To analyze the couplet form
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu's poem based on a contemporary scandal offers
a good point of comparison with Pope's. Both are fictitious letters sent by
distraught and abandoned women to their ex-lovers.
Reading Notes and Discussion Questions:
Examine the way Lady Mary creates a sense of her character through her language. How would
you characterize Mrs. Yonge's emotion in this letter? Why does she write to her ex-husband?
How does this poem represent the marriage laws of England? See lines 11-24. What is unfair about the law?
How does the poem serve as social criticism? IN what ways are wives like items for purchase,
like servants or slaves?
How does the poem represent female sexuality? Note the way the poem conveys a sense of
the society's contradictions:
Our sex's weakness you expose and blame
What do these lines refer to? Why are women considered weaker? And if weaker why are they
considered more virtuous?
(Of every prattling fop the common theme),
Yet from this weakness you suppose is due
Sublimer virtue than your Cato knew.
Compare the representation of the speaker's personal history (lines 38-58) with Pope's
Eloisa. How is their story similar? How is it different?
What consolation does the speaker draw in her outcast situation?
Examine the closing curse. What does she wish upon her husband? How is this
appropriate? With the inclusion of the names of specific government leaders, this poem
becomes a personal satire. What do these closing lines mean? What purpose do they serve?
As letters, how do these poems compare? What is achieved by making these poems in the form
of a letter as opposed to a lyric poem in first or third person?
When we discussed "Eloisa to Abelard" I asked you to consider how Pope constructs the
first-person voice of a woman. Compare these two female personas. How successful are the
constructions of femininity? What elements do they share? Where are they different?
How might you account for the differences?
Lady Mary's poem was not published during the eighteenth century. Who is the intended
audience of the poem (conjecture)? What might be the purpose of writing it?
Pope's poem was published and immediately popular. How is the purpose of his poem
different from that of Lady Mary's? What do the differences suggest to you about the
literary taste and function in eighteenth century England?
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