Study Guide

The Rape of the Lock Quotes

  • Men and Masculinity

    Say what strange Motive, Goddess! cou'd compel
    A well-bred Lord t'assault a gentle Belle?
    Oh say what stranger Cause, yet unexplor'd,
    Cou'd make a gentle Belle reject a Lord?
    In Tasks so bold, can Little Men engage,
    and in soft Bosoms dwells such Mighty Rage? (I.7–12)

    The theme starts here at the very beginning of the poem, where Pope is making an invocation to the Muse to help him write it in true, mock epic fashion. Looks like men and women swap places in this quote: first, the lord does the assaulting, but in the second, the belle is the aggressor. What kind of equality is this?

    Th' Adventrous Baron the bright Locks admir'd,
    He saw, he wish'd, and to the Prize aspir'd:
    Resolv'd to win, he meditates the way,
    By Force to ravish, or by Fraud betray;
    For when Success a Lover's Toil attends,
    Few ask, if Fraud or Force attain'd his Ends. (II.29–34)

    Belinda is all dolled up and ready for the party at Hampton Court. What we find out here is that, while she's been at her makeup, the Baron has been scheming to steal one of her locks. No honor whatsoever in this Baron: looks like he will do whatever it takes to fulfill his desires. It's just kind of pathetic (and creepy) that what he does desire is a piece of hair.

    e're Phoebus rose, he had implor'd
    Propitious Heav'n, and ev'ry Pow'r ador'd,
    But chiefly Love — to Love an Altar built,
    Of twelve vast French Romances, neatly gilt.
    There lay three Garters, half a Pair of Gloves;
    And all the Trophies of his former Loves.
    With tender Billet-doux he lights the Pyre,
    And breathes three am'rous Sighs to raise the Fire.
    Then prostrate falls, and begs with ardent Eyes
    Soon to obtain, and long possess the Prize: (II.35–44)

    We're still getting a description of the Baron's plots and schemes to steal the lock. These lines describe the mock-altar to Love he sets up as he prays for help in his plan. "Love" here doesn't seem to mean feeling or emotion or even action at all. It's just—creepy mementoes. That the Baron worships first, then burns anyway.

    Coffee, (which makes the Politician wise,
    And see thro' all things with his half shut Eyes)
    Sent up in Vapours to the Baron's Brain
    New Stratagems, the radiant Lock to gain.
    Ah cease rash Youth! desist e'er 'tis too late,
    Fear the just Gods, and think of Scylla's Fate! (III.117–122)

    We're at the party, and it's the moment of truth: everyone's had a bit of coffee and the Baron is about to snag that lock. So now he's totally high on caffeine and can't control himself? So much for drinking your coffee like a man. And in that final line, do I see the speaker likening the Baron to Scylla (a misguided woman if ever there was one)?

    (Sir Plume, of Amber Snuff-box justly vain,
    And the nice Conduct of a clouded Cane)
    With earnest Eyes, and round unthinking Face,
    He first the Snuff-box open'd, then the Case,
    And thus broke out—"My Lord, why, what the Devil?
    "Z—ds! damn the Lock! 'fore Gad, you must be civil!
    "Plague on't! 'tis past a Jest—nay prithee, Pox!
    "Give her the Hair—he spoke, and rapp'd his Box. (IV.123–130)

    The Baron has snipped off the lock, Belinda is in tears, and her friend Clarissa asks Sir Plume to step in and tell the Baron to give it up. Wow, Sir Plume really, really, really likes his snuff box and his cane. He actually doesn't seem to be much of a personality without them.

    But this bold Lord, with manly Strength indu'd,
    She with one Finger and a Thumb subdu'd,
    Just where the Breath of Life his Nostrils drew,
    A Charge of Snuff the wily Virgin threw;
    The Gnomes direct, to ev'ry Atome just,
    The pungent Grains of titillating Dust.
    Sudden, with starting Tears each Eye o'erflows,
    And the high Dome re-ecchoes to his Nose. (V.79–86)

    As Sir Plume's attempt to get the Baron to return the lock fails, all of the lords and ladies jump into a huge fight over it, using any of the weapons at their disposal. Speaking of snuff—did Belinda just beat the Baron by tossing some in his face?

  • Women and Femininity

    Oh say what stranger Cause, yet unexplor'd,
    Cou'd make a gentle Belle reject a Lord?
    In Tasks so bold, can Little Men engage,
    and in soft Bosoms dwells such Mighty Rage? (I.9–12)

    Back to this quote from the poem's beginning again, but it's such a good one. Notice how the speaker grants to women "Mighty Rage"—more than a match for "Little Men," we think.

