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Mrs Darwin’s Evolution | Brandon Pownall

Mrs Darwin’s Evolution

La Democracia - Repulsive Spider Monkey

In my earlier post, “Stealing” Notebooks, I went over what enlightening information I uncovered in MARBL’s collection of Carol Ann Duffy’s notebooks. Along with the Selling Manhattan notebooks, I also looked at The World’s Wife, focusing on the four line poem, “Mrs Darwin”.

The World’s Wife notebooks were not as content rich as Selling Manhattan, possibly reflecting a change in Duffy’s process or that she jotted down thoughts elsewhere. She has four rewrites of the poem, which is double the amount present for “Stealing,” but the length of this poem is considerably shorter.

The first unusual thing I noticed about the drafts of “Mrs Darwin” was the date she wrote them. She writes her first draft on the 16th of December, 1993, while The World’s Wife was published 6 years later in 1999. I even stumbled upon a letter to a publisher about including that poem in what would later be a preview of The World’s Wife in 1994’s Selected Poems. Duffy clearly deliberated on the concept and content of the collection for quite a while.

The drafts themselves were written over a period of 3 weeks, the first only three lines long, missing the first line, “7 April 1852”. Within that first entry Duffy rewrote the poem, this time with the idea of including a date to make it seem like a diary entry of sorts, but left the specifics blank to be filled in later. She ended up choosing “It was the 3rd of April 1852” as the first line of the draft. Stylistically, Duffy decided to use chimpanzee instead of chimp in the second draft as well, which could be because she uses the same ‘z’ sound in “Zoo”.

The following week, the draft reflects a change of heart as she modified the first line to just “7th April 1852”, dropping the extra language and changing “3rd” to “7th”. The “th” is dropped from “7th” in the final draft.  She decides to shorten the second line too, instead of “We’d been to the Zoo”, she goes with “Went to the Zoo”. Another stylistic change, she goes with a capital ‘H’ in “Him” instead of lower case, which could have various interpretations. Undoubtedly it better matches the capital ‘Z’ in “Zoo” on the line before and connects him to the capital C “Chimpanzee”.

Finally, she rewrites “Mrs Darwin” a week later as it appears in The World’s Wife. The drafts take up only a short front and back of a page in her notebook. The nature of her notebooks makes me wonder what else it took to generate her poetry. Does she write ideas and first drafts on scraps and transfer near complete work over to her notebooks?  What can be inferred from the notebooks reflects the care for her craft but leaves me wanting to know even more.


Photo Source: https://flic.kr/p/qBhvKd

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It’s interesting that Caroline came to the opposite conclusions as to how the two volumes were written. She saw Selling Manhattan as the more dashed-off of the two, while you’re seeing less material in The World’s Wife. I guess it just shows that we should probably look at the whole collections before we say anything too definitively.

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