Author Archives: EilidhGClark

About EilidhGClark

Eilidh is an award winning writer who lives in central Scotland. She has a degree in English Literature and a Masters in Creative Writing. Her interests include LGBTQI rights, disability rights, environmental issues, animal rights, feminism, politics and pretty much any issue that involve marginalised groups or individuals. She also likes nature, mindfulness, walking, music, books, cinema, charity shops, gardening and snuggling her lady and her chocolate labs.

The Cull, 2036

I don’t normally post short stories on my blog until they have found a home, but considering our current political landscape and the prospect of an environmental meltdown, I thought this story was relevant. Please feel free to share.

animal bee blur close up

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

‘…on some secluded branch in a forest far and wide sits perched an owl, who, full of self-conceit and self-created wisdom, explains, comments, condemns, ordains and orders things not understood, yet full of importance still holds forth to stocks and stones around.’
Michael Faraday.

October 2036

The room was dark and reeked of damp. Ailith lit a candle on the mantelpiece and watched as the light cast her shadow onto the wall. She didn’t dare open the curtains, for fear of letting the heat out; plus, she didn’t want the neighbours knowing she was awake. They still thought she was the bloody community councillor. Fat lot of good she’d be if she was. She couldn’t deal with her own shit let alone anybody else’s. And it wasn’t that she didn’t like the neighbours, it was just the noise of them that riled her up, the noise and the desperation on their faces, like rabbits-staring-into-fucking-headlights, chapping on her door at all hours and pleading, ‘For Christ’s sake Ailith, what are we going to do?’ And she’d just stand there, shrugging her shoulders and thinking “Christ? What’s Christ got to do with it? Our so-called Lord and Savour has fucked off, shut up shop, and handed the keys to our new friend – drum roll – the OWL – Our One World Leader. It was only half six in the morning and her guts were heaving already.

She sat on the sofa and peeled the lid off a plastic container. She couldn’t eat this crap for much longer. She poked the spoon into the cream jelly; it squelched when she broke the surface and it let out a fart when she pulled it out. What exactly was she eating? She sucked the jelly through her teeth. It wasn’t food. It didn’t even smell like food. It didn’t even smell. The label said ‘nutritious’ but she didn’t believe it. She didn’t believe anything they had forced on her. No. None of their lies sat well in her stomach.
A muffled tune disturbed her thoughts. Recognising the OWL Corp. ringtone, she sat up straight and tidied her hair from her face.

‘Answer call.’ She said lifting the chat box from beneath a cushion. A balding man wearing a black suit stared poker-faced at her from behind the glass.

‘Ms McDonald? Is this correct?’

‘Yup.’

‘Can you confirm your date of birth?’

‘Twenty-fourth of May 2008.’

‘Please scan your identification into your box device.’

Ailith took her ID card from her wallet and placed it on the scanner. She waited for the beep.

‘Thank you, Ms McDonald. I am calling to remind you that you have not yet voted.’

‘I’m aware.’

‘And you are also aware Ms McDonald, that this is day three?’

‘Like I could forget.’ She bit a thread of skin from the side of her fingernail.

‘I’m sorry, Ms McDonald, can you clarify your last answer. Are you aware that this is day three?’

‘Yes.’

‘And do you understand that you are required by your One World Leader to vote by midnight tomorrow?’

‘Obviously.’ And the One World Leader could kiss her arse.

‘Sorry?’

‘Yes.’

‘And do you know the actions that will be taken should you fail to fulfil your requirement to vote?’

‘I understand.’

                                                                               ****

To be or not to be, that really was the fucking question. And she didn’t have an answer. She stood naked in the bathroom and shivered. Day three she didn’t have the balls to do what half the country had already had the balls to do. Filling the sink to the allocated water level, she dropped in two soap pellets. The clock was ticking, and if she did have balls, they’d be shrunk to the size of peanuts. The soap pellets fizzed for a couple of seconds then disappeared. Like the food, the soap didn’t smell of anything. If only her Mum was here to help with the big decision. But Ailith knew what she’d say. ‘Self-Elect. Human beings shouldn’t have the power to decide the fate of others.’ Or maybe that’s what Ailith wanted to believe. But her Mum didn’t have to make that choice, she’d died a year before they announced their plans. She plunged the sponge into the water and braced herself for the cold.

The door intercom buzzed then, Attention, Imogen A L Ahmed requires your attention. She wanted to ignore it but the buzzing set her nerves on edge, so she pulled her dressing gown around her and went to the door.

‘Oh Ailith, thank God you’re up.’ It was Imogen from next door. She squeezed past Ailith and walked into the living room.

