Virgin Idols and Verbal Devices: Pope’s Belinda and the Virgin Mary

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  • Everyone knows that when the heroine of Alexander Pope's mock-epic The Rape of the Lock exclaims, \"Oh hadst thou, Cruel! Been content to seize/ Hairs less in sight, or any Hairs but these,\" she is talking about her virginity (IV. 175-176). Most critics take Belinda's distress over losing a lock of hair to be an indication of her problematic privileging of reputation over virtue, or sign over referent. The superficial Belinda values the hair on her head - a visible sign of her virginity - more than her pubic hair, which is presumably more connected to real virtue because of its physical proximity to her hymen. Belinda's obsessions with visual signs and with her virginity fit the Protestant stereotype of the idolatrous and sexually deviant Catholic, a figure whose appearance in anti-Catholic propaganda provides an important context for Pope's poem. By analyzing The Rape of the Lock through the lens of anti-Catholic critiques of virginity, idolatry, and the Virgin Mary, this essay makes it possible to read Belinda's outcry not as evidence of her problematic devaluation of virginity and over-investment in visible signs, but rather as indicative of the poem's own skeptical attitudes about the sanctity of virginity and about the possibility of knowledge beyond the material world.

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    © Texas Tech University Press. \"All rights reserved. Except for brief quotations used for purposes of scholarly citation, none of this work may be reproduced in any form by any means without written permission from the publisher. For information address the University of Pennsylvania Press, 3905 Spruce Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104-4112.\"
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    • Harol, C., (2004). Virgin Idols and Verbal Devices: Pope’s Belinda and the Virgin Mary. The Eighteenth Century, 45(1), 41-59.
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