The Complete Critical Guide to Alexander Pope

By Paul Baines | Go to book overview

has been studied in Nicholson (1979), and given an altogether more malign cast in Brown (1985), which is itself critiqued in Crehan (1997). Feminist criticism has been particularly active on the poem [174-82]. Readers interested in accessing some of the contemporary material (social, economic, critical, political) with which the poem engages, and on which modern 'political' criticism is based, should consult not only the TE volume (edited by Geoffrey Tillotson) but also editions of the poem with contemporary documents, by Tracy (1974), Kinsley (1979), and Wall (1998). Useful compilations of criticism can be found in Hunt (1968) and Bloom (1988).


(d)

ELOISA TO ABELARD (1717) [TE II:291-349]

Though voiced in the person of an eleventh-century French nun, Eloisa to Abelard has the reputation of being one of Pope's more intimately personal poems, partly because the emotional conflict of the speaker finds solace and release in the closing image of a sympathetic 'future bard' (the Pope who writes the poem), and partly because Pope used the poem privately to indicate something of his hapless sexual feelings towards the Blount sisters and (especially) Lady Mary Wortley Montagu [19-20]. It was this poem above all which proved to Pope's contemporaries that he had the capacity for feeling, tenderness, and imagination: 'how does my very soul melt away, at the soft Complaints of the languishing Eloisa?, an American reader wrote to Pope in 1727; it was 'the warmest, the most affecting, and admirable amorous Poem in the world', as a later critic put it (Barnard 1973:154, 470).

In her confinement and pathos, Eloisa casts an interesting backward light on the miserable Belinda in Rape of the Lock. Nonetheless, as with that earlier poem, Eloisa to Abelard does in some ways embody and describe a complex interface between private and public, for it is as public a document as anything else Pope wrote, converting a private emotional situation into a literary form instantly recognisable as the 'Heroic Epistle', deriving chiefly from the Heroides of Ovid, a collection of verse epistles in florid style from (mainly) women to the lovers who have left them trapped at home (Penelope to Ulysses, Dido to Aeneas and so on). Pope translated Ovid's Sapho to Phaon, an example worth reading alongside Eloisa to Abelard [10]. But in producing a medieval version, Pope added a significant new element: while the form gives ample space to the expression of erotic disappointment, by transferring the situation to a convent Pope turns the mere absence of the lover

-77-

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The Complete Critical Guide to Alexander Pope
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Series Editors' Preface ix
  • Acknowledgements xi
  • Abbreviations and Referencing xiii
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I - Life and Contexts 3
  • (A) - A Catholic Childhood 5
  • (B) - Forest Retreats 7
  • (C) - Literary London 10
  • (D) - Kings and Queens 14
  • (E) - Scriblerus 15
  • (F) - Epic Intent 17
  • (G) - Booksellers and Ladies 19
  • (H) - Works and Days 21
  • (I) - Twickenham 23
  • (J) - Shakespeare 26
  • (K) - Epic of Fleet Street 28
  • (L) - System and Satire 32
  • (M) - Horace 35
  • (N) - Letters 38
  • (O) - Laureate in Opposition 40
  • (Q) - The End 44
  • Part II - Work 47
  • (A) - An Essay on Criticism (1711) [Te I:195-326] 49
  • (C) - The Rape of the Lock (1712/1714/1717) [Te Ii:79-212] 65
  • (D) - Eloisa to Abelard (1717) [Te Ii:291-349] 77
  • (E) - Essay on Man (1733-34) [Te Iii:I] 82
  • (F) - Epistles to Several Persons (1731-35) [Te Iii:Ii] 93
  • (G) - Epistle to Dr Arbuthnot (1735) [Te Iv:91-127] 110
  • (H) - Imitations of Horace (1733-40) [Te Iv] 119
  • (I) - The Dunciad (1728-42) [Te V] 130
  • Part III - Criticism 151
  • (A) - Pope and Poetry 153
  • (B) - Politics 163
  • (C) - Gender and Body 171
  • (D) - Pope in Print and Manuscript 189
  • Bibliography 205
  • Index 215
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