Alexander Pope and His Eighteenth-Century Women Readers

By Claudia N. Thomas | Go to book overview

5

Pope and Women's Poems
"Something like Horace"

Despite the affection most women professed for Pope's early writings, they most often imitated his Horatian satires. Particularly in the early century and midcentury, women writers inhabited a literary culture addicted to satire. Yet Dryden had admitted in his "Discourse Concerning the Original and Progress of Satire" (1692) that "in English, to say Satire, is to mean Reflection, as we use that word in the worst Sense" (Works, 4:48). Invective was not an avocation for ladies. Horace, as described by Dryden, offered women writers a model of satire written with delicacy, intended "to correct the Vices and Follies of his Time, and to give the Rules of a Happy and Virtuous Life" (Works, 4:59). While declaring Horace the best instructor, Dryden confessed his preference for Juvenal's "vigorous and Masculine Wit" (Works, 4:63). But the tactful didacticism Dryden found insipid rendered Horace women's most appropriate model if they chose to write in what was, for at least half the century, the dominant poetic genre.

As bitter, solitary railers, neither Persius nor Juvenal were comfortable models for women, who risked being labeled scolds or disappointed old maids rather than disaffected philosophers. Horace was identified with praise of country retirement, an attitude easily applied to many women's circumstances. He was particularly associated with the satiric epistle, a form that supposed discourse between friends. The epistle generally concentrated on social follies rather than on vices, and conferred praise as well as blame. 1 All of these qualities attracted women writers. The familiar letter was the contemporary literary form most practiced by aristocratic and middle-class women alike. 2 The Horatian satirist's good-natured sociability also ideally characterized ladies, making the verse epistle's persona readily adapt

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