Pope's Dunciad: A Study of Its Meaning

Pope's Dunciad: A Study of Its Meaning

Pope's Dunciad: A Study of Its Meaning

Pope's Dunciad: A Study of Its Meaning

Excerpt

Few poems have remained so controversial as the Dunciad has for more than two centuries. Conceived and created as it was amidst bitter personal strife, the poem has yet managed to preserve a certain massive grandeur in the face of all the passionate attacks it has inspired since Pope's time. And the very fact that it has so long continued to inspire controversy would seem to suggest that the poem has its own indomitable vitality and that it is in direct contact with enduring human issues. We may at times have lost sight of these issues with which the Dunciad, on its profoundest level, is concerned, but I do not believe that we have outgrown them.

It is my own conviction, one which has grown steadily since the beginning of this study, that no adequate understanding of the Dunciad's place in literary history is possible until we know more of the way the poem is sustained and nourished by traditions and attitudes which are rooted deep in the medieval and classical past. As this conviction has grown my estimate of my own efforts in this study has become ever more modest. I hope that I have challenged successfully at least a few of the received opinions of the poem; but if I have not then I hope I will have inspired still better efforts to comprehend the poem.

The four major editions of the Dunciad -- those of 1728, 1729, 1742, and 1743 -- reveal a progressive expansion of the poem's meaning and imaginative range. I have attempted to organize this study on the basis of these successive editions, focusing as much as possible on problems peculiar to each edition and attempting to realize at the same time the growth in vision revealed by Pope's additions to his poem. The main effort has been critical and interpretative, although I have attempted at the same time to support my arguments and conclusions with a wide variety of historical materials. Throughout the study I have been greatly aided by Mr James Sutherland admirable edition of the Dunciad (Vol. V of The Twickenham Edition of The Poems of Alexander Pope, London, Methuen & Co. Ltd, NewHaven, Yale University Press).

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