Pope's "Epistle to a lady"

Alexander Pope's poem "An Epistle to a Lady" clearly sets out to show the qualities of an ideal woman. These qualities are further enforced through the contrast of portraits of women who are in some way immoral or otherwise not ideal. The themes of Pope's poem use the portraits to sound a theme and then turn the theme to positive advantage in the final compliment to Martha Blount. The form of this poem is a Horatian Epistle. Usually the receiver of a Horatian Epistle is an Aristocratic male who serves both to modulate the poet's tone and to suggest that even aristocrats can be educated by a poet. In "An Epistle to a Lady", Pope defies this characteristic trait of Horatian Epistles and dedicates his poem to a woman of middle class standing, the readers of such poems are encouraged to agree that such folly is wrong and far from the ideal behavior. Pope's "Epistle to a Lady" is set within the tradition of literature directed at teaching women how to be proper, polite young women. The influences and the context of this poem are eighteenth century conduct books, moral essays, sermons, biographies, and poems directed at a predominately female audience. Pope establishes a social relationship between author and reader as well as author and recipient of the epistle. It is the respect and friendship of the author and recipient, which starts the poem and then permeates it. Pope also establishes a pleasant personal relationship with his lady, he will draw the lady's own values to counterbalance the romantic folly in most of the poem. The portraits in Pope's epistle depict the traits of bad women including, inconstancy, fickleness, excessive self-love, and ostentatious displays of wit. The activities of undesirable women contradict every expectation of appropriate and decorous behavior in the sex, which is exemplified in the Lady. Narcissa scorns good nature, Flavia shows excessive spirit and quickness, Atossa is furious and has violent passion, and Cloe is incapable of generosity and love. Perhaps the most interesting part of Pope's "An Epistle to a Lady" is that Pope celebrates a middle class woman. Pope finds value in the Lady, Martha Blount, because she is not an aristocrat, she has a wonderful sense of humour and wit. Pope is critical of women who live a public aristocratic life, while he celebrates a woman who shines in the private life.