The Rape of The Lock: Canto 1 - Summary & Analysis

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      Introduction (L. 1-12). In the mock-heroic-style, Pope invokes the Muse to help him to sing of how trivial circumstances arising from love affairs led to serious consequences. The subject matter of his poem, he owes to the suggestion of his friend Caryll. He would write how a well-bred lord (Lord Petre) made bold to take offensive liberty with a well-born lady (Belinda) who, in consequence, rejected his love. Though the subject matter is trifling, the poet hopes to be justly entitled to fame, should the charm of the lady inspire him and his verse approved by Caryll.

      Belinda wakes and sleeps again (L. 13-26). Belinda slept late till mid-day; on waking she called her maids by ringing the hand bell and knocking the ground with her slipper. She pressed the repeater watch to know the time. No maid answering to her call, she pressed her downy pillow once more and fell asleep. Her guardian sylph (Ariel) prolonged her sleep and appeared before her closed eyes in a dream in the form of a glittering beau.

      The sylph addresses Belinda and warns her (L. 27-114). The sylph (Ariel) who was her guardian spirit, asked her to believe what he would reveal to her. She ought to know that innumerable sylphs continually flew around her to guard her in all her activities, though they remained invisible to mortal eyes. The sylphs, says the vision, are but one class of spirits who are disembodied souls of women; for when women die, their souls pass into the four elements-fire, water, earth and air-according to the nature of the qualities that are predominant in them. The souls of fiery, quarrelsome women pass into the fire and are called Salamanders. Those of tender, gentle ladies pass into water and are called Nymphs. Those of graver grades pass into the earth and are called Gnomes. Those of light minded coquettes pass into air and are called Sylphs. All these spirits can assume any sex at their pleasure. Young ladies who are chaste and fair are under the protection of Sylphs: it is the Sylph who guard them from harm in the midst of the various social pleasure which tempts their hearts and rouse their passions. It is they again, who make such ladies preserve their chastity by constantly shifting their objects of attraction and attachment. On the other hand, the proud, self-conscious ladies come under the influence of the mischievous Gnomes who are of a gross nature. It is the Gnomes that turn the heads of vain beauties and fill their brains with silly expectations of high position through advantageous marriage with lords. Belinda is under the care and protection of the Sylph who now addressed her. Then the Sylph (Ariel) prophesies that some great misfortune will overcome Belinda during the course of the day; but he does not know the exact nature of source of the mischief.

      Belinda wakes and performs her toilet (L. 115-148). Belinda's favorite lap-dog now awakened her. On waking, her eyes fell on a love-letter full of romantic effusions of love. She made her toilette with the help of her maid-servant Betty, while the unseen Sylphs flew round helping her in the work. The toilette was performed, with various articles of luxury and price-jewels, cosmetics, pins, perfumes, powders, puffs, patches-as solemnly as if it were religious rite. In the end, Belinda's person shone forth in all its beauty, smiles and blushes on her face supplementing the labor of toilet.

Critical Analysis

      The canto opens in the mock-epic manner with an invocation to the Muse. The poet seeks the blessings of the heroine - Belinda who may accept this poem, for whom he has a great regard.

      The poet immediately states the subject of the poem, namely the cutting of the hair of a fashionable lady by a Lord and the quarrel that ensued. The poetic diction belongs to the eighteenth-century technique - for example, the poet uses the word "Sol" which stands for the sun.

      The supernatural machinery plays an effective part in the story. Ariel is the guardian—sylph. She warns Belinda in a dream that she will face a misfortune during the day. There are four different types of spirits namely, Salamanders, Nymphs, Gnomes, and Sylphs. The function of the sylphs is to guard the virtue of the young ladies.

      Satirical elements are introduced in connection with the aristocratic life in the eighteenth century. The ideal life of the lovers and their beloveds, their fondness for fashions, the trifling niceties of manners and dresses are given in detail. It appears that love-making was the greatest pastime and entertainment of young men and women. Women were by nature frivolous and they expected attention and gifts from the lovers, but they were rather inconstant in their love. Belinda's toilet is described in full. On her dressing table, there are powders, perfumes, love-letters and the Bible.

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