Answer: Having a Cleopatra-like variety, Belinda is the one who is all pervasive and central character in Alexander Pope’s mock heroic, “The Rape of the Lock”. Pope’s attitude to Belinda is very mixed and complicated: mocking and yet tender, admiring and yet critical. The paradoxical nature of Pope’s attitude is intimately related to the paradox of Belinda’s situation. She is as a bundle of contradictions as is the society she represents. She is a complex character and is more than a mere type. It is impossible to find a parallel of Belinda in any poem of the 18th century.
Belinda is introduced as a paragon of female charm whose name is Latin for “Lovely to behold “. Pope seems to be enamored with his own creation. He describes her in superlatives – the brightest fair, the fairest of mortals. She is the center of attention during her pleasure ride over river Thames; her lively looks, her sprightly mind, her flashing eyes charm one and all:
“Belinda smiled, and all the world was gay.”
Pope compares Belinda to the sun and suggests that it recognizes in Belinda a rival. Belinda is like the sun, not only because of her bright eyes and not only because she dominates her special world. She was as beautiful as every eye was fix’d on her alone. She is like the sun in another regard:
“Bright as the sun , her eyes the gazers strike ,
And, like the sun , she shines on all alike. “
Belinda’s exquisite beauty is enhanced by two curling side-locks of hair that charmingly set off her ivory white neck and which she has kept ‘ to the destruction of mankind:”
“Love in these labyrinths his slaves detains,
And mighty hearts are held in slender chains.”
Belinda’s charms can work miracles and can make even non-believers kiss the cross. She is an embodiment of grace and sweetness which cover up her flirtation and faults.
According to Alice Miller, a person who is great, who is admired everywhere, and needs this admiration to survive, has one of the extreme forms of Narcissism, which is grandiosity. Belinda is the goddess, but she puts on her divinity at her dressing table; and, such is the paradox of beauty-worship, she can be both the divinity and the sincere devotee. Thus Belinda, in worshiping at the shrine of beauty, quite naturally worships herself.
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Countless treasures of the world have been laid open at the altar of Belinda sent as “offerings “by her adorers. These cosmetics and ornaments, along with the aid of Betty and the Sylphs, has added an extra dimension to her charms, undoubtedly.
Here in this creation of Pope, Belinda is not only a priestess of “the sacred rites of pride “, she is also compared to a warrior arming for the fray. Later in the poem she is the warrior once more at the card-table in her conquest of the two ‘ adventurous knights ‘, she emerges as a heroic conqueror in the epic encounter of the beaux and belles.
Belinda cares a fig for religion. To place the Bible with her loads of beauty accessories and love letters on the same dressing table indicates the confusion of values. She has transformed all spiritual exercises and emblems into a coquette’s self- display and self- adoration.
At the Hampton Court, the young lovers are prepared to lose and surrender to this fair maid. This increases her self-importance and stirs up her vanity:
“Favours to none, to all she smiles extends
Oft she rejects, but never once offends,”
Belinda is what she is not. She deceives others as she deceives herself. Her pretentions and her real intentions are at logger-heads. She loves Baron at heart. But she rebukes and abuses him. This is what Ariel feels;
“Sudden he viewed, in spite of all her art,
An earthly lover lurking at her heart”.
Belinda undoubtedly possesses a superb skill in playing the game of ombre, but the manner in which she gloats over her victory shows not only her vanity and superficiality but also a childish temperament, she becomes too quickly joyous and too quickly depressed. Her tantrums, when a lock of her hair has been clipped by Baron, also show her as a spoiled child. We now see Belinda as a true Fury. She is weighed down by worry and anxiety. Then she begins to burn with an inhuman wrath, a more than mortal indignation:
“Not louder shrieks to pitying Heaven are cast,
When husbands, or when lapdogs breathe their last. “
But the very lament is hypocritical or superficial. She is anxious about her ‘ reputation ‘ alone, and would not care if she lost her ‘ honour ‘ or virginity in some secret love-affair.
However Belinda’s fury is quite natural. Quoting Miller, grandiosity can be seen when a person admires himself, his qualities, such as beauty, cleverness, and talents and his success and achievements greatly. If one of these happens to fail, then the catastrophe of a severe depression is near (Miller 34). In Belinda’s case, it is a breach of hero-worship and rules of chivalry and courtship.
Belinda does undergo a “fall” from the narcissistic self-love and arid virginity. It is merely a fall into a more natural human condition and best regarded, perhaps, as a kind of fortunate fall.
Basically, Belinda is a model and more specifically represents the fashionable, aristocratic ladies of Pope’s age. Such social butterflies in eighteenth century were regarded as “petty triflers”, having no serious concern with life, and ” engrossed in dance and gaiety ”. Belinda’s fall indicates the decadence of her class. Through her, Pope describes the flippancy and depravity of the English society of his day.
Traditionally, Belinda is based upon on the historical Arabella Fermor, the lady in Pope’s social circle who was offended by Lord Petre. John Denis says that Belinda ” is a chimera, and not a character ‘‘. Viewing the poem as a political satire, Belinda represents GREAT BRITIAN or (which is the same thing) her LATE MAJESTY. This is plainly see in Pope’s description of her,
‘On her white breast a sparkling Cross she wore ‘.