A World Full of Wives

How many novels can you name with a male protagonist? I’m sure you could name plenty, but would you be able to identify the same number of books with a female lead? The answer, at least for me, is no.

Through all of my English classes, I can say with full confidence that I have read more novels, plays, and poetry with males as the focus rather than females. In the patriarchal society in which we live, it makes sense that males dominate the literature we consume; however, by centralizing males in writing, female realities are downplayed and their characters inherently neglected.

Despite the seemingly constant presence of prominent male voices, The World’s Wife, the current book in our classroom, by Carol Ann Duffy is a refreshing look at acclaimed literature through the female lens. Duffy uses poetry to explore the minds of the wives of men in science, Charles Darwin, literature, Shakespeare, and fictional characters. Her imagination guides her to not only provide these marginalized women with a voice, but puts them in the spotlight, something all too uncommon. By concentrating on female voices, Duffy critiques the current notion of men and their thoughts being superior and seeks to correct it.

One of my personal favorite poems is “Mrs. Darwin.” Short and sweet, Duffy cleverly uses the form of a journal entry, similar to that which Charles Darwin used to write, and dates the poem as though it were from 1852, seven years before he published his theory of evolution. “Something about that Chimpanzee over there reminds me of you” subtly implies that Mrs. Darwin sparked Mr. Darwin’s idea of evolution, what he would eventually become famous for, giving the impression that she is in some ways above her husband. The comment is also an insult to Charles Darwin as his wife, someone with much less authority and respect at the time, is comparing him to an animal. Both interpretations thwart the importance of the historically influential male figure and places power in the hands of his wife.

So simple in form, and yet so effective in communicating the compelling stories of the often-overlooked females, Duffy masterfully conveys messages of bold feminism. Our society needs more focus on women in literature. Their stories provide readers with deeper understandings of female importance and allows for various interpretations and perspectives of the original works.

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