Anne Hathaway

Anne Hathaway Revision of stories and myths in Carol Ann Duffy's poetry

Particularly in her collection of poems The World's Wife, Carol Ann Duffy revisits and revises female characters and perspectives from the historical record, not only updating them but also giving them a more multidimensional existence than they were previously afforded. By revising these characters, Duffy also allows them to become active and adaptable, destabilizing their source myths. In this way, she questions how these works are centered around men.

Duffy has predecessors who have done similar work. For example, Ovid wrote a collection of poems from the point of view of heroines from Greek and Roman mythologies called Heroides; these poems addressed the way the heroes of the stories have neglected or mistreated their female counterparts. As Katie Elizabeth Hartsock points out in her paper "The Past Like Never Before: Classical Women in Revisionary Poetry from Euripides and Ovid to H.D., Rita Dove, and Carol Ann Duffy," the murky chronology and authorship of these stories add meaning to the revisionary aspects of the work; no one is sure exactly when these poems were written, and parts of them may have been added by different writers. Hartsock argues that these revisions "...demonstrate that Ovid’s poetic letters in mythical women’s voices had great appeal, and that his experiment provided a model for others to follow—indeed, the use of his name became a marker of revisionary authority for other poets" (33). Euripides, too, revised mythology in his play Helen, which tells a version of her story that shows she did not escape with Paris and instead was the victim of the gods' trickery.

Duffy's poems act in resistance of the standard male-focused gaze, but they also act to meld the political and the personal in a way that emphasizes the crucial nature of the personal. By elaborating on the private lives and thoughts of mythological or fictional women, she creates new witnesses, and thus new perspectives, on events whose stories we thought were set in stone.