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!