The intensity of love has long been an establishment in poetry: poets may use language and rhythm to twist meaning and to evoke a more personal outcry to the reader. However, on comparison, it becomes prevalent that not all love poems necessarily convey the same message to readers: love is a subject that is pure, abstract and differing; it is so wide in its ramifications that the poems can fall under extraordinarily different categories. Therefore, although “Havisham” and “The laboratory” both seem at a glance, to be about the ruthlessness of love, and about the corruption of goodwill towards evil, the protagonists are determined to accomplish their feats of evil in different natures: the unnamed narrator in “Havisham” is deranged, and is severely influenced by her lover’s abandonment, blames him dor leaving her, and consequently seeks the psychological benefits of the wish to kill. However, the woman in “The Laboratory” is more poised, more self-willed to achieve her aims: unlike the other woman, she is still young, determined, jealous of the woman who took her husband away, so that she strives to kill the other woman, and not her husband. Ultimately, it is the capability of the two women to enforce death from their love of their husbands that provides the startling difference.
At first, “Havisham” seems to be a mass of contradictions: the narrator aptly switches between different words, which are opposite to each other, so we could observe her undying love towards her lover, even through the hate that has left her bound to her bed over his betrayal: this is expressed, even from the first three words: “Beloved husband bastard”. Quickly, Ann Duffy is bringing us to two completely different points: this continues, as she prays for his death, “so hard I’ve green pebbles for eyes”. Clearly, the narrator is disintegrating, decaying into a being that lacks the will to live: she is still left behind at the moment of her marriage: she still wears the yellowing wedding dress, the good memory completely tainted, but still grasping onto it, still living in the past. But still, the love is shown yet again, as the reader is uncomfortably introduced to what may well be the narrator’s insanity: the narrator states that she sleeps comfortably on some nights, nights in which she hallucinates, and sees
“the lost body over me,
my fluent tongue in its mouth in its ear
then down till I suddenly bite awake”,
As this excerpt demonstrates, the narrator is still clinging onto the memory of her husband, although she herself also has a powerful desire to kill him, for a “long slow honeymoon” with the corpse. Ann Duffy is implying that love and hatred can sometimes be intertwined; while the narrator wishes her husband’s death, thinking him responsible for her present state, she also, paradoxically, cannot live without him.
In “The Laboratory”, the same fundamental concepts are present: In this more light-hearted poem, Browning expresses the coldness of the narrator, whose husband had left for another woman, underscoring the link between the poems. However, it is also clear that the woman in this poem is less dependent on her husband: she is jealous of the other woman, and wishes her demise, but witnesses the husband as less responsible: he was enticed away from her because she was the more beautiful; the narrator imagines, in a moment of fancy, that the two of them are laughing at her, in a tone of bitterness that implies that she now has no love towards her husband. There are more suggestions in the poem: the narrator takes action, to kill the woman who drives her husband away, instead of contemplating about the husband’ s death: she also wants both the husband and the wife to experience the ramifications of the wife’s death, ensuring that the chemist produces a poison that does not “spare her the pain/to let death be felt and proof remain”, so that the husband, undoubtedly shaken by the death, will “remember her dying face!” That was the entire point of her madness, as suggested by Browning, to condemn the husband’s actions, but to mainly create unimaginable suffering and havoc on the wife, who would undoubtedly die a slow death. It is for that that she reaps her wealth on the chemist, her willingness for human suffering turning into a profound sense of pleasure, as she looks forward to the next time she and her husband meet.
While both texts convey the desire to commit evil, the attitude of the two women are different and profound, not only because the women strive to kill different people involved in the relationship: the woman in “Havisham” desperately grasps on the memory of her husband, from wearing the wedding dress, and derives pleasure from both the wish to kill her husband, and also from his body, from his exterior, since she cannot forgive his soul, and blames him for leaving her, not the other woman: hence, she has no wish to kill the other woman in the poem. Conversely, the woman in “The Laboratory” is much younger, and is under the grasp of vengeance for her husband leaving her: it is, however, unlikely that she has any emotional feeling remaining: she understands that he left her simply because the other woman was more beautiful, and seeks to punish the other woman for enforcing the husband to leave, but still asks for his suffering.