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Mrs Beast Carol Ann Duffy

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Angharad Ball

on 27 June 2013

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Transcript of Mrs Beast Carol Ann Duffy


Loosely based on the fairy tale ‘beauty and the beast’ with a different viewpoint.
In this poem the beast does not turn into a prince, he stays a beast (an ugly man) and Beauty socializes with other women in similar positions.
These are powerful women with ugly or undesirable partners, meaning their partners are very grateful to them for staying, allowing these women to become the powerful and dominating ones in the relationship as they are the ‘less-loving one[s]’.
The women play what is usually considered the masculine roles.
‘it also contains a whole list of women who haven’t been dealt with yet: Helen, Cleopatra, Nefertiti, the Little Mermaid.’ 
La Belle et la Bête
Mrs. Beast is a retelling of the fable first made famous by Jean-Marie Leprince de Beaumont’s 1756 story La Belle et la Bête, which was meant as an instructive tale for children and young girls in particular, serving as a guide to choosing a husband.

There are references to Marilyn Monroe, Bessie Smith and Princess Diana, these women could be seen as in various ways victims of a male society.

Carol Ann Duffy: ‘Yes, particularly, Marilyn and Diana.  So the poem is an elegy (A poem of serious reflection, typically a lament for the dead.), and Mrs Beast—like Marilyn and Diana—is a hugely loving person: these women have loved with everything and been hurt.  The last line of the poem—“Let the less-loving one be me”--is an echo of Auden’s poem (The more loving one) where he says: “Let the more loving one be me”.  But I think Mrs Beast doesn’t want any more hurt and she doesn’t want anyone to be hurt by love.’

It has been argued that Duffy uses this poem not only to serve her feminist attitude, but also attacks the ‘self-serving attitudes of self-proclaimed feminists that ultimately serve to maintain the status quo.’ (quote from Bell Hooks)
The character of Mrs. Beast is aware of gender inequalities but is unable to see male-female relations as anything other than a struggle for dominance, and therefore mistreats her husband the same way she argues other women are mistreated by men, meaning she is not instigating any radical change and continues to reinforce the status quo of one gender mistreating the other.

Princess Diana
‘The poem shifts from the tough-minded opening, where Mrs Beast reverses the usual roles of male and female in the story, but by the end there’s a suggestion that the self-dependence, the strength, is at a cost.’
Carol Ann Duffy:  ‘Yes, it’s the cost of a broken heart, I suppose.  I think Diana hadn’t long died when I wrote that poem, and so I was conscious of the national trauma about her death.  Attitudes have changed since then, but I did feel terribly sad at the time, as did many others.’

Marilyn Monroe
It is generally accepted that Marilyn Monroe committed suicide.
One of the reasons often given for her suicide was there failure of relationship with President Kennedy amongst her other romantic troubles.
Duffy explained she ‘loved with everything and [was] hurt’ suggesting Monroe is being used to show the pain being the more loving one in the relationship (as women traditionally depicted are).

The Little Mermaid
In the original story of the little mermaid merpeople live for 300 years, but that when mermaids die they turn to sea foam and cease to exist, while humans have a shorter life but have an eternal soul that lives on in Heaven.
The little mermaid sacrifices her voice for legs (though she is warned will constantly feel like she is walking on sharp swords) to appear human, but she is told she won’t receive a soul unless she experiences true love’s kiss. If the prince marries another she will turn to sea foam.
At the end of the story the prince marries another princess instead, and when given the chance to recover her tail by killing the prince the little mermaid is unwilling, therefore the Little Mermaid is abandoned by the prince and ceases to exist.
In Mrs Beast Duffy references this version of the story, warning the prince will ‘dump her in the end, chuck her, throw her overboard’ and arguing that ‘what you want to do is find yourself a beast.’
Duffy uses the story of the Little Mermaid to highlight how the little mermaid sacrifices everything for love, but is abandoned by the prince ultimately, showing how women are stereotyped as needy and more loving, which ultimately results in their destruction.

