Pope's Poems and Prose



By the mid-18th century new fashions in poetry emerged. 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 19th-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 to be a continuance of Pope's tradition), William Wordsworth found Pope's style fundamentally too decadent a representation of the human condition.[4] George Gilfillan in his study of 1856 described Pope's talent as 'a rose peering into the summer air, fine, rather than powerful,[23]

In the 20th century Pope's reputation was revived. Pope's work was found to be full of references to the people and places of his time, and these aided people's understanding of the past. The postwar period stressed the power of Pope's poetry, recognising that Pope's immersion in Christian and Biblical culture lent depth to his poetry. Maynard Mack thought highly of Pope's poetry, arguing that Pope's 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.[4]


Modern criticism of Pope focuses on the man, his circumstances and motivations, prompted by theoretical perspectives such as Marxism, feminism and other forms of post-structuralism. Brean Hammond focuses on Pope's singular achievement in making an independent living solely from his writing. Laura Brown (1985) adopts a Marxist approach and accuses Pope of being an apologist for the oppressive upper classes. Hammond (1986) has studied Pope's work from the perspectives of cultural materialism and new historicism. Along Hammond's lines, Raymond Williams explains art as a set of practices influenced by broad cultural factors rather than simply the vague ideas of genius alone.[4] Hayden Carruth, wrote that it was "Pope's rationalism and pandeism with which he wrote the greatest mock-epic in English literature."[24]

In Politics and Poetics of Transgression (1985) Peter Stallybrass and Allon White charge that Pope drew upon the low culture which he despised in order to produce his own "high art". They assert Pope was implicated in the very material he was attempting to exclude, not dissimilar to observations made in Pope's time.[4] Colin Nicholson reads the poetry in terms of the Financial Revolution, showing how Pope responded to the corruption of the traditional 'landed interest' by the newly dominant 'moneyed interest'.[25]

Feminists have also criticised Pope's works. Ellen Pollak's The Poetics of Sexual Myth (1985) argues that Pope followed an anti-feminist tradition, that regarded women as inferior to men both intellectually and physically. Carolyn Williams contends that a crisis in the male role during the 18th century in Britain impacted Pope and his writing.[4]

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