Wednesday, September 26, 2007

“The Other Wife” (Annotation G2-9/Goddard)

“The Other Wife,” takes place over lunch in a crowded restaurant. The development of the characters is potent and crisp, and the economy of the characters is in subtle clues and description. In the scant action and dialogue of the story, Marc, the husband quickly emerges as a believable and well-known character.

In the crowded scene the Maitre d’ attempts to lead the couple to a window table, which excites Alice, the wife. Marc nervously refuses the picturesque table for a table in the middle of the busy dining room to the dismay of the wife, and the Maitre d’ “stricken with a kind of nervous dance, who was standing next to them, perspiring,” (Colette 68). Alice indulges her husband asking him why he’d choose one table over the other. He cannot give her a straight answer and promises to once they get settled. After Marc regains some of his composure, he orders lunch and tells his wife why he refused the first table for one that is less comfortable in the dead center of the room.
“Marc Seguy never considered lying. ‘Because you were about to sit next to someone I know.’
‘Someone I don’t know?’
‘My ex-wife.’ (Colette 68).
The basic premise of the story unfolds in the brief conversation. Marc asks the second wife, Alice, if she is uncomfortable. Not at all, Alice insists: “She’s the one who must be uncomfortable” (Colette 70) Yet in fact the ex-wife sits placidly in her chair, smoking, gazing out the window. Marc characterizes her as a woman who could never be satisfied, in contrast to Alice, who is “obviously” completely happy, “How lucky we are that our happiness doesn’t involve any guilty parties of victims!” (Colette 69). But his reasons for this conclusion are interesting (and very revealing of him as a character). He thinks that because his ex-wife did not indulge him as Alice does, then his ex-wife must not have been satisfied in their relationship—when in fact he was not satisfied with her because she did not place him at the center of her world. He assumes that the act of indulging his wants must be satisfying to the woman as well.
Alice is unable to stop staring at the ex-wife who had divorced her husband only fifteen months before. As she listens to Marc’s descriptions of his first marriage and his first wife, Alice asks herself simply: “What more did she want from him?” (Colette 70). As the story ends, Marc is paying the bill, and grateful to leave the restaurant scene behind him. Conversely, Alice “kept looking, with envy and curiosity, at the woman in white, this dissatisfied, this difficult, this superior…” (Colette 70)

Colette. “The Other Wife.” Trans. Matthew Ward. Sudden Fiction International. Ed. Robert Shapard and James Thomas. New York: WW Norton, 1989. 67-70.

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