The Woman who Married a Minotaur
In the original Greek Myth, the minotaur’s mother was Pasiphae, Queen of Crete, and the father was a bull.
The king of Crete had angered the god Poseidon by refusing to sacrifice the bull, as a result Poseiden got revenge by making Pasiphae fall in love with the bull and have sex with it, resulting in the birth of the minotaur.
This story depicts a woman being punished for her husbands mistakes, and suffering at the hands of a male god and being made by him to do things she doesn’t want to, depicting women as subservient.
In ‘Mrs Beast’ there is a role reversal, the women are no longer subservient, the beast is depicted as subservient instead.

“My own gold stashed in the bank, My own black horse at the gates.”
Berten’s view of masculinity holds “it’s connotations of strength... Self reliance.”
Duffy inverts that view in this poem to display a woman as independent, without needing a man.

“All of us Beautiful and Rich”
Materially one is better off without a man.

“My own gold stashed in the bank, My own black horse at the gates.”
Berten’s view of masculinity holds “it’s connotations of strength... Self reliance.”
Duffy inverts that view in this poem to display a woman as independent, without needing a man.

“He had the grunts, the groans, the yelps, The breath of a goat. I had the language, girls.”
Barry P says in the 1920s “the major effect went into exposing what might be called the mechanisms of patriarchy, that is the cultured mind set which perpetuated sexual inequality.”
Duffy incorporates this view within the poem through the use of the sexual reactions between the Beast and Mrs Beast as there seems to be a battle for power.

“To kiss my glove with his mongrel lips... Didn’t conceal his erection...”
Berten’s says the sexual relationship between a male and a female mirrors the power a male has over a woman in society. Hence the Beast is shown to be strong, manly however Duffy seems to highlight that in this case the Beast is grateful and therefore there is a role reversal as the man does not have the power as the sex within the relationship is in fact controlled by Mrs Beast and not the Beast.

Fay Wray
‘we stood for the toast – Fay Wray-’
Fay Wray was the actress who depicted the female lead (Ann) in King Kong.
Throughout King Kong references to Beauty and the Beast are made, and it is ultimately Kong (the beast’s) love for Ann (Beauty) that led to his death.
"The Beast was a tough guy too. He could lick the world, but when he saw Beauty, she got him. He went soft. He forgot his wisdom and the little fellas licked him."
"Oh, no, it wasn't the airplanes...it was Beauty killed the Beast."
The women is ‘Mrs Beast’ are toasting Fay Wray, suggesting these women admire and strive to emulate the character of Ann’s ability to dominate the beast.

Born: 23 December 1955
Birthplace: Glasgow, Scotland
Best known as: The first female poet laureate in British history
Duffy's poetry gives voice to society's alienated and ignored in an unstuffy but compelling manner, wrestling with ideas about language and identity. As Duffy says herself: "I like to use simple words but in a complicated way."

Born in Glasgow in 1955, Duffy was brought up in Staffordshire and studied philosophy at the University of Liverpool, where she was active in the city's underground poetry scene in the 1970s. Her first full-length collection Standing Female Nude in 1985 was something of a landmark, forging an anti-establishment voice with a colloquial lyricism. Duffy reached a wider audience with The World's Wife (1999), a series of witty dramatic monologues spoken by women from fairy tales and myths, and the women usually air-brushed from history, such as Mrs Midas and Mrs Darwin. Her output has also included a formidable amount of writing for children.

Her former relationship with the poet Jackie Kay has informed some of her best-known work. Her most recent adult collection, Rapture, a first person account of a love affair, won the TS Eliot Prize in 2005. Duffy's poem Education for Leisure, about a violent teenager, was controversially removed from an examination board's GCSE syllabus in 2008. In a move typical of the poet, Duffy responded with a sardonic new poem about knives in Shakespeare.

“The Little Mermaid slit her shining silver tail in two, rubbed salt, into that stinking wound, got up and walked, in agony...all for a prince...who would dump her in the end...”
“These myths going round, these legends, fairytales, I’ll put them straight...”
“I’ll tell you more. Stripped of his muslin shirt...he steamed in his pelt, ugly as sin.”
“...no longer a girl, knowing my own my mind, my own gold stashed in the bank, my own black horse at the gate.”
The poem opens in a self assured and assertive tone.
It can be deduced from the warning like nature of the opening words that the audience of the poem is male.
Mrs Beast is unlike the other poems in Duffy’s collection.

