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Duffy, Maureen (Patricia)

DUFFY, Maureen (Patricia)


Also wrote as D.M. Cayer. Nationality: British. Born: Worthing, Sussex, 21 October 1933. Education: Trowbridge High School for Girls, Wiltshire; Sarah Bonnell High School for Girls; King's College, London, 1953–56, B.A. (honors) in English 1956. Career: Schoolteacher for five years. Co-founder, Writers Action Group, 1972; joint chair, 1977–78, and president, 1985–89, Writers Guild of Great Britain; chair, Greater London Arts Literature Panel, 1979–81; vice-chair, 1981–86, and since 1989 chair, British Copyright Council; since 1982 chair, Authors Lending and Copyright Society; vice president, Beauty Without Cruelty; fiction editor, Critical Quarterly, Manchester, 1987. Awards: City of London Festival Playwright's prize, 1962; Arts Council bursary, 1963, 1966, 1975; Society of Authors traveling scholarship, 1976. Fellow, Royal Society of Literature, 1985. Agent: Jonathan Clowes Ltd., Ironbridge House, Bridge Approach, London NW1 8BD. Address: 18 Fabian Road, London SW6 7TZ, England.

Publications

Poetry

Lyrics for the Dog Hour. London, Hutchinson, 1968.

The Venus Touch. London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1971.

Actaeon. Rushden, Northamptonshire, Sceptre Press, 1973.

Evesong. London, Sappho, 1975.

Memorials of the Quick and the Dead. London, Hamish Hamilton, 1979.

Collected Poems. London, Hamish Hamilton, 1985.

Plays

The Lay-Off (produced London, 1962).

The Silk Room (produced Watford, Hertfordshire, 1966).

Rites (produced London, 1969). Published in New Short Plays 2, London, Methuen, 1969.

Solo, Olde Tyme (produced Cambridge, 1970).

A Nightingale in Bloomsbury Square (produced London, 1973). Published in Factions, edited by Giles Gordon and Alex Hamilton, London, Joseph, 1974.

Radio Play: Only Goodnight, 1981.

Television Play: Josie, 1961.

Novels

That's How It Was. London, Hutchinson, 1962; New York, Dial Press, 1984.

The Single Eye. London, Hutchinson, 1964.

The Microcosm. London, Hutchinson, and New York, Simon and Schuster, 1966.

The Paradox Players. London, Hutchinson, 1967; New York, Simon and Schuster, 1968.

Wounds. London, Hutchinson, and New York, Knopf, 1969.

Love Child. London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, and New York, Knopf, 1971.

I Want to Go to Moscow: A Lay. London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1973; as All Heaven in a Rage, New York, Knopf, 1973.

Capital. London, Cape, 1975; New York, Braziller, 1976.

Housespy. London, Hamish Hamilton, 1978.

Gor Saga. London, Eyre Methuen, 1981; New York, Viking Press, 1982.

Scarborough Fear (as D.M. Cayer). London, Macdonald, 1982.

Londoners: An Elegy. London, Methuen, 1983.

Change. London, Methuen, 1987.

Illuminations. London, Flamingo, 1992.

Occam's Razor. London, Sinclair-Stevenson, 1993.

Restitution. London, Fourth Estate, 1998.

Other

The Erotic World of Faery. London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1972.

The Passionate Shepherdess: Aphra Behn 1640–1689. London, Cape, 1977; New York, Avon, 1979.

Inherit the Earth: A Social History. London, Hamish Hamilton, 1980.

Men and Beasts: An Animal Rights Handbook. London, Paladin, 1984.

A Thousand Capricious Chances: A History of the Methuen List 1889–1989. London, Methuen, 1989.

Henry Purcell. London, Fourth Estate, 1994.

Editor, with Alan Brownjohn, New Poetry 3. London, Arts Council, 1977.

Editor, Oroonoko and Other Stories, by Aphra Behn. London, Methuen, 1986.

Editor, Love Letters Between a Nobleman and His Sister, by Aphra Behn. London, Virago Press, 1987.

Editor, Five Plays/ Aphra Behn: Selected and Introduced by Maureen Duffy. London, Methuen Drama, 1990.

Translator, A Blush of Shame, by Domenico Rea. London, Barrie and Rockliff, 1968.

*

Manuscript Collection: King's College, University of London.

Critical Studies: By Dulan Barber, in Transatlantic Review 45 (London), spring 1973; Guide to Modern World Literature by Martin Seymour-Smith, London, Wolfe, 1973, as Funk and Wagnalls Guide to Modern World Literature, New York, Funk and Wagnalls, 1973; A Female Vision of the City: London in the Novels of Five British Women, Knoxville, University of Tennessee Press, 1989, and "Virginia Woolf As Modernist Foremother in Maureen Duffy's Play 'A Nightingale in Bloomsbury Square,'" in Unmanning Modernism: Gendered Re-Readings, edited by Elizabeth Jane Harrison and Shirley Peterson, Knoxville, University of Tennessee Press, 1997, both by Christine W. Sizemore; "'Keepers of History': The Novels of Maureen Duffy" by Lyndie Brimstone, in Lesbian and Gay Writing: An Anthology of Critical Essays, edited by Mark Lilly, Philadelphia, Temple University Press, 1990; "Mary and the Monster: Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Maureen Duffy's Gor Saga" by Jenny Newman, in Where No Man Has Gone Before: Women and Science Fiction, edited by Lucie Armitt, London, Routledge, 1991; "Fiction As Historical Critique: The Retrospective World War II Novels of Beryl Bainbridge and Maureen Duffy" by Phyllis Lassner, in Phoebe, 3(2), fall 1991; "Three Recent Versions of the Bacchae" by Elizabeth Hale Winkler, in Madness in Drama, edited by James Redmond, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1993; "Maureen Duffy: A Polyphonic Sub-Version of Realism" by Christoph Bode, in Anglistik (Bochum, Germany), 60, 1997.

