Carol Ann Duffy writes about the feelings of rejection, isolation and desolation that a woman who has been jilted at the alter by her husband might feel. I think that feelings such as this in both of the poems have been based on either literature or historical events, for example “Havisham” was most likely based on Miss Havisham, a rich lady in the novel Great Expectations by Charles Dickens and “The Laboratory” was probably influenced by the celebrated French murderess (who has been said to have poisoned her family).
Oxymoronic phrases are used throughout the poem “Havisham” such as “Beloved Sweetheart Bastard” and “Love’s/hate” to express the ambivalence that this woman feels towards her ex-lover. It also symbolises the unstable combination of desire and hatred which Duffy has tried to use to move away from the mindless hatred and revenge portrayed in Miss Havisham in Dickens’ novel.
Colour plays a considerable role in both of the poems. In “Havisham” Carol Ann Duffy describes her subject’s eyes as being “dark green pebbles” and her “puce curses”, these dark colours emphasise the lady’s violent, raging jealousy. In “The Laboratory” the lady enjoys the colours, saying “And yonder soft phial, the exquisite blue,” the lady’s unhealthy obsession with the poisons exposes her true, insane, twisted, fanatical nature.
Alliteration is used in both the poems “Havisham” and “The Laboratory”. In “Havisham” the last word is “b-b-b-breaks”, I think that this suggests that the subject of the poem is about to break down or cry. “Moisten and mash up thy paste” and “Pound at thy powder” are examples of alliteration in “The Laboratory”. These are used to suggest the woman’s angry rage.
Although both of the poems are written in, more or less, equal stanzas, there is no real rhythm or rhyme scheme to either of them. In “The Laboratory”, however, there are a few feminine rhymes where the stress is on the first syllable, such as “smithy” and “whitely”. This lack of rhyme and the use of enjambant and caesura emphasises even more that these women are thinking, interacting or reminiscing.
The two women’s desires are exposes in both of the poems. In “The Laboratory” her obsession with the colours and the different kinds of poison has a slight undercurrent of sexual pleasure. She clearly derives sexual satisfaction from the prospect of killing. In “Havisham”, in the verse: “Some nights better…” in dream, Havisham can momentarily enact her desire. Even in this verse expressing desire, it ends however on a moment of hate and revenge – “I suddenly bite awake”.
“A red balloon bursting in my face” – like the wedding cake suggests the celebrations which did not take place for Havisham. The Red balloon symbolises passion, which then bursts, symbolising hate, and the intolerable emotional pressure which the poem expresses. In “The Laboratory” the woman finds the idea of “pure death in an earring’” intriguing and gives her a god like feeling of power, hence the religious references, such as “…to pray God in, for them!” and “this devil’s smithy”.
Both of the poets Carol Ann Duffy and Robert Browning present embittered women in similar ways. I think this because both of the women in the poems blame other people for their misfortunes and dream of revenge.