Alexander Pope's The Dunciad: Book Two


Female Spaces in Pope’s The Dunciad: Book Two

Unlike in Book One, women seem to figure prominently in Book Two of The Dunciad.  The unflattering image of Queen Dulness seen throughout the poem openly mocks female figures from ancient tales, but Pope continues the attack on his contemporary women, especially women with power, in his second book. Before the “High Heroic games” even start in Book Two, Pope takes a moment to mock Queen Anne’s attempts to improve the area around the Strand:

Amid that area wide they took their stand,
Where the tall may-pole once o’er-look’d the Strand;
But now (so Anne and Piety ordain)
A Church collects the saints of Drury-lane. (27-30)

Pope criticises Queen Anne’s choice to build a church in an area known for prostitutes, the “saints” of his verse (Rumbold 137).   He attempts to slander this church – St Mary le Strand – by marking it as a feminine location (Noorthouck).  The location has been degraded from a site of “communal merry-making” to its inferior condition by female forces.

Pope continues to condemn women ruining male spaces when he describes Curl’s Corinna – writer Elizabeth Thomas – throwing her excrement into the street where Curl eventually slips on it:

Full in the middle way there stood a lake,
Which Curl’s Corinna chanc’d that morn to make:
(Such was her wont, at early dawn to drop
Her evening cates before his neighbour’s shop,)
Here fortun’d Curl to slide; loud shout the band,
And Bernard! Bernard! rings thro’ all the Strand. (69-74)

Here Elizabeth Thomas is unjustly accused of being Curll’s mistress and being sexually deviant.  Pope seems to suggest that it is her lascivious nature that leads to her creation of the “lake,” which destroys Curl’s lead (Rumbold 139).  Again, we see a female force bringing destruction to a male space.

Continuing the association of women with excrement, Curl prays to Cloacina, a deity of the sewers (Rumbold 141).   John Gay refers to Cloacina in his Trivia, placing her amongst the effluvia of Fleet Ditch.  Pope also places her in that area:

   In office here fair Cloacina stands,
And ministers to Jove with purest hands.
Forth from the heap she pick’d her Vot’ry’s pray’r,  
And plac’d it next him, a distinction rare!
Oft had the Goddess heard her servant’s call,
From her black grottos near the Temple-wall,
List’ning delighted to the jest unclean
Of link-boys vile, and watermen obscene;
Where as he fish’d her nether realms for Wit,
She oft had favour’d him, and favours yet. (93-102)

Here the female does not ruin a male space; she is simply aligned with an already ruined space.  Though she is not the cause of the filth, she seems to maintain it and revel in its environment.  She enjoys being surrounded by low types of men – “link-boys vile” and “watermen obscene” – and their coarseness.   Pope seems to associate her location with her role as muse to Curl.  She helps him produce his polluted writing, and in doing so Pope condemns her female influence.

Female Spaces in The Dunciad

Pope's ascribed female spaces in Book Two of The Dunciad

Works Cited

Noorthouck, John. "Book 4, Ch. 3: The parishes of the Liberty of Westminster." A New History of London: Including Westminster and Southwark (1773). British History Online. Web. pp. 717-738.  <> Date accessed: 19 March 2009.

Rumbold, Valerie, Ed. Alexander Pope: The Dunciad in Four Books. Pearson, 1999.