‘Imogen, I haven’t even opened my curtains yet.’ Ailith said following her.

‘I’m sorry. I’ve walked past four times, I couldn’t wait any longer.’

‘What’s going on?’

‘It’s Raza. He’s…’ Imogen sat on the couch and dropped her head into her hands.

‘Talk to me.’ Ailith sat beside her and put an arm over her shoulder.

‘He’s going to self-elect.’ She let out a roar.

Fuck!’ Ailith took a deep breath, held it for five then slowly released, five, four, three, two, one.

‘He. Told. Me. This. Morning.’ She said in little breaths.

‘What about you and the kids?’

‘He’s doing it for our future. That’s what he told me’

‘What the hell?’

Imogen blew her nose into a tissue. ‘He’s been reading those stupid e-flyers again.’

‘The deep ecology stuff?’

She nodded.

‘Fucks sake. It’s all brain washing, they don’t even stand by their principles.’

‘So why does he read it? Raza’s not easily sucked in.’

Ailith shrugged her shoulders. She couldn’t understand why anyone would believe the shit they sent out. Or anything on the news. It was all bullshit. It was all – fake.

‘I’m so angry at him. And this self-elect bullshit has gone too far.’

‘You’re right, and we can’t do a bloody thing about it. The protesters are getting five years in prison now, did you know that?’

‘I heard.’ She looked up at Ailith. ‘What am I going to do?’

‘I’ll talk to him, okay?’

‘You can try, but I doubt he’ll listen. He not been the same since the deportation program took his Mum.’

Ailith took her friend’s hand. ‘It must be difficult for him.’

‘It is. He misses her so much. And now he thinks that Pakistan is going to vote for the elderly. That would pretty much wipe out his whole family. It’s not right Ailith. It’s just not right.’

After Imogen left, Ailith blew out the candle and opened the curtains. It was grey and damp outside and drops of moisture ran down the windows. She looked across the street tried to remember the sound of the big old Scots Pine’s that used to swish back and forth in the gap between Peter and Elaine’s house. Or how pretty the pink cherry blossom tree would look in Marion’s front garden in the spring. But it seemed like all the colour in the world had been wrung out. And amongst all the grey – was nothing but empty space. Empty or decayed. Decayed and silent. Ailith wrapped her arms around herself to stop the trembling. She was cold to the touch.

                                                                       ****

‘Come in Jimmy, you just missed Imogen. Poor buggers at her wit’s end.’

Jimmy lived two doors away. He nodded his head and shuffled past her. He stopped half way down the hall and groaned. ‘My bloody knees are killing me.’

Ailith followed him into the living room and helped him into the armchair. She took his stick and balanced it against the wall.

‘Have you eaten Jimmy?’

‘I had something, not that bloody Nutri-what’s-it-called stuff that they gave us. I can’t swallow it without gagging. I had something though, best leave it that, you don’t know who’s listening.’

‘Fair enough. Just remember to keep your strength up.’ Ailith knelt on the floor beside him. ‘I’ve got the leaflet on the tablet if you’re ready to go through it.’

She opened the OWL web page and felt instantly tense. The screen was filled with children wearing yellow sweatshirts reading, ‘Vote for our future.’

‘Are you ready for this?’

‘Hold on.’ He flipped the switch on the side of his glasses. ‘Okay, ready.’

‘Do you want me to read the jargon at the beginning? It’s just a lot of bollocks about how they are going to end world poverty and provide housing for everyone, and yadda, yadda, yadda.’

‘Are they going to sort out the food? It’s not right. I need meat in my diet. Or fish. Did I tell you I was a fisherman when I was a lad?’

‘Yeah, many times.’

‘I miss fish. Not as much as I miss meat, but God. I miss proper hot food, don’t you? You can’t even get a bag of chips anymore. Do you remember the chippy?’

‘I try not to think about it. They’ve said that once they’ve controlled the population, meat might be re- introduced.’

‘I should think so too.’ Jimmy scratched his beard. ‘And what about the heating? One hour a day isn’t enough, and I’d kill for a hot shower.’

‘Is that a bad joke Jimmy?’

‘Sorry, I never meant it like that.’

Ailith swiped the screen. ‘Right, here we go,’ she flicked past the introduction, ‘Population control is imperative for our survival, not only as a species but for all living creatures. Our ecosystem is depleting rapidly, the extinction of bees sped up this process far more rapidly than originally predicted.

‘The bees, who’d have thought.’

