10 Books of Summer 2013 – The World’s Wife


The World’s Wife is as crafty and powerful as the imagined female rulers featured in the collection. 

On Wednesday, I introduced The World’s Wife and if you haven’t read it yet, that introduction can be found here, along with links to each poem from the collection.

My discussion today is broken down into three questions and I’ll be addressing these in a moment, but first I want to talk about why I chose this book. I’d heard a lot about The World’s Wife over the last couple of years and somewhere along the way, I picked up a copy, though I’d never got around to actually reading it.

I’ve got a lot of books. Most of them are hiding out at my parents’ house, though at any one time, I’ll have two or three hundred under my own roof.  I always aim to include some poetry. It’s great to have a book you can dip in or out of and still get a really thorough sense of satisfaction or emotion out of a five minute read. This is a really valuable connection to the literary world for someone who, like myself, is working full time.

When it came to looking over the books I had and deciding which I wanted to share with you, I considered a lot of options from Camus’ The Outsider to Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. The books I considered all had one thing in common: they were short. It may surprise some of those who know me best, but a poetry collection hadn’t crossed my mind and I had independently decided that this Summer I would finally read The World’s Wife. 

It only took a couple of pages and I knew that this was the book I wanted to share with you. I’d heard that The World’s Wife was a feminist criticism of our very male heavy history books and a liberation of women, past and present. I’d heard that The World’s Wife was a celebration of women and their powerful influence on the world. I’d heard a lot of words like ‘feminism’ and ‘role-reversal’, but what I hadn’t heard was this:

The World’s Wife is a fun and imaginative read.

This is a book which is cheeky, accessible and most of all fun. It’s an easy and enjoyable read for the summer and it doesn’t ask or insist on your reading beyond the surface. If you’ve not taken a look already, go read a poem or two and I’m sure they’ll make you smile. For those who want to get a little more out of the book, here are those questions again, and my answers. Please feel free to add your own below or to bring new questions into the discussion. 

1. What impact does the balance of historical and mythological figures have on the collection? Do you feel this reflects the balance between the seriousness and frivolity of Duffy’s critique on the role of women in society?

What I love about the mix of historical and fantastical figures is the feeling that any of these could be just as real as the next. Duffy imbues a sense of ‘normalcy’ into her voices and they are women we can both imagine and connect with; we can sympathise with Queen Herod in her over-protective nature and the love she feels for her daughter, and we can understand Mrs Midas’ horror at her husband’s transformation and her frustration over his lack of intelligence and consideration for her.

What’s really great about this collection is that it makes no pretence of these having been real people and it doesn’t try to tell us that history is wrong, but rather gives a very humorous alternative to what we know, which is possibly as real, or as ridiculous, as what already fills our history books.

Queen Herod Mrs Midas

2. Consider how Duffy uses rhyme and rhythm/ the element of sound in the poems, in particular, Mrs Sisyphus. How effective is this in engaging the reader and what other purpose does it serve?

Duffy’s use of sound is fantastic: she knows how to draw her audience in and how to give her characters a voice which can’t be ignored. The women of The World’s Wife all have a powerful presence and are of a strong, independent nature. However, they all have individual voices, experiences and opinions and the variations in sound and language go a long way in separating these characters.

The use of rhyme in Mrs Sisyphus is great for giving it that light hearted tone and her selection of words are both fun and creative. I find myself wanting to describe the poem as an adult’s nursery rhyme and I feel that the use of rhyme and rhythm allows Duffy to set her readers at ease. It’s a sign that this doesn’t have to be a serious subject and that poetry doesn’t have to be hard work: it can offer the same, simple delights as a children’s book of verse and anything else the reader may choose to interpret from it is optional.

Mrs Sisyphus

3. Which are your favourite poems in the collection?

As well as all those mentioned above, each of which has been linked in this article, I really enjoyed Eurydice for its clever and entertaining twist on the well known myth, Mrs Lazarus for its vivid imagery and the exploration of grief and habit and Mrs Icarus for its wit and command of language in so few lines. I have always had a fascination with both myth and history and to find both so cleverly woven together in a single collection was a delight for me, then the satire and excellent form were an added bonus.

Please do share your own favourites below and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the poems as much as I have, whether you’ve read two or twenty.

 Mrs Icarus Mrs Lazarus Eurydice (contains one profanity)


Heather, who goes by Rydia on YWS, has long been an aspiring author. In the early days of her life she attached herself to poetry and would curl up on the playground bench to scrawl down lines of forgotten virtue. Or, more likely, little virtue at all. At the very old age of 11, she joined The Young Writers Club and progressed into the realms of roleplay. Here she constructed characters to fight off dragons or rally to their allies' aid with healing spells; a joint love of gaming heavily influenced this fondness of adventure storybooks. A few more years went by before Heather became a serious novelist and she still considers poetry to be her favourite media for getting those thoughts down on paper. Outside of writing her loves include puzzle books, strategy/ fantasy games, movies, swimming, skiing (when she actually has money), crafty things, baking, food in general, fun pranks and anything involving snow.

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1 Response

  1. Hannah says:

    Hey, Heather! Sorry my response comes so late after your post. I didn’t find the time to dive in.

    What I think is a little frustrating and also brilliant about these poems is how they are completely reliant on knowledge of the story of the myth or historical figure. Without knowing that Herod condemned all sons to die to prevent Jesus from coming and taking his throne, it would not be nearly as poignant to hear Duffy’s alternate history, where the Queen is protecting her daughter from losing her strength to the thought of a man.

    What I loved especially about that poem was how there’s no way we’d ever be able to understand the sinful, bad Herod in the bible, but when I, as a woman, read a poem about a woman driven to such mad extents by wanting to protect her daughter from what can sort of be labeled “the patriarchy”, I can get behind it much more easily.

    What I meant by the same thing being frustrating is that if I don’t know the figures, the meaning will never hit as hard. I can go research the story of Lazarus, but Herod was in my pot of stories to access since I was young, so it was a shaking at the foundation. Reading the myths anew and following them with Duffy’s poem will be like shaking at tree tops.

    I also couldn’t stand the rhyme, but I was in the mood for something more substantial than a nursery rhyme.

    Do you think it would be beneficial for someone who didn’t grow up in a culture that considers these myths and figures classic to read this collection, maybe in translation?

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