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ENL 3230
British Literature 1616-1780

Class 14 -- VIRTUE AND LABOR -- GENDERED TRUTHS --

Reading Assignment:

    Mary Leapor, "Epistle to a Lady," "An Essay on Woman" Demaria, p. 775, 778

    DUE: Weekly Post #8 AND Paper 1

    Also read the introductory statements for the author in Demaria.



    Like Duck and Collier, Mary Leapor is a working-class poet, and she takes the material of her poetry from her intimate familiarity with the serving class. But she was also well-read, and her verse incorporates a consciously modulated language. Notice the way the physical and unrefined imagery of her workaday world jostles with lofty views of wit and morality in her work. Remember, as you read her work, that all of her poetry was published through a patron after she died, and she died by the time she was - probably - twenty-four years old. Read Demaria's headnote with caution; decide for yourself what the term "sweetly easy" might mean with regard to her verse.



    Notes and Discussion Questions:

    1.

    "An Epistle to a Lady" (1748)

    As you read, make observations on the poetic style of Leapor's work. What poetic line does she favor? What types of poetic devices occur? How would you describe the tone? Whose voice does she adopt?

    Who does the poet address in the opening lines? Why?

    The second and third stanzas develop a poetic complaint on learning -- or education. What is the source of the complaint? What does it mean for Leapor to call herself "learned" (19)? How does Leapor's appropriation of "learning" compare with Pope's warnings about learning in "AN Essay on Criticism" (e.g. "a little learning is a dangerous thing)?

    What "treasures" does the poet refer to in line 22 and how does literacy, learning and poetry contribute to this? In what sense does this laboring class poet's poem reflect a change in literacy levels in the eighteenth century?

    Compare this image of a woman waking from a dream with Pope's representation of Belinda's waking from a dream in The Rape of the Lock.

    With the fourth stanza the tone shifts. What occasions this shift? How does sickness compare to the complaint of the earlier stanzas?

    The closing stanza reflects on mortality, the great leveler. What moral does the poem convey? How does the perspective of the laboring poet affect the meaning of this universal theme?


    2.

    An Essay on Woman (1751)

    This poem adopts the Horatian essay form of satire to address a general theme, in this case the character of woman. Formally, then, it alludes to Pope's harsh satire "Of the Characters of Women: An Epistle to a Lady" (1735) p. 561, which Leapor could have seen in a couple of different forms before her death. Pope would have been the best-known poet at the time of her death in 1746. For contrast, read Pope's poem and note where Leapor borrows and departs.

    The first stanza of Leapor's poem develops the idea of woman in the abstract. Summarize the rather cynical appraisal of womankind. How does her perspective as a young working woman affect the representation of woman?

    How does Hymen (line 15) change the character of woman? What does it mean that marriage "turns the Goddes to her native Clay" (18)? Whose perpsective does the poem poke fun at?

    The second stanza invokes Leapor's patron, Artemesia. What effect does this have on the poem?

    How does the tone and subject for satire shift in the second stanza?

    Leapor offers us two views of woman in the figures of Pamphilia and Sylvia. Both are rich and beautiful and yet the poet does not envy them. Why? What does the fate of each illustrate about the general lot of womankind?

    Note how money-matters crop up in her poems with familiar ease. "Does thirst of Gold a Virgin's Heart inspire, / Instilled by Nature or a careful Sire? (39-40). What advice does she offer the material minded? How does this fit in with the general moral of satires we have read thus far?

    The poem closes with a reference to the poet herself. How does she represent herself? What are the implications of this representation?

    The final lines of the poem raise an image that would become commonplace in the eighteenth-century: "Unhappy Woman's but a Slave at large" (60). Recall Locke's ideas on liberty and slavery. In what sense is woman like a slave? What is particularly poignant about Leapor's perspective in this metaphor?


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