Pope’s Ethical Thinking: Passion and Irony in Dialogue

Christopher Tilmouth

in Proceedings of the British Academy Volume 181, 2010-2011 Lectures

Published by British Academy

Published in print October 2012 | ISBN: 9780197265277
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191754203 | DOI:

Series: Proceedings of the British Academy

Pope’s Ethical Thinking: Passion and Irony in Dialogue

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This lecture examines Alexander Pope's depictions of passion and sentiment in a range of early writings, including his ‘Prologue’ to Addison's Cato, Eloisa to Abelard and An Essay on Man. It then shows how often Pope belittled his own forays into affectivity and relates that tendency to a wider interest in ‘sceptical perspectivism’. The presence of the latter is traced in other works such as John Gay's Trivia, Bernard Mandeville's Fable of the Bees and the 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury's Characteristics, all of which – the last especially – are invoked to explain the dialogic methods employed in Pope's Rape of the Lock and his Dunciad Variorum. Finally, the argument suggests that, despite suffering a loss of self-confidence in the mid-1730s (evident in the Epistle to Arbuthnot), Pope was able to recover his satirical idiom precisely by fusing his passionate and dialogic concerns in the Epilogue to the Satires of 1738.

Keywords: Alexander Pope; John Gay; Bernard Mandeville; Earl of Shaftesbury; emotions in literature; irony; dialogue

Chapter.  11366 words. 

Subjects: Social and Cultural History

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