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The Poet's Wife by Judith Allnatt

The Poet's Wife (2011)

by Judith Allnatt

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The Poet's Wife tells the story of Patty, the long-suffering wife of the mad peasant poet John Claire. It opens with Patty surprised to run into her husband on a road not far from home, since he is supposed to be a patient at an asylum 80 miles away. Apparently he has walked all the way--but not to be with Patty and their children, but in search of his 'other wife,' Mary, his childhood sweetheart. Not only were the two never married, but Mary died in a fire some years earlier--a fact that John refuses to believe. Patty has to endure John's cruel slights, including his fervent penning of love sonnets to another woman. And the more violent effects of his madness begin to reassert themselves as well.

The novel is aptly titled, for most of it focuses on Patty's struggles to maintain a decent household for her large family. In addition to the basically useless John and his aging father, there are still five children at home, and the daughter who lives nearby is none too happily married. Yet there were moments when it was difficult for me not to get frustrated with her as a character; she was just a little too resourceful and self-sacrificing and loyal to be believable.

Then there is her second eldest daughter, Eliza, who needed a cold pail of water dumped over her head and a good smack. Eliza is "in love" with her sister's husband, and she spends most of the second half of the novel whining and moping in bed with the covers pulled up over her head because she can't have him. The reason I put "in love" in quotation marks is that--as if it isn't bad enough that she slept with her pregnant sister's husband--this jerk is a drunken sot who can't hold down a job and who rejects his newborn daughter because she has a birth defect. Now, if you're married to a man who turns out that way, well, that's one thing; but who in their right mind would CHOOSE a guy like this and act as though her life is ruined when she can't have him? Oh, and did I mention that he sold the watch his wife gave him for Christmas the day after to buy a silver locket for Eliza? And that he blames Eliza for leading him on ("After all, men must have their fancies") and causing God to curse him with a deformed child? What a guy! Um, can you tell that I wasn't moved to sympathy by the Eliza subplot? It really rather ruined what wasn't a bad story up to that point.

I began to wonder if I am getting tired of historical novels. But then I remembered several that I've recently read, like Bring Up the Bodies and Merivel, and I know that it's just that some, like this one, are pretty formulaic and run-of-the-mill. I'll likely be moving on to a different genre for awhile. ( )
2 vote Cariola | Feb 21, 2013 |
Picked up from the library (I love living across the road from a decent-sized library!) after seeing a few recommendations around the blogosphere. This is a fictionalised biography of John Clare’s wife Patty – how she copes with his mental illness, a large family and increasing poverty.

While I enjoyed the writing, which was fluid and imaginative, I got a bit bored with the tales of country life on the poverty line. I found much of the story quite uncomfortable, because one does sympathise with the protagonist caught between her mad husband who is convinced he married his childhood sweetheart as well as her, and her philandering son-in-law.

Patty was a strong character – too strong in many ways, I wanted her to break down and scream and shout and be human. Eliza annoyed me, as did John (although the abrasive effects of his illness were the intention), I did like Parker (he reminded me of my own grandfathers), and there wasn’t really space to develop many more characters. ( )
  readingwithtea | Nov 24, 2010 |
This is the story of the poet John Clare and his struggle with mental illness as seen from the perspective of his wife. I found it to be a quiet and slow but nonetheless worthwhile read. It would be interesting to know if Clare officienados regard it as being too negative about him. He comes across as being extremely difficult to live with. His wife demonstrates remarkable patience with him. The author of this novel is also a poet and I think this is apparent in the quality of her prose. The natural world figures prominently, though perhaps less so than one might expect in a novel concerned with one of our most celebrated nature poets. ( )
  dsc73277 | Mar 14, 2010 |
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Book description
It is 1841; Patty Clare is married to John Clare, peasant poet, genius and madman. Patty loves him deeply but he seems lost to her and obsessed with an idealized memory of a woman that she cannot match. Can she ever restore his true identity, and can she find it in herself to forgive?
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385613326, Hardcover)

It is 1841; Patty Clare is married to John Clare, peasant poet, genius and madman. Patty loves him deeply but he seems lost to her and obsessed with an idealized memory of a woman that she cannot match. Can she ever restore his true identity, and can she find it in herself to forgive?

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:31 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

It is 1841. Patty Clare is married to John Clare: peasant poet, genius and madman. Travelling home one day, Patty is shocked to find her husband sitting, footsore and weary, on the side of the road, having absconded from an asylum in Essex over 80 miles away.… (more)

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