    First, rob'd in White, the Nymph intent adores
    With Head uncover'd, the cosmetic Pow'rs.
    A heav'nly Image in the Glass appears,
    To that she bends, to that her Eyes she rears; (I.123–126)

    Belinda's getting ready for the party, putting on makeup and doing her hair. Think of it as a spin on the old "mirror mirror on the wall" scene from fairy tales. Belinda quite obviously worships her own face. What old-fashioned thinker said "Vanity, thy name is woman"? (Probably a man.)

    Her lively Looks a sprightly Mind disclose,
    Quick as her Eyes, and as unfix'd as those:
    Favours to none, to all she Smiles extends,
    Oft she rejects, but never once offends. (II.9–12)

    This quote falls at the beginning of Canto II, when Belinda's on her way to the party, in a fantastic mood—nice to everything and everyone. Okay, so Belinda's not very capable of focusing. On anything or any one. But hey, at least she doesn't piss anyone off.

    If to her share some Female Errors fall,
    Look on her Face, and you'll forget 'em all. (II.17–18)

    Back to Belinda's superficial niceness on the boat again. Really? If you're a pretty woman you can get away with anything? And all of those things our mothers used to tell us, about it being the inside that counts instead of the outside—not true?

    Hail wayward Queen!
    Who rule the Sex to Fifty from Fifteen,
    Parent of Vapors and of Female Wit,
    Who give th' Hysteric or Poetic Fit, (IV.57–60)

    Umbriel the Gnome is here addressing the Queen of Spleen, who's lying on her bed in a dark room feeling sorry for herself. He's complimenting her on how well she inflicts other women with spleen issues, like fainting, or writing bad poetry. Yup. Spleen. The women's disease. And what's this about hysteria and poetry being roughly equivalent?

    But since, alas! frail Beauty must decay,
    Curl'd or uncurl'd, since Locks will turn to grey,
    Since paint'd, or not paint'd, all shall fade,
    And she who scorns a Man, must die a Maid;
    What then remains, but well our Pow'r to use,
    And keep good Humour still whate'er we lose? (V.25–30)

    We're at the moral of Clarissa's speech in Canto V, where she tells Belinda to stop sniveling about her lost lock of hair, suck it up, and deal with the humiliation by smiling about it. Eventually that pretty curly lock of hair would have gone gray anyway, right? This seems like good advice. But it also seems like a cop-out. We're still undecided as to which. And remember, this was the age before plastic surgery …

  • Sexuality and Sexual Identity

    Know farther yet; Whoever fair and chaste
    Rejects Mankind, is by some Sylph embrac'd: (I.67–70)

    Here's Ariel the Sylph, telling Belinda in a dream vision that she only merits that entourage of flimsy fairies if she never falls in love or accepts a boyfriend. Hmmm. So to be worthy of the Sylphs, you have to reject men? Where's the glory in all of that?

    The Fair each moment rises in her Charms,
    Repairs her Smiles, awakens ev'ry Grace,
    And calls forth all the Wonders of her Face;
    Sees by Degrees a purer Blush arise,
    And keener Lightnings quicken in her Eyes. (I.140–144)

    These lines describe how Belinda's sees her own face changing for the better as she puts on her makeup. Don't pretend you haven't checked yourself out some mornings, after you get ready for school, and thought yo, I look pretty good. But Belinda takes this to the nth degree. Amazing. We knew Belinda worshiped her own image in the mirror—but here she also seems to be falling in love with it, even to the point of being seduced by her own self. Total narcissism.

    But chiefly Love — to Love an Altar built,
    Of twelve vast French Romances, neatly gilt.
    There lay three Garters, half a Pair of Gloves;
    And all the Trophies of his former Loves. (II.37–40)

    Here we are, kneeling with the Baron at that altar to love he builds in Canto II. Notice what symbolizes "love" for the man: romance novels, garters, gloves, etc. In other words,
    romance equals stuff. Things. The Baron is a total fetishist.

    Whether the Nymph shall break Diana's Law,
    Or some frail China Jar receive a Flaw,
    Or stain her Honour, or her new Brocade,
    Forget her Pray'rs, or miss a Masquerade,
    Or lose her Heart, or Necklace, at a Ball; (II.105–110)

    What was it we were saying about romance equaling stuff, in the previous quote? Here, on our way to the party, as Ariel warns the Sylphs of some impending doom for our heroine, Belinda's bodily chastity is pretty much equated with china pots, fancy dresses, and jewelry.

