The Adulterous Woman by Albert Camus: A Book Review

adulterous“ She was waiting, but she didn’t know for what. She was aware only of her solitude, and of the penetrating cold, and of the greater weight in the region of her heart.”

Suddenly I was bothered by the title when I reached the climax of the story. I had expected that the story would center around the scenes that a woman would commit a “crime”, getting into an amorous affair, that she would rat out on her faithful  husband in an abject misery, that there would be a passion-of-crime scene. However, it turned out to be the other way around; the title itself could be understood  in different perspectives. What do you mean by the word “adulterous”? When can you say that a woman is adulterous?

All my dictionary references are in accord with the definition of  adultery  as a sexual affair between a married person with someone who is not his/ her spouse. The word is synonymous with infidelity,unfaithfulness,disloyalty,cuckoldry,extramarital sex-you name it. So,in law,a woman is said to commit adultery when she does so ; a man,concubinage.

On the other hand, when the word inflects into “adulterous”, the word can be  misleading. Since the suffix –ous means having a particular quality, therefore, you can describe someone adulterous that it is the character of that  person to engage in a sex  affair with someone who is not  his/ her spouse. Thus, I found out  that the title has no relevance to the story. I do not find any crime committed by the main character , Janine unless you may call it a prima facie manifestation.

Janine is married but childless to a man who is so preoccupied about his business. Taken along by her husband to an Arabian land on business, she was attracted to an Arabian soldier   who offered her some  lozenges on the bus.  She realized then that despite her mid-life-look age, she is still physically attractive. However, it occurred to her that the man was not interested in her after all  upon meeting him in the market; the man just ignored her. And there was an instance that she was even engulfed   by a group of men when she decided to air out in the middle of the night, leaving her husband asleep.

Therefore, Janine did not have sex with any men, but she had the idea of doing so. Rather, we can put it mildly  that she has committed mental adultery. Besides , could we opine  that Janine is an adulterous woman? The definition of adultery is too broad to conclude that someone like Janine is said to be so unless you define sex as an act, which is different from the idea. Nevertheless, Janine realized her guilt upon   her momentous reflection:

“After a moment…it seemed to her that the sky above her was moving in a sort of slow gyration. In the vast reaches of the dry, cold night, thousands of stars were constantly appearing, and their sparkling icicles, loosened at once, began to slip gradually toward the horizon. Janine could not tear herself away from contemplating those drifting flares. She was turning with them, and the apparently stationary progress little by little identified her with the core of her being, where cold and desire were now vying with each other. Before her the stars were falling one by one and being snuffed out among the stones of the desert, and each time Janine opened a little more to the night. Breathing deeply, she forgot the cold, the dead weight of others, the craziness or stuffiness of life, the long anguish of living and dying. After so many years of mad, aimless fleeing from fear, she had come to a stop at last. At the same time, she seemed to recover her roots and the sap again rose in her body, which had ceased trembling. Her whole belly pressed against the parapet as she strained toward the moving sky; she was merely waiting for her fluttering heart to calm down and establish silence within her. The last stars of the constellations dropped their clusters a little lower on the desert horizon and became still. Then, with unbearable gentleness, the water of night began to fill Janine, drowned the cold, rose gradually from the hidden core of her being and overflowed in wave after wave, rising up even to her mouth full of moans….”

Based on my psychological but hypothetical   observations from the general situation among couples, Janine is looking for the real meaning of happiness or connubial bliss as what a typical wife should be. Her husband is a busy businessman. She does not even have a child to bear. I do not have the slightest idea of what the reasons are since the story does not mention anything. As a matter of fact, it suggests that both do not love each other. May be they just need each other. May be Marcel, her husband, depends on her sexually or for the sake of social status while she , emotionally. However, it appears that Janine is not emotionally satisfied. Therefore, she tends to feel as dreary as the dry desert in an Arabian land. What an overacting moment!

As what I had expected, Albert Camus wanted to indicate his philosophy on Absurdism in the story.

Now, should I subjectively conclude that someone is likely to be adulterous when she is childless and not given much emotional attention by her husband? Well, you have the right to pooh-pooh me. ^^

This is now my third Camus book.  I am still impressed by his   ability   to put his philosophical ideas into a story with his exceptional   writing skills, particularly  by his way of associating them with the mystical world. Much more if I read it in French. I wonder.

Rating: 3/ 5 stars ( I liked it.)

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2 thoughts on “The Adulterous Woman by Albert Camus: A Book Review

  1. Great Review Joey … I agree with you that an idea is different from an act and I don’t consider Janine to be adulterous .. The mind wanders in forbidden places every time … and it’s wonderful that you were able to point out where Camus’ Philosophy fit in this story .. (^^)

    Liked by 1 person

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