Article

Alexander Pope

Tom Jones

in British and Irish Literature

ISBN: 9780199846719
Published online September 2012 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199846719-0047
Alexander Pope

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Alexander Pope is the preeminent English poet of the early 18th century. He was commercially and critically successful in his time, establishing his fortune by means of a translation of Homer to which subscriptions were sold. He won the friendship and approval of many socially and intellectually influential people, such as Henry St. John, Viscount Bolingbroke, and William Warburton, through his writing. His technical mastery of the heroic couplet, one of the main modes of English verse composition, has always attracted attention—derisory from the Romantics and Victorians, more admiring from critics of the 18th, 20th, and 21st centuries. Pope’s poetry channels the traditions of earlier English and classical writing, transforming and often subverting or ironizing those traditions, as in his major mock-epic works The Rape of the Lock and The Dunciad. Pope’s writing is controversial, touching on subjects such as gender identity, political commitment, moral attitudes, and the nature of being human. Such controversial interests make his poetry gripping and have also made him the center of charged debates concerning the politics of literary study. Pope was active as a translator, editor, and prose writer, retaining a close interest in the physical existence of his work throughout the publication process, and contributing to the development of copyright law and the modern image of the author. Pope’s poetry invites comparison with the visual arts, and he himself was often depicted in images that sometimes made evident his short stature and the double curvature of his spine from Pott’s disease. These features marked him out for attack throughout his life: he has also become a figure in the study of disability in literature, as he has been for other types of marginality (Catholicism, political opposition, for example). The range of Pope’s work, from social comedy to philosophical epistle to familiar letter, and the range of responses to that work guarantee his continuing interest to undergraduate, scholarly, and popular audiences alike.

Article.  10821 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (British and Irish)

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