Discuss about the Toilet scene of Belinda as depicted in The Rape of The Lock.


Answer: There are several aspects of the personality of Belinda as portrayed by Pope in The Rape of the Lock. It will be wrong to regard her purely as a goddess, or as a pretty spoiled child, or as a flirt. She is a combination of all three, and yet much more than such a combination. We see her in many different lights. We see her as a coquette, an injured innocent, a sweet charmer, a society belle, a rival of the sun, and a murderer of millions. She has, indeed, a Cleopatra-like variety.

At the end of Canto One of Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock, Belinda is described as getting herself ready to go out on an excursion with her friends. The text provides very specific details regarding what Belinda is doing.

The Tortoise here and Elephant unite,
Transform’d to Combs, the speckled and the white.
Here Files of Pins extend their shining Rows,
Puffs, Powders, Patches, Bibles, Billet-doux.
Now awful Beauty puts on all its Arms;
The Fair each moment rises in her Charms,
Repairs her Smiles, awakens ev’ry Grace,
And calls forth all the Wonders of her Face;
Sees by Degrees a purer Blush arise,
And keener Lightnings quicken in her Eyes.
The busy Sylphs surround their darling Care;
These set the Head, and those divide the Hair,
Some fold the Sleeve, while others plait the Gown;
And Betty’s prais’d for Labours not her own.

Evaluating this excerpt of the text requires one to recognize a woman’s vanity. Here, Belinda is doing everything she possibly can to insure that her beauty is illuminated. Her use of powder shows that her face contains flaws which she feels compelled to cover. Her use of the Bibles show that she is using prayer to pray that what she does will “work” in order to enhance her beauty.

Belinda is not alone though. She has servants around her whom help her to get ready. This shows her wealth. Normal woman of this time would not have had servants to help them get ready.

Belinda’s vanity is seemed to take the form of religious devotion in the passage describing her morning toilette.

And now, unveil’d, the Toilet stands display’d,
Each Silver Vase in mystic Order laid.
First, rob’d in White, the Nymph intent adores
With Head uncover’d, the Cosmetic Pow’rs.
A heav’nly Image in the Glass appears,
To that she bends, to that her Eyes she rears; [l.121-6]

The ironic transposition of ‘cosmic powers’ in ‘Cosmetic Pow’rs’ indicates the excessive value she attributes to her make-up, and bowing to her own image shows her devotion to her religion of narcissism. The passage is a mock version of the arming of the epic hero, her weaponry of cosmetics being ridiculed by the implicit comparison with the swords and shields of the epic hero. The passage includes a mock catalogue.

Here Files of Pins extend their shining Rows,
Puffs, Powders, Patches, Bibles, Billet-doux. [l.137-8]

This catalogue, echoing the catalogue of troops and weaponry found in epics, is one of the many indications of the jumbled values to be found in Belinda’s society. The Bible is seen as a trinket for the adornment of her dressing table, along with the puffs and powders. The main force of this passage is satire, but alongside the satire Pope reveals a hint of fascination with the charm and delicacy of Belinda and her cosmetic devotion.

From each she nicely culls with curious Toil,
And decks the Goddess with the glitt’ring Spoil,
This Casket India’s glowing Gems unlocks,
And all Arabia breathes from yonder Box. [l.131-4]

The rich imaginative vision in a passage such as this shows more than a desire to deprecate; it suggests that he too is at least partly fascinated by glitter. Pope appreciates the cosmetics in terms of the wider context of their origins and purpose, which Belinda could not do, and his tone reveals an attitude of amused, detached, fascination rather than straightforward disapproval.

Therefore, the toilet scene is used to show the vanity associated with women. The end of the cantos functions very well in detailing the lengths one will go to in order to insure that they are beautiful.