The Signification of a Curl

A Lacanian Interpretation of Alexander Pope’s mock-heroic ‘The Rape of the Lock’

SOPHIE EMILIA SEIDLER (Universität Wien)

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Abstract: In his mock-epic The Rape of the Lock (first published 1712), Alexander Pope undertakes an enterprise daring not only from a literary-historical point of view, since he ridicules and trivializes the sublime ancient genre of epic, but also from a poststructuralist perspective focussing on gendered roles. The heroi-comical poem has hence gained much attention within feminist and gender-theoretical criticism. Yet it seems that the eponymic item itself, the female protagonist’s lock, has not received due interpretation although it constitutes a substitute for both masculinity and femininity, as well as a symbol of maidenhood, beauty, youth, life and power—an object of desire, in Lacanian terms.

Hence, this article tries to approach the strand of hair suggesting it represents a symbolic phallus – a signifier without signified, oscillating, receding, and surrogating gendered categories. It is not Belinda who is the object of the Baron’s love, but the lock itself which is later deified and praised. It thus obtains functions far beyond its trivial worth—a phenomenon thoroughly dealt with in Lacan’s poststructuralist modification of Freudian psychoanalysis. This will be shown by a close-read characterisation of the lock’s attributes roles accredited to it by the poem’s protagonists.

 

About the Author: Sophie Emilia Seidler is a graduate student of Comparative Literature and Classics at the University of Vienna. She received her B. A. in Comparative Literature and German Studies at the Freie Universität Berlin. Her major interests include the representation and transformation of gender and power structures in ancient, modern, and postmodern literature.