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
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:
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.
Pope's ascribed female spaces in Book Two of The
Noorthouck, John. "Book 4, Ch. 3: The parishes of the Liberty of
New History of London: Including Westminster and Southwark
History Online. Web. pp. 717-738.
Date accessed: 19 March 2009.
Rumbold, Valerie, Ed. Alexander
Pope: The Dunciad in Four Books. Pearson, 1999.