‘To protect the existence of our planet,’ she continued, ‘we must now realise our place on this earth, and that is as equals to our fellow creatures and to our land. Therefore, we must all play our role in the reduction of humans.’ Ailith gripped her hair in her hand. ‘Each country is required by OWL to reduce its population significantly. Your One World Leader has YOUR future in mind. After much consideration, we have decided that the groups nominated for the cull in your country are as follows.’ She looked to Jimmy who was biting his thumbnail.

‘Go on.’

‘Right.’ She took a deep breath. ‘Number one, All citizens above pensionable age as of October 2028. Number two, all prisoners with a sentence of five years or more. Number three, all citizens with a disability that prevents them from partaking in paid employment. Number four, all citizens who have been unemployed for five years or more and who have been proven to not be actively seeking work.’

‘Harsh,’ Jimmy said after the last one.

‘And obviously, there is the box for self-election.’

‘That’s a tough one eh lass?’ he shook his head, ‘And if we don’t vote?’

‘Enforced termination of life.’

                                                                   ****

‘World pollution is now being deemed as critical. In a not so distant future, the situation will become increasingly intolerable. It can be controlled, and perhaps even reversed; but we, at OWL, demand cooperation on a scale and intensity beyond anything achieved so far.’

Ailith turned off the T.V and gulped the last of her cup of tea. Such a waste. She preferred her tea ration in the morning, it kept the headaches at bay, especially on work days. Grabbing her coat and hat, she ran out the house.

The bus was full, and she had to stand. Her eyes were streaming from the cold and she felt a hand on her shoulder.

‘We’re all feeling it today dear.’

She turned around to see an elderly woman gripping onto the side of an empty seat.

‘Sit down lass; you look like you need it more than I do.’

‘No,’ she felt her face redden, ‘Honestly, I’m fine.’

‘Are you sure?’ she was already lowering herself back into the chair.

‘Check out the old dear trying to play the sympathy card.’ A voice shouted from the rear of the bus.

‘Fucking pensioners, I know who I’ll be voting for.’

‘Keep your opinions to yourself, idiot.’ Ailith took the woman’s hand. ‘I’m sorry.’

‘It’s okay dear,’ she squeezed Ailith’s hand, ‘I’ve had a lovely life. Five Grandchildren you know. I’ve voted already, you know, for the old ones.’

‘Grannie lover!’

The car park at the front of her work was full. Fucking customers, she thought, they never stop, they’re relentless. She stood outside the Amazon Superstore and watched the cars circling the car park. Customers were rushing to the front displays like flies on shit, for a special multi-pack of Nutri-fill with beef flavour, and this season’s plastic flowers. Ailith despised them all and their acceptance of everything fake. She shook her head and walked over to a small crowd, mostly men, gathered in front of the gazebo she had seen being erected a few days ago. Soldiers were handing out leaflets and chatting to the attentive audience. The gazebo was plastered in posters like, Be the Best. Self-Elect and Your Country Needs YOU. Self-Elect.

‘You’ve got to be kidding,’ she stared at a picture of a man in a wheelchair wearing a big smile and two thumbs up.

‘Are you going to do it?’ It was Taylor, one of her work colleagues.

‘I… I don’t know, I haven’t voted yet.’

‘I just did. I did it Ailith,’ he actually looks pleased. ‘They’re going to put my name in the book man. I’ll be a fucking hero.’

‘Seriously?’

‘Too right. Look at me, I’ve done absolutely fuck all with my life. I’m thirty-five years old and I’m nothing. I arrange plastic flowers for a living. At least this way I’ll be remembered. Taylor Smith. My name’s going down in history in that Big Red Book. I’ll be fucking celebrated. Taylor Smith saved the world.’

                                                                            ****
The lines at the checkouts were long. Ailith kept her head down and concentrated on the beep, beep of the scanner. It was hard to ignore the conversations at her checkout line though.

Broccoli flavoured curd. Beep.

‘Where are all these people coming from? You’d think it was the end of the world.’

Soap fizzers. Beep.

‘Probably dole scroungers. Gas the lot of them I say. I’m sick of paying for those lazy bastards.’

Nutri-fill. Beep.

‘I wish we could vote for two. Get rid of the scroungers and the rapists.’

‘Yeah, and put the old folk into the jails. They’ll get three meals a day, 3D T.V, top quality health care, they’ll be better looked after than they are in those old folk’s homes.’

Condoms. Beep.

Plastic roses. Beep.

Really? She looked up at a teenage lad who smiled and raised his eyebrows. She placed the items into the bag. Ribbed for her pleasure, bloody hell, how can he even get it up at a time like this?

‘Thirty-two credits please.’

He handed Ailith his ID card. She scanned it. Beep.

