Before Depression
1660 - 1800

'Mere Despair: Alexander Pope and the Death of Hope'

Professor Allan Ingram (University of Northumbria)

Pope's poetry is filled with examples of individuals in despair and, indeed, in states of mind where suicide would seem the only logical next step. Some, like the ‘Unfortunate Lady’ and like Cato, have taken that step, but others – and Eloisa in ‘Eloisa to Abelard’ is a supreme example – use their despair to energise other emotions. Pope’s own tendency is to evade full engagement with the intimacies of despair in his poetry, sometimes even turning it to satiric purposes. Above all, though, his writing of despair and suicide is undertaken as part of a literary tradition that goes back to Milton and to Spenser and to the classical period and with an awareness of the Christian faith, and of Roman Catholicism in particular, where self-slaughter is one of the ultimate sins.

This lecture is now available to download as MP3 file

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