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While her station as an invisible observer puts Sylphid beyond the power of a reciprocal gaze, her ability to assume visible forms allows her to impose upon the vision of others.
While this resume literalizes the misogynist commonplace that woman is an ephemeral form of vicious insect life, it also presents Sylphid's descent into self-depreciating forms as a corrective strategy reminiscent of emblem literature.
Although Sylphid's assumption of insect forms typically imposes upon the perspectives of men, the most telling index of Robinson's response to Pope appears in Sylphid's description of her encounter with a "gay coquet," a generic form of Pope's Belinda.
(21) While the Sylphid's rather bizarre reverse metamorphosis may certainly be read as a fanciful, highly theatrical enactment of Robinson's own transformation from stage beauty to impoverished invalid, I think there can be little question that it also reverses Pope's account of cyprian metamorphosis.
Robinson's Sylphid continues to define herself in opposition to Pope by implicitly identifying his model of trivial and capricious sylph-hood with a "distorted Sylph" named Fashion, the rival of Taste.
Insofar as Robinson's contemporaries also knew her as the subject of portraits by Reynolds and as the author of Monody to the Memory of Sir Joshua Reynolds (1792), they could hardly have missed the equally flattering implications of Sylphid's assertions that it was the privilege of Taste "to illumine the mind of British Reynolds!
This distinction is especially problematic insofar as Sylphid's efforts to align herself with Taste never quite cancel out her resemblance to the mercurial form of Fashion.
Although Robinson's Sylphid purposively dissociates herself from the worst connotations of caprice by repeatedly calling herself "indefatigable," "trusty," and "faithful," it is never quite clear how the mercurial nature of Fashion is different from that of the shape-changing Sylphid or the name-changing Robinson.
As Sylphid defines herself in opposition to Fashion, for example, one gets the distinct impression that Robinson is working to dissociate herself and her Sylphid from the ill-repute of the Della Cruscan poets, which whom she was commonly associated.
The pattern begins with her assumption of the Sylphid persona itself, one that seems to validate damaging gender stereotypes as well as damning judgments that her work was "light and shewy," as one reviewer put it.
Sylphid's invisibility becomes equally problematic as she describes her departure from the opulent home of a female votary of Fashion explicitly compared to Pope's Belinda:
Here is the strongest evidence that Robinson deliberately courts dangerous comparisons only to dismiss them through a rhetoric of opposition that reinforces Sylphid's elevated station and values.
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- SYLK file
- Sylla, Lucius Cornelius
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- Syllabic Versification
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- Syllabotonic Versification
- Syllabus of Errors
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