‘Thank you, Mr Douglas. Have a nice day and thank you for shopping at Amazon.’

                                                                        ****
Jessica was sitting on the doorstep when Ailith arrived home. She felt a lightness in her step, seeing her best friend. Jessica stood up and pulled Ailith in for a hug. They rocked back and forth.

Ailith held her at arm’s length, ‘It’s so good to see you.’ Although she did look tired.

‘Same. Sorry, I haven’t been around for a while, Mum’s not been keeping too well.’

‘Is it getting worse?’

‘Yeah, doctors have told her she’ll need a wheelchair soon.’

‘I’m sorry, Jessica.’

‘I’m glad you came around though, come on, let’s get inside, it’s freezing out here.’

‘Couldn’t let my bestie make the big decision on her own, could I?’

They went indoors and Ailith lit all the candles. Why not? Jessica kept her coat and hat on.

‘It’s cold in here,’ she breathed into her gloves, ‘I’m shaking.’

‘It’ll heat up soon. I saved the hours heating for tonight. Have you eaten?’

‘Yeah, before I left. Go ahead and have yours though.’

‘I’m not hungry.’ Ailith said but her stomach groaned. ‘I’d rather just get this over and done with.’

‘How was work?’

‘Busy. People are buying in bulk.’

‘Pretty normal under the circumstances, don’t you think?’

‘Absolutely not! This is the problem. Everybody’s going about like this shit is normal. It’s not. It’s fucking lunacy. But somehow they’ve managed to dumb down even the most rational of folk.’

‘People aren’t stupid Ailith, they’re scared.’

‘Yeah but rather than turning against the suits, they’re turning on each other. You want to have heard the shit an old wife had to take on the bus this morning.’

‘Yeah, it’s going on all over the place. There’s an autistic lass in our street. Got a brick through her window two nights ago.’

Ailith sighed.

‘Tensions are high. Probably something to do with all the Population Control Centre’s that have sprung up in the last year.’

‘But don’t you think it’s all a big fucking lie, Jessica? I mean, why not spend more money educating folk? Like, teach people how to live responsibly?’

‘They tried that though, then the bees happened.’

‘I reckon someone’s gaining from this shit.’

‘A conspiracy?’

‘And these population control centres though. It’s sick. It’s like the Nazis all over again. At least the self-elects get the dignity of euthanasia.’

‘Did you hear about Ronnie Coldwell?’ Jessica asked, taking her tablet from her bag.

Ailith noticed her hands trembling. ‘The actor?’

She nodded. ‘Self-elected, it was all over the news today.’

‘But he’s safe surely. He’s got enough credit to feed a small country.’

‘As safe as the fucking Royals, but said he can’t live in a world where people choose to murder other people.’

‘Jesus.’ Ailith felt like she was going to vomit. She turned on her tablet and felt like she was hovering just outside of her own consciousness. ‘Are you ready?’

‘Hold on.’ Jessica loaded the web page. ‘Yes.’ She held Ailith’s hand and tears run down her cheeks.

Ailith closed her eyes for a moment and just breathed. She let go of Jessica’s hand. ‘I’m scared.’

They both loaded the voting page.

‘Please scan your identification card into your device.’

Beep.

Beep.

Please scan your left index finger on the box provided. If you are unable to do so, please scan your left eye.

Beep.

Beep.

‘Please enter your passcode and answer the five security questions.’

‘Thank you. Please enter your vote now.’

Ailith let out a roar. ‘FUCKERS!’

                                                                           ****

October 2041

‘Welcome to One World Tonight, my name is Shannon McCallaghan, it’s the 30th of October 2041. Later in the show, we’ll be live at the opening of Cornton Vale Care – previously Cornton Vale prison – as 76 elderly residents move into the 50th G4S facility of its kind. This follows the outcome of the 2036 population control vote, that saw our population reduced by 15%. The One World Leader has today announced that the next stage of voting will commence early next year. How will you vote?’

Three Breaths

empty road with fog

Photo by Aleks Magnusson on Pexels.com

Three Breaths 

She breathed deep,
Jaggy at first,
And at her feet a pigeon pecked at pickings
While a bus shuddered close by –
Its doors folded open to the street.

She breathed out.

Her second breath was smoother,
And as people sped by
Hunkered under raincoats, rain tap tapping
In stereo around their ears,
The walking school bus
Marched hand in hand in high vis vests,
And she sat with cold bus-stop-feet.

She blew out an shivering  ‘oh.’

