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