The Rape of the Lock

The Rape of the Lock

This mock heroic epic was first published in 1712 with two cantos and later expanded into five cantos in 1714. It was dedicated to John Caryll. It was based on Lord Petre's cutting of a lock of hair of Arabella Fermor. In Pope's poem, Belinda is based on the historical Arabella Fermor and the Baron is the pseudonym for the historical Robert, Lord Petre.

The action of the poem begins with the rising Sun awakening the residents of a wealthy household. Though everyone, including the lapdogs, has risen, Belinda remains asleep. She dreams of a handsome youth, who informs her that she is protected by a "Thousand bright inhabitants of air spirits that were once human women, who now protect virgins. Belinda's guardian sylph is Ariel and her lapdog is named as Shock. The poem from the beginning acquaints us with the idleness, late rising and fondness for domestic pets of the aristocratic ladies. Pope criticises the frivolous aspect of femininity. 

At a social gathering attended by many young and wealthy socialites where they play cards over coffee, the Baron takes up a pair of scissors and cuts off a lock of Belinda's hair. Belinda flies in rage. Clarissa who has aided the Baron in his crime urges Belinda to drop her anger in favour of good sense.

A battle then ensues between the ladies and the gentlemen, which Pope compares to a battle amidst the confusion, the lock is lost. In the concluding part of the poem, Pope assures Belinda that her lock has been immortalised in the heavens as a constellation.

mock-heroic treatment underscores the Pope's ridiculousness of a society in which values have lost all proportions and the trivial is handled with the gravity and solemnity that ought to be accorded to truly important issues. The poem is a reflection of artificial and hollow life of 18th century society.