*  *  *

Best known for her novels and her championing of social causes, Maureen Duffy has also written poems that echo her humane and libertarian views. Whether speaking out forcefully on women's rights, animal rights, or the horrors of famine, homelessness, and poverty, the voice is recognizable from the earliest of her published work to the mature expression of her later collections. Above all, her writings celebrate the liberating power of physical love, in particular the love between women. Such themes are hinted at in her early poems, where tributes to political and literary giants are mingled with keener insights into the nature of various types of women and the growth of sexual awareness. Duffy's first efforts include the sobering study "My Sisters the Whores" that is counterbalanced by her vision of the drab, imprisoned existence of young housewives in "A Woman's World": "Their lives, a mesh / / Of tiny incident, entrap and bind / Them." Elsewhere, in her "Women" sequence of poems, Duffy explores the burgeoning sexuality of girls dancing together and the repressed longings of love-starved spinster schoolteachers, where "Love is an outcast, beauty hides away / Behind a gymslip or a manly tie." The same early writings include other significant thematic devices, the poet using fairy-tale conventions and Greek legends to express personal and contemporary concerns. "Rapunzel" and "Ulysses" are notable examples of a method that Duffy uses more subtly in later collections to describe the overwhelming joys and pangs of love.

Love in its physical and spiritual forms is central to Duffy's writing and provides her with the core of her finest work. Its passion imbues the bulk of her poetry, with collections like Lyrics for the Dog Hour, The Venus Touch, and Evesong almost totally given over to an expression of its strength, its violence, and its ultimate fulfillment. Duffy presents herself as being caught helplessly in the grip of an awesome cataclysmic act, compared directly at times to a nuclear attack or to some kind of trench warfare: "And we renew our love / Under the whine of the guns." Liberated by forbidden pleasure to a paradisal state beyond the reach of others, she remains fearfully aware of her own vulnerability in the face of loss and separation, the pain rendered more bitter after the joys that have been shared: "I hoard now against our winter, / Pack in the black hole of my heart / And stamp down hard, / Words, looks to nourish / When I stir in the long sleep / Troubled by dreams / And all is bitter outside."

Classical allusions to legends and to musical and artistic masterpieces abound. Duffy and her beloved are hymned as Orpheus and Eurydice, Minotaur and labyrinth, while through their acts of passion the love goddess Venus, the liberated female of the Olympian age who serves as their spiritual ancestress, is continually invoked. Yet however ecstatic the transports, the poet retains a sense of proportion throughout, finding time to explore the old myths with a less than flattering eye, especially in her cynical commentary on the Iliad in "Helen and the Historians": "The whole affair was just a trick of trade / Paris not prince of course / but merchant chief. / Achilles, Patroclus two / banking firms; his rage / takeover bid; his death a crash." In other poems Duffy gives vent to self-mockery, deriding her mannish walk and big backside, claiming that "I have been / a bull in a porcelain shop trampling china roses." Imagining herself as a "beast" to the beloved's "beauty," she prepares once more for the bruising but desired encounter: "Waiting on love I flex / thews, thighs like a dancer / or boxer knowing / I will get as good as I give.

Other concerns intrude in Memorials of the Quick and the Dead, where Duffy looks outward to the world and its wrongs. In a series of hard, clear-cut verses she traces her origins in an Irish graveyard and attacks her own government for its neglect of writers and homeless children. The rule of the Greek colonels is condemned in "Antigone," while in "Lemonchic" the author mourns the death in space of the dog Laika. Duffy comments on the environmental problems of drought and Dutch elm disease and admits a sad kinship with Nigerian rebels whose execution she witnesses on her television screen: "Three thousand miles away / by satellite I mourn / the rest of their lives unborn / those islands of flesh and bone / mine / whatever they had done." Tributes to Benjamin Britten and Gracie Fields are offset by "Bestialry," with its fierce impassioned outcry against the cruelty of humans to other creatures, the author detailing the atrocities inflicted on rabbits and battery hens. Yet in the end it is to love and its healing power that Duffy returns, affirming in the latter part of Memorials of the Quick and the Dead and subsequently in "The Garland" section of Collected Poems her allegiance to the goddess: "But you brought me up in your worship / though I'm old and ridiculous too / to be panting after your favours / what else am I to do." The range of her poetry—from neat, poised classical verse to a loose, conversational style—the variety of subjects covered, and the pure, intense clarity of her vision lift her work above the ordinary, giving to it the quality of a personal testament.

—Geoff Sadler

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