The World's Wife is Carol Ann Duffy's first themed collection of poems and is a set text on the AS Syllabus of English Literature in the UK, which was first published in 1999. The collection takes characters, stories, histories and myths which focus on men, and in Duffy's renowned feminist way, are twisted to look at the woman behind the man.
The anthology has the following poems:
"Little Red Cap", "Thetis", "Queen Herod", "Mrs. Midas", "from Mrs. Tiresias", "Pilate's Wife", "Mrs. Aesop", "Mrs. Darwin", "Mrs. Sisyphus", "Mrs. Faust", "Delilah", "Anne Hathaway", "Queen Kong", "Mrs. Quasimodo", "Medusa", "The Devil's Wife", "Circe", "Mrs. Lazarus", "Pygmalion's Bride", "Mrs. Rip Van Winkle", "Mrs. Icarus", "Frau Freud", "Salome", "Eurydice", "The Kray Sisters", "Elvis's Twin Sister", "Pope Joan", "Penelope", "Mrs. Beast", "Demeter"
In some poems, the poems look at the story of the man from the woman's perspective, such as in Mrs. Aesop, whilst others change the story into one about women such as the Kray Sisters. There are also twists in the poems whereby characters like "Sinatra" are referred to, whereas Duffy is actually referencing Nancy Sinatra, rather than the expected Frank Sinatra.
Many of the poems are taken from the historical setting which they come from and brought into a modern day light, such as Mrs. Faust, based on the Christopher Marlowe play, Doctor Faustus, which was originally written in the 16th century. In Mrs. Faust, Duffy includes modern day fads such as face-lifts and credit cards.
In the anthology, some poems are considered controversial.
From the beginning, and throughout the majority of the collection, the poems adopt a female perspective in a number of interesting ways. It has been argued that Duffy toes a fine line between being radically feminist and being anti-male. However, others may argue that this is nothing but a (perhaps, well deserved) literary backlash against the dominance of men in literature, particularly since many of the poems in the collection focus on characters from a fictional or literary background. Some even claim that some poems are anti- feminist because some of the poems present culpable female characters.
The poem based on Myra Hindley is also controversial -it has caused some inaccurate and thoughtless responses, for example the claim that the poem supports what she did and proclaims her innocence. It does nothing of the sort, indeed the refrain "I didn't know it was him" is repeated in such a way as to emphasize that the speaker absolutely does recognise her suitor's evil nature. In allowing him to presuade her to 'bury a doll', or sacrifice her soul, Duffy symbolically represents the deepest sin for woman: rescinding their free will in the face of the wickedness of men. In the poem, the murderers are part of a satanic pact in which the female protagonist loses her will to be an independent individual. It is this that has led some critics to suggest that Duffy is reducing the responsibility her Hindley's murders and placing it much more squarely on the shoulders of her partner.
Many of the poems reflect Duffy's life. The poem Little Red Cap is seen to be reflective of her relationship with the poet Adrian Henri. Also, there are many references to childbirth, children and feelings towards men, which could have been influenced by her own experiences. The collection can be seen as a step to adulthood as in the poem Little Red Cap the character is portrayed as learning from her mistakes and makes amends.
It can be argued that Duffy exemplifies the different roles of women from different perspectives. "The Devil's Wife" is a prime example of a poem in which the notion of female evil is identified.