The Forsaken Wife by Elizabeth Thomas is a monologue in which a wife addresses her husband who has forsaken and confronts him for his infidelity. Written in an era when blaming the wives for their husband’s misdeeds was rampant, this poem defies the stereotypes and blames the actual person who has done wrong, that is, the husband. The wife, in this poem, is confident about her virtues. She is a portrayal of self dignity and she admits, without a shame, that she is superior of her husband and her husband is, therefore, undeserving of her.
The poem is a dramatic monologue and follows the rhyme scheme of aabb. The first four line stanza makes use of a regular rhythmic scheme with closed rhythm. This whole scheme is used throughout the poem.
The Forsaken Wife | Summary and Analysis
The Forsaken Wife | Analysis, 1 to 4 (Stanza 1)
Methinks, ’tis strange you can’t afford
One pitying look, one parting word;
Humanity claims this as due,
But what’s humanity to you?
The poem begins with the forsaken wife addressing her husband. The very first word ‘Methinks” seems to be a bit ironical as the both the reader and the poet know that the opinions of the wife here are of no consideration. Since this poem is set in an era where patriarchy was the general norm, the wife who is addressing her thoughts and beliefs and criticizing the choices and actions of her husband is a commendable approach to marginalization of women.
The poet proceeds to tell her husband that she finds his ignorance of her strange since she hasn’t done anything wrong. The narrator comes of as a humble as understanding person here because she says that her husband dismisses the ‘pitying look’ she gives him. Even after everything she has gone through, she still pities her husband that due to his foolishness he lost the companionship of her. She wants to talk to him, tell him some parting words perhaps one last thing to remember her by; she is eager to take a step forward and initiate the conversation.
Human beings have always preferred saying one last ‘goodbye’ as a form of closure to your loved ones. A parting message, a last farewell is due between them. The speaker is willing to bid farewell to her husband for one last time. But again, her husband doesn’t reciprocate her notion of saying goodbye and bidding farewell. The last line of this paragraph ‘But what’s humanity to you?’ conveys the original thoughts of the speaker as she finally stops trying to be civil with him and openly condemns him about the choices he has made and the infidelity he has committed against her. The author says that he must not be entirely human as she does not understand humanity. The last line of this paragraph reflects the rage and bitterness that the author has inside her heart and is speaking her real thoughts.
The Forsaken Wife | Analysis, 5 to 12 (Stanza 2)
Cruel man! I am not blind,
Your infidelity I find;
Your want of love my ruin shows,
My broken heart, your broken vows.
Yet maugre all your rigid hate,
I will be true in spite of fate;
And one pre-eminence I’ll claim,
To be for ever still the same.
As a continuation of the last line of the first stanza, this stanza too, reflects the real and aggressive thoughts and feelings that the wife is harbouring inside her mind. In the first line itself, she calls him a ‘Cruel man’ which is again a sentiment which would not have been accepted in the era this poem was written as the women, as wives, were taught to never raise their voice against their husbands and accept every kind of treatment and insult with a bowed head. But the author defies these believes here as the reader gets an image of a woman with her head held high as she condemns her spouse for being infidel to her.
One gets the impression that she has been suppressing her voice for a long time and, finally, she rages against him and says she is not as blind to his infidelities against her as she may have seen to be as now. She admits that she knows about his crimes but she was turning a blind eye towards it. The reader gets the archaic notion that the husband is always right and his wrongdoings must be ignored. After doing this for a long time, the author is tired and is raging against him. The author admits that the proof of her husband’s cheating is available in the way her life has been ruined. This line shows the sadness and vulnerability of the speaker. Although, till now the reader was under the impression that the author id sad, these lines extend that the author is not only angry and raging, but she is also sad and broken as she may have loved him and cared for him, so his actions have deeply hurt her. She admits that her heart is in pieces because of him and the marriage vows and promises he has broken in pieces. His betrayal has hurt her deep and she is lamenting their marriage vows.
The next lines are the speaker’s promise to herself as she makes sure of the fact that in spite of all the hate that he has towards her and towards her faith, she would not change her nature. She would remain true to herself as well as the people she loves no matter whatever difficulties and hardships the future brings her. She says that she does not know what the future brings but one thing she can say without doubt is that she would remain the same kind, compassionate and loving person she is. She vows to not let this wrongdoing of him change her essence as she knows that it is his own fault that he was unfaithful to her. Here, the poet makes a comparison between herself and husband as she believes that she is far better human being than him. The reader feels a strong bond of sympathy with the speaker who has gone through such hardship but she is still vowing to herself that she won’t let it change her.
The Forsaken Wife | Analysis, 13 – 20 (Stanza 3)
Show me a man that dare be true,
That dares to suffer what I do;
That can for ever sigh unheard,
And ever love without regard:
I then will own your prior claim
To love, to honour, and to fame;
But till that time, my dear, adieu,
I yet superior am to you.
With the beginning of the third stanza, the speaker has let go of the sad and vulnerable emotions and now she is back to showing her rage and the anger towards the unfairness of it all. But this time, she is targeting the whole of the male species; she is putting them all under the same umbrella and generalizing them. She asks her husband to show her one man that is true to himself and his wife. She makes such a strange request because she is sure that such a man does not exist. Indeed, the time in which this poem was written, such men must have been dime a dozen. At that time, having mistresses and cheating on ones wife was the common thing. So, the speaker makes a very valid argument with this statement.
Though, it was common for the men to be unfaithful, it was not tolerated if the wife did it. There was a traditional notion of an ‘ideal’ wife that every woman was supposed to adhere to. This is what the speaker acknowledges in the second line of the third stanza. She makes reference to the fact that no man will ever tolerate the wrongdoings she had to go through. Not only the speaker, the ‘I’ is a collective cry for help of every wife who was being cheated on and wronged in the name of ‘tradition’. The poet is lamenting the fact that even after she is shouting at the top of her lungs or letting a sigh pass by, her request is gone unheard and everyone turns a deaf ear to her problems and hardships. She is sure that if the voice was of a man, it would have been long heard and taken care of but just because she is a woman, she is being wronged.
She further asks her husband to present to her, a man, who would love like her. As her care and love went unrequited and unacknowledged. She is sure that no man would tolerate that. The pet makes a valid argument through these lines. She now remembers the vows that her husband made to her on their wedding day. She reminisces the time when she was happy and had faith in her husband. But her hopes and dreams are shattered and this poem is a cry for help. The poet ends the poem by addressing her husband that he will not be able to find a man who loves like a woman does; this is a jab taken at the husband as the speaker acknowledges her superiority.
The poet ends with a final goodbye that the speaker makes to her husband as she is sure he would not be able to meet her conditions. And until he does, she would not come back to him. The speaker acknowledges that she is ‘superior’ form her husband and that, every woman is superior from a man.
The Forsaken Wife | About the Poet- Elizabeth Thomas
Elizabeth Thomas was born in London and she was the only child of her mother Elizabeth Osborne and her father, lawyer Emmanuel Thomas. Her father died when she was young so all her life, her mother was the one who took care of her and brought her up. She was educated at home, was well read and learned some languages like French and Latin. She was engaged for sixteen years to Richard Gwinnet. She was active and had a reputation in London and Bath literary circles. Her first published poem appeared in 1700 in Luctus Britannici.