Her third breath was quiet
As still as the gap
Between the ‘Caw’ of the rook
And the flap of a pigeon’s wings.
Behind her a shop bell tinkled,
And the smell of baked bread
Hung as heavy as coffee in the air,
Warm and steady
Like her out breath.

She paused a while longer.
Watching a line of charcoal cloud
Make a bridge between two tenements blocks
While a buddleia swayed left and right
In an unused chimney pot.

Dedicated to Susie, from PauseandBreathe

Pushcart Prize Nomination

I was delighted to wake up to an email this morning telling me that Capsule Stories has nominated my short story, ‘Mother of Pearl,’ for the Pushcart prize. It is a wonderful feeling to have your hard work recognised by editors, it certainly takes the edge of those feelings of doubt.

Thank you to those who continue to support me in my journey.

A Letter To My Body Hair

To My Inner Bountiful Beast is a spoken word piece, an ode to my body hair. If you click on this LINK , you can watch/listen to me reading it.

close up photo of flowers on a person s left foot

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Pexels.com

To My Inner Bountiful Beast,
It’s been a while since we spoke, since I stroked the tips of my fingers over the waxy wires that poked through a hole in my ankle socks. Remember that time I accidentally paraded you around town, all frizzy and brown like twisted hazel on plump pink toes. Nobody saw my toe-nails, newly manicured and emerald green, or the obscene diamante studs that gleamed in the sunshine. No, my friend, they saw you, my bountiful beast. Oh, and how they laughed at you, they pointed and jeered, and I realised, I had become the woman I’d feared, half blind through middle age and apparently unkempt. Oh, how I wish I could have saved you, but (with my newly purchased reading glasses perched on the end of my nose) I chose the shave you as I bathed in the embarrassment of my day.
Well, as it turns out you’d been a follicle bursting bonanza, and not just in my socks, I found you creeping into crevice’s beneath my frock where even a yoga master might suggest that ‘before you rock into such places, consult a GP’. And little did I know, that the more I looked, the more I’d see. I found you in clumps on my knees, tiny little trees growing wild and free, I worried about overthrowing an entire eco system when you fell. And my beast, you did fall.
But I’m writing to say I’m sorry. I knew you’d be upset, and I didn’t bet on the permeance of the bald love heart shaved accidentally into my pubic parts. I didn’t bet on red raw arm pits, or the purple zits where a chin hair should be, I didn’t bet on the shame of fingers pointing at toes, or the woes of being caught wearing you, my bountiful beast. You see, it isn’t you, it’s me. Everything was fine when I couldn’t see, when you were free to be part of me. And you are part of me.
My inner bountiful beast. I wrote to tell you, I miss you.
Yours
E

Mother of Pearl

I am delighted that my short story, ‘Mother of Pearl,’ is now published in the Autumn edition of Capsule books. I have included an excerpt below and, if you like it, here is the link to purchase the full 106 page autumn edition – CapsuleBooksAutumnEdition.

capsule-stories-autumn-gloom

Picture credit capsulebooks.com autumn-gloom

 

Stanley Harrison Unwin Galloway was not supposed to die first.
Margo pulled the front door shut and hobbled out onto the veranda. She put her mug of hot tea onto the table then pulled out one of the plastic chairs. Fastening her fingers around the handles, she began to lower her fragile body on to the seat. She held her breath, knuckles white under the patio light, arms trembling, but her elbows buckled and gave way. She gasped. Her bottom hit the seat with a thud. The chair skidded backwards – with Margo holding on for dear life – and its four legs scraped the concrete, ripping a roar into the night. She sat rigid, her heart thumping hard in her chest. She blew out a long whistling sigh. Clumsy old fool. A large brown moth tapped the light above her head. She watched as it hovered and tapped and hovered then dived, down towards her face. Unfastening her fingers from the chair, she swiped the air. The moth darted back into the light. Shug would have scolded her for swiping the moth, “God created this world for all living creatures, not just the pretty ones.”
“Oh Shug,” she wrapped her arms around her chest. Her shoulders shook and tears welled in her eyes. She coughed out her sorrow in a whisper.
“Stanley Harrison Unwin Galloway, you were not supposed to die first.”
She wiped her tears on the sleeve of her dressing gown and inhaled the night. Autumn had begun to creep into the corners of the garden in little cold curls, and the air smelled of damp foliage and chimney soot. Margo looked out into the darkness and saw the moon, a white eyelash resting on a purple blanket.
The tea was hot. Margo held the mug to her chest and twirls of steam rose into the air, dampening her face. She turned away and caught her reflection in the patio window. How time had altered her face, it used to be so soft and smooth but now it hung in folds of sagging flesh. And those lips – sucked dry into a shrivelled line. She swept a strand of hair that had blown onto her cheek and tucked it behind her ear. How she missed her long fiery curls, her most defining feature back in the day. Now her hair was as grey as the chimney smoke chugging the air. Shug had barely noticed her changing though. “You’re bonnier than the sunset o’er the Forth of Firth,” he’d say, “as bonny now, as the day we met.” Shug had gone grey first. He was only twenty-three when it happened. In a single year, Shug’s hair transformed from bold black into fading grey. It was the year after Pearl died.