"Helen’s face, Cleopatra’s, Queen of Sheba’s, Juliet's...”
All women mentioned were known for their beauty...
...they were also known for having great men and this highlights their sexual appeal, through this Duffy perhaps is connecting sexual appeal with power.
Example – Romeo’s love for Juliet was so strong that seeing her dead led to him killing himself, Helen of Troy brought about the Trojan war and Cleopatra had both Cesar and Mark Anthony.

This a graphic description of physical rather than emotional pain this highlights perhaps the effort a woman goes through for a man though it is disregarded.
There is a direct link between the prince and his dumping the little mermaid and this shows Mrs Beasts disdain for prince’s or perhaps men in power overall
The Little Mermaid though the victim is made to seem stupid as it was her decision to change her features for the prince and though no sympathy is given to her.

“...-look, love, I should know, they’re bastards when they’re princes. What you want to do is get yourself a Beast.”
“they’re bastards when they’re princes” this was a view also shared by Queen Herod, it could be said that these are words of wisdom from her.
The gender of the audience seems to have changed as Mrs Beast now seems to be addressing women.
The quotation has a confidence as she made the assertive choice to be with a Beast. Intertextuality as there is a link between the character in Little Red-Cap and Mrs Beast, this shows an evolution in character.

Duffy subverts the fairytale as Mrs Beast shows that she is her own woman and therefore does not need a “knight on a white horse” to come and rescue her, to an extent making men in fairytales seem like an unnecessary feature as their job is to save the damsel in distress.
The audience is presented with a woman who has independence financially and emotionally.

“The Beast fell to his knees at the door to kiss my glove with his mongrel lips – good – showed by the tears in his bloodshot eyes that he knew he was blessed – better – didn’t try to conceal his erection, size of a mule’s – best.”
Duffy highlights that as the Beast is ugly there is a grateful nature in the way he treats the woman, the man is the subservient within the text while the woman is the dominant, this demonstrated through the linguistic structure.
All his features are assessed dispassionately highlighting an uncaring nature to Mrs Beast
Her focus on his lower region shows that to Mrs Beast the Beast is just a means to sexual pleasure this can be seen in the quotation “The sex is better.”

The beginning sentence creates a level of intimacy between the audience and the speaker as she offers a greater insight into her life.
The use of the lexis stripped and shirt helps to create the image of a human and this is counteracted by animalistic imagery which highlights that underneath the clothes he is still a beast.
Quotation reminds us of King Lear “Robes and furred gowns hide all” as the Beast bears his ugliness to the woman he is placed in a vulnerable position.

“He had the grunts, the groans, the yelps, the breath of a goat. I had the language, girls...”
Duffy reduces then power of the Beast by undermining his sexual performance – further discrediting the Beast.
His inability to communicate heightens his beastly nature but also his vulnerability however the noises made are also sexual.
Narrator must be the only one to enjoy sexual satisfaction this can be seen through her taking control of language which was known as being extremely male orientated.

“The Lady says That’s not what I meant.”
She uses her hold on language and his inability to speak to negate him and also takes control of his sexual performance, leaving him powerless.
Concludes on a negative note of dissatisfaction once again undermining the Beast.
Leads the readers to question “Does Duffy want any sympathy to be shown to the Beast?”

“The pig in my bed was invited. And if his snout and trotters fouled my damask sheets, why, then, he’d wash them.”
The man, pig imagery presented in the poem further degrades the Beast, making him more animal than human.
The italicising of the lexis “invited” shows how she articulates this word out loud. Showing that this relationship operates only on her terms which is unusual in conventional relationships, this reminds us of the dynamics between a servant and his master.

“...here is his horrid leather tongue to scour in between my toes.”
His abasement continues as she states that the Beast “scours” between her toes, this rhymes with “pick my nose”.
This reinforces the imagery of the servant to master relationship between the Beast and Mrs Beast as the Beast serves as the submissive relinquishing all power while Mrs Beast is the dominant and the only empowered person within their relationship.

