Book Review – The World’s Wife by Carol Ann Duffy



I first encountered Carol Ann Duffy in the same way the vast majority of people have by having studied her poetry as part of my GCSE Studies when I was aged 14 to 16. The poems I learnt about were all extracted from her poetry collection ‘The World’s Wife’; in truth the majority of the poetry I studied at GCSE has been filtered out of my brain by time and the requirement to fit other stuff in.

The poems I loved in my youth that I clung to though were Duffy’s. so when I came across her full collection year later my heart began yearning to read what I had loved so much once again and to discover more. I can whole heartedly say that having now read the collection from cover to cover that I am unlikely to ever find a collection of poetry that I will ever favour more than ‘The World’s Wife’. That might sound really sappy but poetry unlike prose has a way of connecting to a person much more deeply than any other art form, or at least it does for me.

The premise of the collection appeals to two different passions of mine; history and feminism. The entire collection is about the partners of the World’s famous men, and how the women of their lives coped and propped them up. I read through the poems and smile as a little part of Greek mythology or scientific history crops up, and is re-imagined from the viewpoint of the women who would have been there, but have been forgotten if they weren’t just ignored to start with.

I cannot possibly discuss all of the poems in the book and why they are brilliantly fascinating to digest; I love them all but there are a few I’ve noticed that I think about that random moments in my everyday life.

Mrs. Darwin’s comment on visiting a zoo with her husband, and notes how much the monkey looks like him is one of the shortest poems in the book but is quintessentially brilliant as an observation that a rare new insights into how the world works come from such simple ideas.

Mrs. Icarus can be sympathised with by the majority of people in a relationship, as she notes that our partners in life, while we love them, might not always be the cleverest of people and might on occasion prove that in public.

Mrs Tiresias is one of those ones that ruffles up my feminism feathers. Tiresias was a man who was transformed into a woman; the poem from his wife’s perspective is a clever re-telling that highlight the struggles that women go through on a daily basis that men do not understand; well a one suffering from menstrual pain for the first time is certainly amusing. But it is his transformation into a feminist now that he as a woman knows how we feel that grates on Mrs Tiresias nerves and mine because he should have tried to understand before anyway. It isn’t just women who are feminists.

I think that the one I think about the most though is Thetis; the poem is beautiful and descriptive as Thetis transforms herself in order to escape and hide from men who are seen as a destructive force. The poem is about the danger that men pose to women, a sad truth that many women in this world still have to live in fear of on a daily basis. Her transformations get more and more inventive, but she is then eventually caught and turned into a mother. In mythology her transformation into a mother meant she then became a defender of men, of her son Hercules, rather than a women fighting to be freed from the patriarchy.

Her own son changes her perspective on men and because she stops fighting it means it just justifies their actions and there dominance. I admittedly had to do a bit of background research for that particular poem, but once i had learnt the tale behind it I can’t help but feel empowered by it; that i should never let inequality defeat me, even if i do one day have a son. I should instead raise him to be a feminist as well.

The messages in Duffy’s collection are deceptively clever and powerful. This collection will resonate with me forever.


One response »

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Poems That Make Grown Women Cry | A Young Writer's Notebook

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