Review: Carol Ann Duffy’s The World’s Wife

I read this collection of poems a couple of years ago now, but the following two have always been more memorable to me. Remembering them while walking down the road, something I see triggers my memory. There are 30 poems in Duffy’s anthology, but these seem to really capture aspects of female life that are completely different and comparing them together offers . The poems are adaptations of famous historical male figures that have been changed to reveal a female opinion. Wives, daughters, mothers, sisters, goddesses and fariytale figures all feature in the poetry.

The Worlds Wife

The first is Little Red Cap, which is the first in the collection. I particularly liked this because of the reversal of roles, Little Red Cap is in control, she seeks out the wolf for her own pleasure. She uses him to help her become an adult, he buys her her first drink. At the end of the poem when she no longer needs him, she kills him. Instead of being the sweet little girl in the fable, she is empowered and she enjoys the appeal of an older wolf. Their sexual relationship  is one of exploration, she uses him to develop as a person, he teaches her about life, poetry and love; all things that she wanted as a child.

The poem seems to be a journey of love, her love of poetry allows her to find the wolf but it also helps to write the poem. The wolf’s lair is full of language, books and passion. Little Red Cap for me, seems to represent the curiosity of young girls on the cusp of adulthood. They are interested in experiences, in adventure, in all things that she should not have. Her love of adventure allows her to be brave and accept the wolfs first drink, then to follow him home. In comparison to the Brother Grimm’s tale however, she is not left helpless and powerless, she takes her life into her own hands when she realises that the wolf is no longer enough to satisfy her curiosity and appetite. She kills him “one chop, scrotum to throat” and in doing so she not only liberates herself but she also prevents the wolf from praying on other young girls.

In comparison to Little Red Cap is my favourite poem Mrs Darwin: 

7 April 1852
Went to the Zoo.
I said to Him—
Something about that Chimpanzee over there reminds me of you.

Th simplicity of this poem is what I love about it most. The suggestion that Charles Darwin’s most important work The Origin of Species is only a discussion of something that has always been noticeably apparent to others just seems to demean his work. Now I am a fan of Darwin and his theory of evolution, but in this poem the combination of the simple rhyme, short lines and form just seem to completely undermine his work. Also the poem written in the form of a diary entry relates to the main medium of communication Darwin used. He recorded all his findings in his diaries and journals while he was travelling on the Beagle and it makes sense that his wife would have too.

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One thought on “Review: Carol Ann Duffy’s The World’s Wife

  1. Hi,
    There seems to be a typo:
    ‘Now I am a fan of Darwin and her theory of evolution’
    It should be ‘his’ and not ‘her’ because the theory was Darwin’s not his wife’s.

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