The Historical And Romantic Aspects Of Pope’s “Eloisa To Abelard”

1683 words - 7 pages

It can be said that Alexander Pope’s epic “Eloisa to Abelard” was a poem like no other. Based on the love letters exchanged between the two, Pope’s poem was rooted in physical historical evidence. But by taking the side of Eloise and her unrequited love for Abelard, Pope begins to tread in new waters. Furthermore, although before his time, there are elements of romanticism sprinkled throughout the poem dealing with individualism, nature, and strong emotion. By reading the letters, and in this paper meaning all letters attributed to the real life Abelard and Heloise, the reader can see the literary romantic semblance between the historical artifacts and Pope’s poem as well as discover that quite possibly that Pope was in fact the genius grandfather to the later romantic period.
The Oxford English Dictionary, fondly known as the OED, defines the word romantic as fantastic, extravagant, quixotic and going beyond what is customary of practical. But in contrast, the OED claims that romance is, “A fictitious narrative in prose of which the scene and incidents are very remote from those of ordinary live; esp. one of the class prevalent in the 16th and 17th centuries, in which the story is often overlaid with long disquisitions and digressions.” In regard to Heloise in Pope’s “Eloisa to Abelard”, she relays her extravagant and fantastic emotions she holds for her Abelard to an unknown author when she wrote, “The well sung woes will sooth my pensive ghost; He best can paint ‘em, who shall feel ‘em the most” (ln. 365-366). Likewise, in the historical letters to Abelard, Heloise often goes to the extreme and analyzes Abelard’s addresses to her at the beginning of each letter. At one point Abelard addresses a letter as, “To her only one after Christ, she who is his alone in Christ,” (Radice, 127). In reply she asks why he would put a female name in front of such a superior as Jesus Christ. His reply, summed up, was that putting her name there as a sign of superiority, and to him, Abelard, she was superior above all things. It is safe to say that both were extravagant and romantic given the words exchanged between the two lovers.
But Pope, dealing with such strong feelings as was Heloise’s, portrayed his Eloise in a very romantic way before romanticism even became a movement. According to the Continuum Encyclopedia of British Literature, romanticism, “at its most basic level points to a response to the epistemic and ontological assumptions of the Enlightenment, and a mistrust of the limits of reason, “(Continuum, 1). Here epistemic meaning the validation of knowledge and ontological meaning a branch of metaphysics dealing in nature, this version of romanticism suggests that Pope used the knowledge of the historical letters and used metaphysics as a way to relate Heloise’s emotional surge of a love lost onto his readers. More plainly, as the encyclopedia suggests, the Romantic Movement, “explored the notions of what it means to be human,” which is exactly...

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