 

Consoling Miss Fermor – in Alexander Pope’s ‘Rape of the Lock’

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Alexander Pope wrote the first edition of Rape of the Lock in 1711, after persuasion from his friend John Caryll. Caryll, who was once guardian to Lord Petre, discovered that the Lord had cut a lock of hair from the head of Arabella Fermor, thus causing a rift between the two families. [1] Pope wrote the poem in a humorous attempt to mend the rift. In 1714 Pope expanded the original poem which became a five-canto mock epic (Gurr, p.5).
In predicting the hostility that he may have encountered from Miss Fermor over the content of the newly extended version, Pope explained to her in a letter that, ‘The ancient poets are in some respects like many modern ladies; let an action be never so trivial in itself. They always make it appear of utmost importance.’ [2] The purpose of the letter was to clarify to Miss Fermor that the newly adapted version of Rape of the lock was an exaggeration of the earlier incident. Considering this, I would suggest that Pope purposely refuted the customary disciplines of feminine behaviour in the early eighteenth century, within Rape of the lock, in order to restore Miss Fermor’s pride.

The female role was a performance taken very seriously in the early Eighteenth century. Women were encouraged to follow codes of conduct. ‘Codes of civility and courtesy were a matter of active practice, generating their own concepts, values and behaviours which could then be deployed as a set of power relations.’ [3] These behaviours included modesty, sociability and humbleness. Silence and obedience were also essential during this period, unless stimulated by a man. Chastity was a value which was not only desirable to men, but a marital attraction. [4] Rousseau suggested that, ‘One no longer dares to appear what one is.’ [5] Furthermore, women were encouraged to conduct themselves with virtue and an ability to talk knowledgably. [6] Knowledge may have been problematic for women, as education for many females was not encouraged. As a result, a female’s only profession was that of wife and mother. Women were described as a tender and weaker sex and trusted that men should be their stronger counterpart. [7]

The above illustration of female behaviour was ridiculed by Pope in Rape of the Lock, whose portrayal of Belinda, both mimicked the correct behaviour in which society deemed suitable yet, at the same time, furnished her with opposing qualities such as, strength, power, and intelligence, this often resulted in rebellious behaviour.
Pope began to represent these characteristics through his metaphoric use of the sun.

Sol thro’ white curtains shot a tim’rous ray;
And ope’d those eyes that must eclipse the day; (1.13-14)

The rhyming couplet not only exemplified the beauty of Belinda’s eyes but suggested that, she was in fact bigger, or more powerful that the sun. The metaphor continues,

Bright as the sun, her eyes the gazers strike,
And, like the sun, they shine on those alike. (2.13-14)

Along with the theme of beauty and power, Pope created a sense of irony at the end of the couplet when he wrote that Belinda’s eyes ‘shine on those alike’, these words demonstrate that it was Pope’s illusion to describe Belinda as a goddess yet he demonstrated a humbler side to the lady, who believes herself as an equal to those persons around her. Many critics fail to see the irony in Rape of the lock such as Cleanth Brooks, ‘is Belinda is a goddess, or is she merely a frivolous tease? [8] Pope created the illusion within the poem to generate such controversy. However, Brooks does go on to suggest that the sun metaphor may be interpreted in many ways, one of which suggests, that Belinda gives her generosity ‘like a great prince’. (Brooks, p.140). This ironic comment clarifies the opposing feminine qualities in which Pope demonstrated.

The poet continued to exemplify Belinda’s strength of character in canto one, when her maid Betty and the sylphs (Mystical beings) prepared their ‘goddess’ for her day ahead.

And now unveil’d, the toilette stand display’d,
Each Silver vase in mystic order laid. (1.121-148)

Although it may be argued that the presentation of the items on Belinda’s toilet were a representation of consumerism, these items would have been common in the period in which the poem was written. In the early 18th century the rapid growth of the British economy, resulted in an increase in consumerism. [9] Watkins suggested, that the elaborate beautification of Belinda only served to tempt the Baron to cut off the lock of hair,’ (Watkins, p.257). However, on closer inspection of this scene, Belinda’s transformation was in fact a mask that gave her strength in the outside world.