“Here was a part of him like a horse, a ram, an ape, a wolf, a dog, a donkey, dragon, dinosaur.”
Animalistic imagery further dehumanises the Beast.
This stanza concludes with a description of his attempts to demonstrate his joy and pleasure. These are unheard by the narrator and she once again reduces his behaviour to that of an animal as we are given a list of creatures that all have something in common with the Beast.

“Need I say more... The Beast kept out of sight.”
The intimacy of the last stanza is dismissed with a rhetorical statement ‘Need I say more?’ but, before the poem takes a new turn, we are reminded of the Beast’s subservient role as he keeps ‘out of sight’.

“We were a hard school, tough as fuck, all of us beautiful and rich... Hold Em, Draw...”
Mrs Beast now begins to describe her female friends and their poker game, this is a game that is associated with hard gambling men. Once again Duffy subverts the male tradition of dirty talk and fast cards as she asserts, ‘We were a hard school, tough as fuck’.
We are presented with a list of unusual women again from the world of myths and legends and the games they play are hard, uncompromising and unforgiving. The short stanza concludes with the name of a game that echoes a gun battle, ‘Hold ‘Em, Draw’, reflecting the fierce nature of the games and the intensity with which they are played. This further empowers women.

“I watched them bet and rise and call...That was a lesson learnt by all of us- the drop dead gorgeous Bride of the Bearded Lesbian didn’t bluff.”
The first of these stanzas seems designed to reinforce the hard and heartless image of these women. There is no show of emotion or feminine feeling. This is not a usual girls night out. These are hard and ruthless women who have appropriated male attitudes and values. The game of chance and skill is played out in a similar way to the way they conduct their lives, with no compromise.
Focus on the beauty of the women as Duffy perhaps that it is this character that empowers them.

“But behind these women stood a line of ghosts unable to win.”
The next stanza offers a different view of women; those who have been defeated by men and suffered the consequences. We are presented with a list that begins with Eve and concludes with Diana, Princess of Wales. These ghosts of the past act as reminders to the women of what happens to girls who allow themselves to “fall” for men.

“The sheepish Beast came in with a tray... We stood for a toast – Fay Wray – Bad girls. Serious ladies. Mourning our dead.”
The women, unlike the ‘sheepish Beast’, maintain their ruthless façade as they continue to emulate men in their behaviour and gestures. They ‘tossed [their] fiery drinks to the back of [their] crimson throats’ as they toast Fay Wray, the actress who tamed the Beast in the film King Kong.
This highlights that the importance of taming and controlling the Beast further placing power with the women and demeaning the men or animals.
The stanza concludes with a celebration of their success in a world that would otherwise destroy them. They are ‘Bad girls. Serious ladies’. Above all however, they are ‘Mourning our dead.’ that is to say, those women who have been destroyed by men and whose ghosts serve to keep these women mean, hard and heartless.

“...when I got upstairs, those tragic girls in my head, turfing him out of bed...”
The poem now takes another turn as the ghosts of the women detailed in the earlier verse act as a catalyst to the narrator’s emotions. She is seen praying for ‘the lost, the captive beautiful’, women whose lives have been destroyed by men, ‘the wives’. It is for these women that Mrs Beast saves her heartfelt emotion as she mourns their passing and she empathises with their suffering. In return, they act as a talisman to keep her safe from her feminine side. The world away from the Beast is a world of feminine beauty. ‘The moon (a female symbol) was a hand-mirror breathed on by a Queen’ and her breath outside in the cold night air, ‘a chiffon scarf for an elegant ghost.’
This is the first time in the poem we see a feminine and lest aggressive side to Mrs Beast.

“Bring me the Beast for the night. Bring me the wine-cellar key. Let the less loving one be me.”
Once back inside with the Beast, the feminine world evaporates and she becomes, once again, the commanding, assertive, selfish persona that she feels she must adopt if she is not to join her defeated ghostly sisters. The concluding lines reaffirm the narrator’s belief that to show love is to show weakness and so she commands herself to ‘Let the less-loving one be me.
The poem ends by once again highlighting who is the dominant.

When and Where was Carol Ann Duffy Born?
State 3 females which are mentioned in the poem
How are men presented in the poem?
Find a quotation to support your answer
Find a quotation and interpret it from Berten's point of view?
Full transcript