Day 564: Literary Wives: The World’s Wife

Today is another posting for Literary Wives, where a group of bloggers get together to discuss the same book about wives and invite others to join in the conversation. Please take a look at the reviews of the other members, listed below.

Cover for The World's WifeMy Review

My relationship with poetry is not so comfortable that I expect to burst out laughing when reading it. But that’s exactly what I did several times when reading The World’s Wife.

This book contains a clever, brilliant collection of poems united by a single conceit. Duffy looks at legendary figures, that is, some figures of myth and fairy tale and a few from real life, from the points of view of their wives. Occasionally, male figures become females. In any case, the result is to turn the myth, be it legendary or real, on its head.

The first time I laughed out loud was when reading the Poem “from Mrs. Tiresius.” Regrettably, I did not know who Tiresius was, so I looked him up. It turns out he was a blind prophet who managed to offend Hera, so she turned him into a woman. In the poem, when Tiresius comes back as a woman, his wife at first tries to help him, takes him shopping, teaches him to blow-dry his hair.

Then he started his period.

One week in bed.
Two doctors in.
Three painkillers four times a day.

That’s when Mrs. Tiresius loses patience, and I laughed.

These poems are cheeky, earthy, inventive, and sometimes extremely powerful. Although many of the wives view their men’s activities with cynicism, the poems are not always so, as in the beautiful sonnet called “Anne Hathaway,” in which Hathaway fondly remembers the activities that took place in the second best bed. I love this book.

What does this book say about wives or the experience of being a wife? In what way does this woman define “wife”—or in what way is she defined by “wife”?

Literary Wives logoThere are 30 poems in this collection, each of them from the point of view of a different woman. The most common viewpoint is a certain cynicism about the wives’ husbands or their activities, but that is by no means true of every poem. In many, though, the man or the love of man is a source of pain.

At first, Penelope looks for her husband and waits for him to come home. Then she gets involved in her embroidery and meets his return with a certain dismay. Mrs. Sisyphus laments that ever since he started pushing that stone up the hill, he’s been ignoring her for his work. Mrs. Midas cannot believe the greed and stupidity that made her husband wish for something that keeps him from eating or touching her ever again. Mrs. Aesop is bored stiff by her husband’s constant platitudes. Naive Little Red Cap let the wolf seduce her with poetry, but ten years later she sees he is a dog with no new tricks.

Some of the poetry can be somewhat misandrist, and most of it ends in some sort of triumph for the woman, occasionally one that is gruesome.

The Wives

Be sure to read the reviews and comments of the other wives!

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18 thoughts on “Day 564: Literary Wives: The World’s Wife

  1. Cathy746books August 4, 2014 / 7:42 am

    I love these poems so much, I also saw a stage adaptation starring the great Linda Marlowe. Well worth catching.

    • whatmeread August 4, 2014 / 7:44 am

      Really? That sounds great! I would love to hear some of these read by a real professional!

      • Cathy746books August 4, 2014 / 7:46 am

        The show has toured pretty regularly for several years and may do again. It’s interesting to see the women brought to physical life and it”s surprisingly funny!

      • whatmeread August 4, 2014 / 7:47 am

        I hadn’t heard about it or this book until someone in Literary Wives picked it. I will see if I can find out about the performance. Thanks!

  2. Emily J. August 4, 2014 / 10:59 am

    Tiresias is pretty funny as a woman! I loved that poem too, and ditto on laughing out loud through this whole book. It was a great read! I like your insight about loving a man being the source of pain. I would guess this could be true for every woman, on different levels and scales. Not all men are jerks, but women certain sacrifice for relationships in ways that I’m not sure men do as frequently or as often. But that’s not to say that men don’t experience pain. They do. And we could conversely say that loving a woman can lead to pain as well.

    • whatmeread August 4, 2014 / 11:13 am

      That is definitely true, although not MY husband! (Just kidding.) I know that Lynn felt a little more negatively about the violence and the kind of feminism reflected in the poems, but even though I don’t have the same kind of feelings about men, I thought the poems were great in the way they make you re-evaluate these legendary figures.

      • Cecilia August 4, 2014 / 3:42 pm

        I’m glad that people are mentioning the sort of more negative type of feminism in the collection. I felt the “zing” as well and I do not think of men in the same way but like you, Kay, I did set that aside and enjoyed the ride. I thought it was a very clever collection of poems – very witty. What a poet Carol Ann Duffy is! I would be interested in reading more from her.

      • whatmeread August 4, 2014 / 5:04 pm

        Yes, me too!

  3. Carolyn O August 4, 2014 / 8:21 pm

    I am so thrilled that you liked this book! I think it’s also worth mentioning, though I didn’t think to in my review, that Carol Ann Duffy is gay — and yet the people she chooses to write about aren’t. So interesting.

    • whatmeread August 5, 2014 / 7:43 am

      I’m not surprised about that at all, but I agree that it is very interesting.

  4. Carolyn O August 4, 2014 / 8:21 pm

    At least not in this collection; it’s different in others.

  5. Naomi August 4, 2014 / 8:23 pm

    You guys are making this sound like so much fun!

  6. Lynn August 4, 2014 / 9:27 pm

    Like you, Kay, I did appreciate the ultimate irony of turning these tales “on their heads,” as you state. I am a real wuss when it comes to violence, hence my aversion to that part of Duffy’s poems in this work, however, she is quite a talented wordsmith!

    • whatmeread August 5, 2014 / 7:44 am

      I found some of her poems surprising in that regard (how violent they were). In a way I disagreed with some of it, but for some I could see how a certain amount of frustration could build up to it.

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