Carol Ann Duffy’s The World’s Wife (1999) takes a very common relationship – that of man and wife – and presents a collection of poetic monologues from the perspective of the wife. Written on the pretext, ‘If his wife could speak, what would she say’, Duffy’s monologues gives a voice to women who are usually defined by their men. Thus we hear from the wives of famous, and infamous, men such as Mrs Darwin, Pilate’s wife, Mrs Aesop, Queen Herod and Frau Freud. Many of the poems in this collection offer an insight into heterosexual relationships often exposing the abusiveness (‘Mrs Quasimodo’), emotional aridity (‘Delilah’), cruelty (‘Mrs Pilate’), sexual immaturity (‘Pygmalion’s Bride’) and infidelity (‘Medusa’). With close reference to two poems from this collection; ‘Mrs Van Winkle’ and ‘Mrs Faust’, this seminar aims to explore how heterosexuality is represented by Duffy.
Before we discuss how heterosexuality is presented it is imperative to offer a definition. Heterosexuality is sexual orientation or activity to persons of the opposite sex. It is a category divided by gender and that the roles of each gender are socially constructed and dictated. Of course, this is somewhat simplistic and generalized but nevertheless it provides a useful starting point to analyzing Duffy’s attitude and her representation of heterosexuality. Without a doubt The World’s Wife presents a break from conventional attitudes toward heterosexuality. Indeed, both of the poems I will discuss celebrate emotions that Avril Homer coined ‘outlaw emotions’ . ‘Outlaw emotions’ being defined as those emotions which are distinguished by their incompatibility with the dominant perceptions and values of society.
Sexual enjoyment and companionship are generally considered important cornerstones of a heterosexual relationship. However, in the poem ‘Mrs Van Winkle’ male companionship is seen to thwart the wife’s freedom (remember,