The Complete Critical Guide to Alexander Pope

By Paul Baines | Go to book overview
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morally ambiguous in its view of monetary disorder, even complicit, overall, with the laissez-faire economics it locally satirises, than it can comfortably acknowledge (Erskine-Hill 1972b; Nicolson 1994; Brown 1985, 108-17). Barrell and Guest (1987) see the poem as even more fundamentally riven by the contradictory forces of 'economic amoralism' and Christian-based satire; they also argue that certain practices of composition and of reading trained Pope's contemporaries to ignore or synthesise such contradictions in the ideological interests of the emergent capitalism with which the poem engages. In a different vein, Engell (1988) interestingly aligns literary and monetary concerns in the poem, with writing becoming like money and vice versa. The Epistle to Burlington, too, has come to seem less secure in its architectural certainties (Ayres 1990). Ferraro (1996) argues (on the basis of Pope's revisions to the poem in manuscript and print) that Burlington's role as positive exemplum is a good deal less central in the later versions than it was in the early versions; that what Burlington represents is more vulnerable to disastrous imitation than is normally assumed; and that something altogether greater than Burlington is being elaborately provided as the true context for Pope's critiques.



Pope advertises the fact that his poem is a patchwork or hybrid, created from several existing fragments and versions [37]. As the poem emerges from various levels of publicity-private notes, manuscript circulation, miscellany fragment, letter-so it is about the various forms of publicity which writing and writers have to engage with. In his 'Advertisement' Pope gives as the occasion for publication two verse attacks on him: Verses Address'd to the Imitator…of Horace, compiled in 'witty fornication' (Pope's phrase) between Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and Lord Hervey, and Hervey's Epistle to a Doctor of Divinity from a Nobleman at Hampton Court which transgressed the boundaries of public and private in that they attacked not only his writing ('of which being publick the Publick judge'), but his 'Person, Morals, and Family' (TE IV:95) [36]. The poem is, on the other hand, addressed to a dying friend, and acts as a testimony to that mutual regard. The most obviously autobiographical of Pope's poems, it gives not only a defence of his stance as a writer but a beautifully imagined mythic account of his parentage. Not introspective in the manner of Wordsworth, it defines a personal space which is always under pressure from


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The Complete Critical Guide to Alexander Pope


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