“Epistle II: To a Lady”
How is this epistolary essay structured? Do Pope’s examples illustrate the introductory hypothesis, “Most women have no character at all”?
What are some examples of the essay’s wit, and against what or whom is the humor directed?
What is added by the fact that the epistle is composed in verse? Does this make it more or less serious?
How does the epistle differentiate the essential traits of men and women? According the the author, what are the characteristics of an ideal woman?
In her pre- and post-lapsarian states, would Milton’s Eve have illustrated the essay’s definition of female character? To what extent do the women of “The Rape of the Lock” fit within these categories?
What effect is created by Pope’s initial and final references to his “lady” friend?
Is this or is it not an anti-feminist essay? In forming your judgment, what assumptions are you making? Are there forms of outside evidence which might bear on the answer to this question?
What is known about Pope’s life which might help explain his stated attitudes on the nature of women? About the views of members of his social group? Of early eighteenth-century views of women?
What social forces might have prompted an insistence on the inferior mental or moral qualities of women?
Can you reconcile the 1735 epistle’s statement that “Good as well as ill/Woman’s at beast a contradiction still” with the conclusion to “An Essay on Man” published two years earlier, “Whatever is, is RIGHT”?
Have you encountered similar arguments/claims in your reading of contemporary literature? Are there contrasts in context or tone?
Is any constructive purpose served by debates about the nature and relative merits of male/female differences? What do contemporary biologists and social psychologists have to say about this issue?
“An Essay on Man,” selections
Is poetry the best genre for this “essay”? Would the essay have a different effect if composed in prose?
What effect do the Miltonic echoes have on the reader’s sense of Pope’s intention? Do they elevate or degrade his theme?
What are some ways in which this essay differs in organization, language, or mode of documentation from the “Essay on Criticism”? Do you prefer the 1709-1711 essay or the 1733 one, and why?
What is Pope’s essential argument in support of the clarity of his “one truth”: “Whatever is, is RIGHT”? Have any lines of rebuttal been omitted?
Is the essay’s style appropriate to its content—that is, if Pope had believed that all that exists is wrong, would he have been forced to change his style?
To what extent do you find the conclusion of epistle I harmonious with the tone and style of the opening liens of epistle II?
Are some of the issues here raised by Pope debated by later literary works? By modern or contemporary political theorists, politicians or theologians?
Which of the issues raised by Pope do you think are resolved in this poem? Do you think his approach is valuable?