Professional Imaginative Writing in England, 1670-1740: Hackney for Bread

By Brean S. Hammond | Go to book overview

8
Piddling on Broccoli: Pope's Menu and his Ideology

Alexander Pope has cast a long shadow over this book, despite his well-known short stature. He is the 'onlie begetter' of it, in two major respects. His Dunciad is readable as an intervention against various forms of cultural seepage and transgressive mingling of social strata. It dramatizes conflict between prestigious forms-- the classical epic--and the forms produced for the populace and the market-place. Commercial culture, and popular culture, are presented in the poem as aspects of the same ideological formation. The Dunciad is a good example of what Stephen Greenblatt terms 'symbolic acquisition', where a set of social practices, or 'modes of social energy', is transferred to the domain of literature by means of metaphorical and metonymical representation.1 Secondly, The Dunciad pickled a large number of contemporary writers in aspic as 'dunces', writers without a true vocation whose 'works' were entirely reducible to the material forms of their dissemination--to the paper and print out of which they were manufactured. Writers like James Ralph are rendered by Pope's dismissive couplet an early comic prototype of Wordsworth's Winander Boy:

Silence, ye Wolves! while Ralph to Cynthia howls,
And makes Night hideous--Answer him, ye Owls!

(bk. III, lines 165-6)

Pope's verdicts on such as John Dennis, Ned Ward, Eliza Haywood, Colley Cibber--even the manifestly indefensible pillorying of Lewis Theobald--have been accepted as just and true, rather than as ammunition in an ongoing struggle between a dominant culture and the emergent forms that it seeks to disorganize,

____________________
1
Stephen Greenblatt, Shakespearean Negotiations: The Circulation of Social Energy in Renaissance England ( Oxford University Press, 1988), 10-11.

-291-

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