume a lot of her time.

      In fact, Belinda is in love with her own beauty. The toilet table is like a church to her, her cosmetics are like her offerings to the goddess of Beauty. Pope calls her the goddess of Beauty. Apart from her maid servant, Betty who helps her in her toilet, there are a number of syiphs to perform the various duties assigned to them. In fact her character is due to the assistance of the supernatural creatures. As Pope remarks:

How awful beauty puts on all its arms;
The fair each moment rises in her charms.

      Pope attributes divinity to Belinda's character. She is an incarnation of the goddess of Beauty. She is brighter than the sun. She eclipses the sun by bringing joy and gaiety into the world of fashion. As the poet says

Belinda smiled, and all the world was gay.

      Belinda's outdoor life begins with her boat which sails on the silvery Thames. Here, again, Pope emphasizes her physical charm, namely, sparkling cross, and white breast. Christian and infidel would kiss the cross, just to be able to touch her breast. As she sails on the river, she smiles at her spectators and keep them at a safe distance. She is an embodiment of grace and sweetness which cover up her flirtation and faults. Again the poet asserts

If to her share some female errors fall,
Look on her face, and you'll forget all.

      Among her lovely possessions are her two locks of hair which attract the attention of young lovers. The locks roll on her white neck. The locks are meant to capture the hearts of young men. Very few will escape this great seduction.

      Belinda visits Hampton Court - a place of merry-making and getting together. This place attracts courtiers, politicians, writers and men of different professions. Here people gather for fun and entertainment. Here young ladies exhibit their charms and win the heart of the young lovers. Young men and women play the game of cards, which is nothing but the game of flirtation. The young lovers are prepared to lose and to surrender to the fair maid. This increases her self-importance and stirs up her vanity. It also shows her inner mind which is shallow, fickle and given to tantrums.

      A Bundle of Contradictions. Belinda is what she is not. She deceives others as she deceives herself. Her pretensions and her real intentions are at logger-heads. Outwardly, she wishes to be considered virtuous but inwardly, she is ready to have fun with the young folk. She loves the Baron at heart. But she rebukes and abuses him. Ariel, her guardian spirit gives up his duties of guarding her virtue when he discovers her hypocrisy. Though she is a flirt, she wants to be worshipped as a queen of virtue. All her anger is intended only to deceive others into thinking that she is a paragon of honor. Her insincerity and lack of virtue are exposed by Pope in the following lines:-

Oh hadst thou, Cruel! been content to seize
Hair less in sight, or any Hairs but these!
(643-644)

      Belinda is very mindful of the virtues, though she would not care if she lost her virginity in some secret love affair. She is very conscious about her reputation, about her morals. Actually, she is fond of men and of having a good time with them. On the other hand, she would not like to be called cheap or frivolous but only a goddess of beauty and virtue.

'The men may say; when we the front box grace,
Behold the first in virtue as in face.'

      Pope's Favourite Heroine. Pope seems to be enamored with his own creation. He describes her in superlatives-the goddess, the nymph, the fair, the rival of sun's beams. In this way he plays a homage to this beautiful character who resembles Shakespeare's Cleopatra. Like her, she is a perfection of beauty; and a winner of men. Secondly; Pope regards her as a fair warrior who wins the battle of life. She is the conqueror of Hampton Court; she knocks down two knights at the card table. Her protests against the attack of Lord Petre put a premium on her virtue.

      On the other hand, Pope is not blind to her human side with her weaknesses and whims. He mocks her at times and laughs at her fragilities. In fact, she is the goddess of sex who knows all the tricks of the sex-games. Belinda's reaction to the loss of her lock is quite natural. It is a breach of hero-worship and rules of chivalry and courtship. All in all, Pope makes her a living human personality full of life to the finger-tips.

      Belinda as Representative of Her Age. Through Belinda, Pope depicts the fashionable aristocratic woman of her age. She was the social butterfly who met different persons by appointment and attended the occasions of marriage and funeral.

Or the small pillow grace a lady's bed,
While visits shall be paid on solemn days,
When numerous wax-light in bright order blaze,
While nymphs take treats, or assignations give.

      A lady would pretend illness and keep in bed and then receive her suitor either for showing off her gown or her beauty. In a sense, illness was in fashion, this provides an occasion of entertaining a lover:

On the rich quilt sinks with becoming woe,
Wrapt in a gown, for sickness, and for show,.
The fair-ones feel such maladies as these,
When each new night dress gives a new disease.

      Mark Pattison calls Pope the representative of his age. Belinda is an object of Pope's chivalrous devotion to women. Some critics have found fault with Pope's attitude towards Belinda. Taine, the French critic wrote - "The truth is, he (Pope) is not polite, a French woman would have sent him back his book, advised him to learn manners, for one commendation of her beauty she would find ten touches of sarcasm upon her frivolity." This criticism cannot be sustained because Pope only reflects the eighteenth-century view of women of high society. They were regarded as pretty triflers, and having no serious concern with life and engrossed in dance and gaiety. Lord Chesterfield writing to his son treats women with equal contempt. "A man of sense" he says, "only trifles with them, plays with them, humors and flatters them as he does with a sprightly, forward child; but he neither consults them about, nor truss with them, serious matters, though he often makes them believe that he does both, which is the thing in the world that they are proud of .... No flattery is either too high or too low for them. They will greedily swallow the highest and gratefully accept of the lowest."

      Moreover, as the poem is written in mock-heroic vein, Belinda could not be any other than a mock-heroic. It is quite clear that the poet wrote this poem in a playful mood and his light satire should not be taken seriously.

      Pope's Personal Experiences. Pope was not happy in his experiences with women. He was a small and sickly person and as such could not expect to win the love and respect of any worthy woman. It is said that he made his suit to Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, but she rejected him. As such he felt insulted and therefore bore a grudge against the fair sex. The women of the time could not appreciate his intellectual power or his poetic talent. It is quite possible that in The Rape of the Lock he gave expression to his personal feelings against the aristocratic women of the contemporary society.

      Belinda - Embodiment of Comic Spirit. Pope's portrait of Belinda is also animated with a truly comic spirit. In Belinda, he found the charm that a fair and fashionable woman brings to society; together with all her pride and vanity. Her bright appearance contrasts sharply with her fickle nature. Pope makes her quite amusing and trivial by showing her very lack of discrimination, and her failure to catch the true value of things. Her heart is "a moving toy-shop" where image follows image without any distinction and nothing serious has any place. The rape of her lock and her reaction to it symbolically testify to the frail nature of her fashionable society, where sexual behavior is subject to society for certain conventional standards. Pope equates, with a rare sense of the comic, virginity with China wares and woman's honor to a new brocade, and husbands with lap dogs.

      Conclusion. Belinda is a complex character. It is not possible to find a single label to cover up her qualities. Undoubtedly; she is a representative of the upper-class women of the eighteenth century. But she is more than a mere type. She has her own personality and stands out by her whims and fancies. The very fact that the poet first calls her a goddess and in the end a heavenly being, shows that Pope worships beauty and had an over-riding respect for the fair sex. Who would spoil his chances of success with the fair sex by satire, except at his own peril! It is impossible to find a parallel to Belinda in any other poem of the eighteenth century.

UNIVERSITY QUESTIONS

Define and illustrate the attitude of Pope to Belinda and the fair sex as revealed in The Rape of the Lock.
Or
Describe the role of Belinda in The Rape of the Lock.
Or
How is Belinda presented - as a goddess? Or as a pretty, spoiled child? Or as a flirt?

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