Now awful beauty puts on all its arms (1.139)

Pope deliberately wrote this line to be interpreted in several ways. Firstly, the word awful could be understood as creating awe; however, the actual meaning of the word signifies that Belinda saw her mask as a disguise from her real identity. The second part of the sentence, ‘put on all its arms’, suggests that Pope was arming Belinda for battle. The mere proposal of a fight, in which Belinda was willing to confront, allowed great strength and character.

Canto two set the scene for Belinda’s voyage along the Thames. Pope took the opportunity within this scene to enchant his readers with clear descriptions of Belinda’s beauty. However, his narrative of the silver cross in which she wore around her neck, served several purposes;

On her white breast a sparkling cross she wore
Which Jews might kiss, and infidels adore (Canto 2.7-8)

The cross, from Pope’s perspective, was a symbol of worship which, in the early 18th century was highly contentious. Pope himself was a Roman catholic and was raised during a time in which a Protestant monarchy held the throne. Catholics at this time were disadvantaged and treated at foreigners and, as a result, were forbidden from public schools and universities and could not live within the city of London. [10] Pope adorned Belinda with the silver cross to expose her rebellious nature as well as mock the political doctrines in which his religion had been compelled. (Hernandez, p.580) suggested that ‘Pope, on the contrary, looks on the ‘Goddess’ with uncharacteristic sympathy for the period.’ Hernandez was denoting that the cross was merely a commodity for Belinda. However, the cross bared such significance that the very use of it suggests power in its beholder.

Strength and rebellion were only a few of the characteristics that Pope displayed in Belinda’s role within the poem. He also portrayed her as an intelligent woman by displaying, in her possession, items of literature.

Puffs, Powders, Patches, Bibles, Billet-doux (Canto 1-138)

Payne proposed that the two items (Bible and love letter) should ‘give us cause for hesitation, but the diction Pope uses in describing the objects, as well as the lady in question, makes them without a doubt subversively charming indeed.’ [11] Payne recognised that Pope was using these items to enhance the character of Belinda. Pope intended to have his audience take into consideration that Belinda could read, which as discussed at the beginning of this essay was unlikely for a female in this era.

Moreover, Belinda was also a skilful card player. Pope wrote this scene at Hampton court to introduce Belinda and the Baron.

Belinda now, whom thirst of fame invites,
Burns to encounter two adventurous knights (3.26-27)

In the first line of the couplet, Pope addressed Belinda’s ambition to win. This also gave Pope the opportunity to put Belinda into direct competition with the Baron. Not only did Pope introduce a battle of sexes, but Belinda was playing against two ‘Adventurous Knights.’ She dominated the game with her skill and intelligence, overthrowing the knights. Wimsatt, who reconstructed the card game Ombre in his essay, said that ‘appearance or probability, is what has a bearing on the elements of skill and fate in this game of Ombre and hence on its dramatic and poetic interpretation. [12] Wimsatt was implying that Ombre is not a difficult game, yet for an eighteenth-century female who had little or no education, Belinda proved to be a highly competent player and she dominated the game with her skill and intelligence, overthrowing the knights.

The pinnacle of the Popes exploration of Female sexuality occurred when the Baron, cut the lock of hair from Belinda’s head. Belinda’s first reaction was to shriek in horror, which would have been an improper response for a lady in the eighteenth century. It was at this point in the poem that Pope introduced the caves of spleen. The fictional representation of the underworld, explained how Pope believed Miss Fermor to have felt when her lock of hair was stolen. According to Lillian Feder, the caves of spleen are ‘often cited as evidence of Popes interest in libidinous drives and blind compulsions.’ [13]  Although this may be an alternative perception of the poem, the main purpose of Spleen was to arm Belinda with the necessary courage to fight back against the Baron. Pope also wanted to invite his audience to accept that the incident had caused Miss Fermor a great deal of sorrow and pain. This scene allowed Pope to give Belinda a voice;

For ever curs’d be this detested day (4.147)

Her speech continued to describe how she wished that she had stayed at home, for she knew in her heart that something bad was going to happen. It was not Pope’s intention to address Belinda as a weak character during this speech, but rather a conscientious woman who made great effort to fulfil her female role. Yet the final canto in Rape of the Lock defined Belinda as the strong, powerful and rebellious character that Pope designed in order to maintain Miss Fermor’s reputation. Belinda fought back against the Baron and threw snuff in his face, at which point the Baron sneezed and lost the lock of hair. Pope ended the poem in a ceremonial style by celebrating the lock of hair and sending it to the stars. This ending, for the benefit of Miss Fermor, was to assure her that she would become as well known as the poem, therefore, the poem had served its purpose in reinstating her reputation. Throughout the poem, Pope protected the reputation of Belinda’s Chastity. Critics such as Reichard believed that the plot of the poem was ‘a contest of wiles between commanding personalities – an uninhibited philanderer and an invincible flirt,’ [14] this opinion does not demote Belinda’s character for she was merely representing an eighteenth-century woman by flirting with a gentleman. Her virtue and chastity remained intact.

