From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Alexander Pope (21 May 1688 – 30 May 1744) was a famous eighteenth century English poet, best known for his satirical verse and for his translation of Homer. He is the third most frequently quoted writer in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, after Shakespeare and Tennyson. Pope is famous for his use of the heroic couplet.
Criticisms of Pope's Work
Pope died the greatest poet of his age. However, by the mid-eighteenth century new fashions in poetry started to emerge. A decade after Pope's death, Joseph Warton claimed that Pope's style of poetry was not the most excellent form of the art. The Romantic movement that rose to prominence in early nineteenth century England was more ambivalent towards his work. Though Lord Byron identified Pope as one of his chief influences (believing his scathing satire of contemporary English literature English Bards and Scotch Reviewers a continuance of Pope's tradition), William Wordsworth found Pope's style fundamentally too decadent to truly represent the human condition.
In the twentieth century an effort to revive Pope's reputation began and was successful. Pope's work was now found to be full of references to the people and places of his time and these aided individuals' understanding of the past. The postwar period stressed the power of Pope's poetry and recognised that Pope's immersion in Christian and Biblical culture gave great depth to his poetry. Maynard Mack thought very highly of Pope's poetry. He argued that Pope's humane moral vision demanded as much respect as his technical excellence. In the years 1953-1967 the production of the definitive Twickenham edition of Pope's poems was published in ten volumes.
The last decades of the twentieth century brought further challenges to Pope's literary reputation. These critics were prompted by theoretical perspectives, such as Marxism, feminism and other forms of post-structuralism. Hence Hammond focused on Pope's singular achievement in making an independent living solely from his writing. Laura Brown's 'Alexander Pope' (1985) adopted a Marxist approach and accused Pope of becoming an apologist for the oppressive upper classes. A year after Brown's study, Brean Hammond published an article about Pope inspired by Cultural Materialism in the British context and the USA-based New Historicism. Following Hammond's approach, Raymond Williams explained art as a set of practices influenced by broad cultural factors rather than simply the vague ideas of genius alone.
In 'Politics and Poetics of Transgression' (1985) Peter Stallybrass and Allon White claimed that Pope drew upon the low culture which he despised in order to produce his own 'high art'. They asserted that Pope was implicated in the very material he was attempting to exclude, an observation not far different from the arguments of Pope's contemporaries.
Feminists also criticised Pope's works. Ellen Pollak's The Poetics of Sexual Myth (1985) argued that Pope followed an anti-feminist tradition. Pollak believed that Pope regarded women as inferior to men both intellectually and physically. However, in Pope's defence it should be said that this was the general view of his time. Carolyn Williams identified a crisis in the male role during the eighteenth century in Britain and discussed its impact on Pope as well as on his writing.
Each year links to its corresponding "[year] in poetry" article:
- 1709: Pastorals
- 1711: An Essay on Criticism
- 1712: The Rape of the Lock (enlarged in 1714)
- 1713: Windsor Forest
- 1715–1720: Translation of the Iliad
- 1717: Eloisa to Abelard
- 1717 - Three Hours After Marriage, with others
- 1717: Elegy to the Memory of an Unfortunate Lady
- 1723–1725: The Works of Shakespear, in Six Volumes
- 1725–1726: Translation of the Odyssey
- 1727: Peri Bathous, Or the Art of Sinking in Poetry
- 1728: The Dunciad
- 1733–1734: Essay on Man
- 1735: The Prologue to the Satires (see the Epistle to Dr Arbuthnot and Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel?)