"Misandry" is not a common word, but its meaning is simple to understand. Misandry is "an extreme dislike of males, frequently based upon unhappy experience or upbringing," and it is an interesting word to use when discussing "Mrs. Faust" by Carol Ann Duffy.
The title is our first hint that the male character in this poem is not going to be a very nice guy, as we know the story of Faust, the man who sold his soul to the devil to achieve excessive earthly pleasures. It would be a hard thing to be married to such a man, we think, and then we begin reading the poem.
The first few stanzas of the poem describe the Fausts' early years and lifestyle, and their lives are certainly completed more by things and experiences than with love for one another. Soon, amid the accumulating prosperity, they are no longer in a true marriage and their lives begin to separate:
I grew to love lifestyle,
not the life.
He grew to love the kudos,
not the wife.
Faust then begins to turn to prostitutes, something which would outrage most wives; however, Mrs. Faust declares that she
felt, not jealousy,
but the chronic irritation.
No real misandry there.
The poem goes on to detail Faust's earthly rise in power (which of course he has bought it with his mortal soul), and again none of it seems to bother Mrs. Faust. She simply says:
As for me,
I went my own sweet way....
She goes on to list all the things she does with her life, doing all the things a woman might do when she is dissatisfied at home and has the money to do them. She travels, she surgically enhances her body, and she turns inward with yoga and meditation.
What she does not do is divorce her husband, throw him out for being unfaithful, or in any way demonstrate physical or emotional violence against him. Instead she calmly goes her "own sweet way." She does not even react when she sees a graphic picture of her husband being torn from this earth and dragged into hell at the hands of a devil. Mrs. Faust simply says,
She goes on to say that all of Faust's worldly possessions, bought at the cost of his physical life and his eternal damnation, have now reverted to her. Her attitude is "C’est la vie"--such is life. When she gets sick, she uses his money to buy her health, caring little about what it cost him to get that money. Her final comments are really the only lines in the poem which indicate that she might have hated her husband:
I keep Faust’s secret still –
the clever, cunning, callous bastard
didn’t have a soul to sell.
While it is true that Faust is neither a good husband nor a good man, some of the blame for their disastrous marriage is on Mrs. Faust, as well. She is clear that, at least in the beginning, she was just as bad as her husband in terms of her indifference, and once he is gone she is still complicit by agreeing to keep the secret that he never had a soul to sell. While she may have hated him, she did not hate him enough to completely disconnect her life from his.
So, the best examples of misandry are part of some very mixed messages:
- she clearly does not like him and does not want to spend time with him, yet she does not despise him enough to get divorced
- though she thinks he was a terrible, selfish man, she is happy to spend his money
- she thought he was soul-less, yet she stayed connected to him.
Mrs. Faust seems fantastically indifferent to her husband, which is perhaps the saddest kind of hate between two people who are supposed to share love and life together.