Feminist Criticism and “Mrs Midas”
‘Mrs Midas’ is a revisionist version of the King Midas story told from the female perspective: traditionally, this ancient Greek myth was about a man who could turn everything to gold with a touch. This poem explores the sadness Mrs Midas feels in regards to not being able to feel the touch of her husband — calling attention to the anguish, annoyance, and disgust she harbors for him regarding his greediness. This poem is especially interesting for feminist critics, as it is possible that Midas is a strong willed person who does not let her spouse ruin her life, as she runs away and lives without him. However, there is another reading, which states that her husband controls her emotions and that all she longs for is a loving, rather traditional husband.
Right from the beginning, the voice prioritized by Duffy is that of Mrs Midas, who retells the expected story from her point of view. This tactic would interest feminist critics, as in literature women are sometimes voiceless or only heard behind the men closest to them; however, it is clear that Mrs Midas has control and is telling her story with a degree of autonomy. Through her humor and metaphors, we are able to understand the breakdown of her marriage as well as the idea that ‘wealth isn’t everything’ in a different way than the way in which the usual King Midas story conveys this idea. It may be seen that Mrs Midas is challenging society’s demand for ‘feminine behaviour,’ as Simone de Beauvoir would put it, as she ‘poured a glass of wine.’ This action shows lack of interest in the idea that women are not meant to be drinkers. The way the poem is introduced so casually — ‘It was late September. I’d just poured a glass of wine…’ — gives the poem an air of mystery. Yet when we realize that she is telling us of a difficult time in her life, the casualness seems like strength, as it can normally be assumed that a divorce or separation is always a hard topic to talk about. Although terrified of her husband, she quickly hides her cat, giving her an air of heroism as well as making her seem funny: this humor allows the reader to realize that Mrs Midas is an intellectual woman.
Feminist critics may find Mrs Midas’ humor and relaxed personality to reflect a typical yet unfair treatment of women in history and literature: there are great personalities among women, yet these personalities are seldom mentioned in either historical fact or historical legend. This characteristic of Mrs Midas can be understood as Duffy trying to highlight this inequality. Mrs Midas was so in love with her husband once upon a time but now is terrified that a kiss would turn her lips into a ‘work of art.’ On the other hand, feminist critics may open up other meanings behind ‘Mrs Midas’ by interpreting Duffy’s use of gender roles as showing how much hurt a woman can go through because of her husband, especially if she still desires him — suggesting how in our society a woman is often believed to be most happy with a dominant man. We are first introduced to Mr Midas when he is ‘snapping twig’: the snapping has a violent tone and perhaps suggests that the relationship is quite a patriarchal one. Although the women may have a voice, it is still weaker than the men’s voice in this setup. Mrs Midas’ husband, who is greedy for money and is hurting her emotionally, still gets the stereotypical doting wife who ‘served up the meal’ and ‘poured with a shaking hand’ (as even when scared of him she still does everything for him).
Another aspect of the poem that feminist critics would be very interested in would be the fact that Mrs Midas believes that her spouse has ‘lack of thought’ for her and is ‘pure[ly] selfish’ but dreams of ‘bearing his child.’ It could be proposed that Mrs Midas is a symbol of many women who are not treated kindly by their spouses but still wish to have a children, as doing so is what society has made us think ‘happiness’ and a ‘good relationship’ involve. Duffy has made Mr Midas almost seem villainous by introducing Mrs Midas’ dream of having a child. Wanting a child is something a couple usually agrees upon in a respectful manner, and so when Mrs Midas explains that they were ‘passionate then’ it can be thought that Mr Midas would have known of this dream. However, he let his greed for money come before his lover’s wish. But there is another side to this state of conflict: although Mr Midas broke her dream, Mrs Midas still checks up on him even when she tries to kick him out.
It can be argued that ‘Mrs Midas’ is a feminist poem that is trying to highlight the inequality that women in literature, and in real life, face. Duffy creates a stereotypical wife who cooks and cleans, but subverts this personality by suggesting that Mrs Midas is a strong-willed and intellectual woman. Using ‘Mrs Midas,’ Duffy calls attention to discrepancies that, ultimately, can be made to bow before strength of character.
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