The evidence of Pope’s desire to reinstate Miss Fermor’s reputation may have resided in the original title of the poem ‘Rape of the Locke’. For Pope, the word ‘Locke’ was a pun to describe the philosopher John Locke, who opposed the practice of Catholicism. This contained not only mockery but is a parody of John Locke’s theory of the state of nature. In his Two Treaties of Government 1689, Locke wrote,

Though the earth, and all inferior creatures be common to all men, yet every man has a property in his own person. This no body has any right to but himself. The labour of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his. Whatsoever then he removes out of the state of nature hath provided, and left in it, he hath mixed his labour with, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property. [15]

This ironic evidence clarifies that the lock of hair was in fact the property of Belinda, yet when the Baron put his labour into the cutting of the lock; it therefore became his property, thus, justifying that Lord Petre’s actions were merely a misunderstanding which, once again reinstates the reputation of Miss Fermor.

It is evident throughout Rape of the Lock that Pope alternated the characteristics of Belinda to complement Arabella Fermor. His depiction of feminine conduct was inconsistent within the context of its period, yet he allowed the ill-fitting gender stereotype to form the foundation of his poem. Pope hoped that the reader of his time would therefor see the illusion that he created. Although the construction of the poem and the remaining characters may have produced alternative criticisms and interpretations of Pope’s intention, this essay provided an explanation of why the character of Belinda was written at such a contradictory way in comparison to eighteenth century femininity, concluding that its purpose was simply to console Miss Fermor.

***

Bibliography

Brooks, C, ‘The case of Miss Arabella Fermor’, in Alexander Pope, The Rape of the Lock, A selection of Critical essays, ed. By John Dixon Hunt (London: Macmillan and Company Limited, 1969) [8]

Dutton, R, ed., Alexander Pope A Literary Life (London: The Macmillan Press, 1990) [10]

Erickson, A.L, ‘Women and Property: In Early Modern England (Routledge: London, 1993) [4]

Feder, L, Madness in Literature (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1980) [13]

Hernandez, E, ‘Commodity and Religion in Pope’s The Rape of the Lock’, Studies in English Literature – 1500-1900, 48 (2008) [9]

Jones, R.W, ‘Gender and the Formation of Taste in the Eighteenth Century Britain (Cambridge: The Press Sydicate of the University of Cambridge, 1998) [6]

Locke, J, ‘Two Treaties of Government’, ed., P.Laslett; (Cambridge University Press,1988) , in Political Ideologies, ed., Mathew Festenstein and, Michael Kenny (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005) [15]

Payne, D.C ‘Pope and the War against Coquettes: or Feminism and ‘The Rape of the Lock’ Reconsidered- Yet Again, The Eighteenth Century, 32 (1991) [11]

Reichard, H. M ‘The Love Affair in Pope’s The Rape Of The Lock’ in Alexander Pope The Rape of the Lock, A selection of critical essays, ed., John Dixon Hunt (London: Macmillan and Company Limited, 1969) [14]

Rogers,P, ed., Alexander Pope The major works, (Oxford:Oxford University Press, 2006) [2]

Rousseau, J.J, ‘Discourse on the Arts and Sciences, or first discourse’ (1750) in) in L.Brace, ‘Improving the Inside: Gender, property and the 18th century self’, British Journal of Politics and International Relations, 12 (2010) [5]

Ward,A.W, ed., M.A, Litt.D, The Poetical works of Alexander Pope, (London:Macmillan and Co, Limited, 1930) [1]

Williams,C.D.’The Luxury of Doing Good: Benevolence, Sensibility and the Royal Humane Society (1996) in L.Brace, ‘Improving the Inside: Gender, property and the 18th century self’, British Journal of Politics and International Relations, 12 (2010) [3]

Wimsatt, W.K and Source, J.R ‘The Game of Ombre in Rape of the Lock,’ The Review of English Studies, New Series, 1 (1950) [12]

Wipprecht, C, ‘The Representation of Women in Early 18th Century England’ (Druck Und Binding :Norderstedt, 2006) [7]

 

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