    Gods! shall the Ravisher display your Hair,
    While the Fops envy, and the Ladies stare!
    Honour forbid! at whose unrival'd Shrine
    Ease, Pleasure, Virtue, All, our Sex resign. (IV.103–106)

    Obviously the power of the fetish extends beyond the Baron's own individual desire for Belinda's hair as a love trophy. Here in Thalestris's fanning of Belinda's ire just after the Baron snips the lock, it looks like Thalestris (and the rest of Belinda's friends) might read his possession of the lock in the same sexual way.

    A Beau and Witling perish'd in the Throng,
    One dy'd in Metaphor, and one in Song.
    O cruel Nymph! a living Death I bear,
    Cry'd Dapperwit, and sunk beside his Chair.
    A mournful Glance Sir Fopling upwards cast,
    Those Eyes are made so killing—was his last: (V.59–64)

    The colossal flirt-fight between the Baron and Belinda in Canto V had a ton of collateral damage in the form of minor male characters like the "Dapperwit" and "Sir Fopling," here. Looks like these other men can't deal with the battle of the sexes in any other way than with the stilted, socially-scripted rules of gallant poetry.

  • The Supernatural

    Hear and believe! thy own Importance know,
    Nor bound thy narrow Views to Things below.
    Some secret Truths from Learned Pride conceal'd,
    To Maids alone and Children are reveal'd:
    What tho' no Credit doubting Wits may give?
    The Fair and Innocent shall still believe. (I.35–40)

    Back to the beginning of the poem, and Belinda's dream, where Ariel tells her all about the Sylphs. Might be more accurate to call it the Church of the Sylphs. Membership, after all, seems restricted to women and children, who—although they are mighty low on the totem pole in Pope's society—seem to get a little validation here from those Sylphs. Can't blame them for wanting to belong to this religion, can you? Hard to not feel important when you're told you've got fairies for an entourage.

    Oft when the World imagine Women stray,
    The Sylphs thro' mystick Mazes guide their Way,
    Thro' all the giddy Circle they pursue,
    And old Impertinence expel by new. (I.91–94)

    More doctrine from the Church of the Sylphs as explained by Ariel in Belinda's dream. A-ha, so there is a reason why women can behave so erratically? They're not random, they're in fact guided by a higher power (i.e., the Sylphs?) Doesn't that make you feel good?

    Our humbler Province is to tend the Fair,
    Not a less pleasing, tho' less glorious Care.
    To save the Powder from too rude a Gale,
    Nor let th' imprison'd Essences exhale,
    To draw fresh Colours from the vernal Flow'rs,
    To steal from Rainbows ere they drop in Show'rs
    A brighter Wash; to curl their waving Hairs,
    Assist their Blushes, and inspire their Airs;
    Nay oft, in Dreams, Invention we bestow,
    To change a Flounce, or add a Furbelo. (II.91–100)

    On the boat that takes Belinda to her fateful party, Ariel assembles all of her Sylph entourage and explains their overall reason for being. His speech elevates the trivial, makes the mundane magical, doesn't it? You'll never look at putting on makeup in the same way again, will you? But then again, will you ever look at supernatural powers in the same way, if you know they concern themselves with this stuff?

    Soon as she spreads her Hand, th' Aerial Guard
    Descend, and sit on each important Card,
    First Ariel perch'd upon a Matadore,
    Then each, according to the Rank they bore;
    For Sylphs, yet mindful of their ancient Race,
    Are, as when Women, wondrous fond of place. (III.31–36)

    As with Ariel's speech in Canto II, here in Canto III the poem elevates the trivial by making the card game a glorious, glamorous pastime. And at the same time, making the Sylphs look ridiculous for caring that much about status in the afterlife.

    He watch'd th' Ideas rising in her Mind,
    Sudden he view'd, in spite of all her Art,
    An Earthly Lover lurking at her Heart.
    Amaz'd, confus'd, he found his Pow'r expir'd,
    Resign'd to Fate, and with a Sigh retir'd. (III.142–146)

    It's the moment of truth in Canto III, as the Baron is about to snip Belinda's lock, and Ariel realizes that he can't protect her any more because she has deep feelings for a man. We're still trying to sort this out. Is it because if Belinda does have an earthly lover, that means she's capable of deep feeling, and is no longer superficial enough for Ariel to protect?

    Full o'er their Heads the swelling Bag he rent,
    And all the Furies issued at the Vent.
    Belinda burns with more than mortal Ire,
    And fierce Thalestris fans the rising Fire. (IV.91–94)

    Umbriel the Gnome has been to the Queen of Spleen and received a bag full of female anger, sobs, and hysterics, which he dumps over Belinda's head to ensure she won't just laugh off the loss of her lock. What a great excuse or explanation for losing your temper and going totally off the deep end: the Gnome made me do it. (Sounds a little like those Travelocity commercials, yes?)