An Analysis of Colette's "The Other
Colette's "The Other Wife"
Commentary by Karen Bernardo
Want to know more? Check out BookRags!
Colette's "The Other Wife" chronicles an awkward but in these days not uncommon situation -- a new wife running
into the woman who used to be married to her husband.
Alice, Colette's female protagonist, has never before laid eyes on Marc's ex-wife. They encounter her in a
restaurant, when the maitre d' is trying to seat the married couple very close to the small table where the other
woman is seated. Marc, obviously recognizing the ex-wife and wishing to avoid any unpleasantness, tells the maitre
d' they'd rather sit elsewhere, and after they've ordered, he tells Alice why.
From that moment on, it is all Alice can do to avoid staring at the woman continuously. Marc insists that his
previous marriage was doomed from the start -- "total incompatibility!" They divorced "quickly, quickly," and no
residual feelings remain, either good or bad. He's just sorry that this encounter has made Alice
Not at all, Alice insists: "She's the one who must be uncomfortable." 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. 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, on the other hand, envies Marc's ex-wife for her independence. The ex-wife clearly doesn't feel she needs to
indulge anybody. While Alice is nearly jumping out of her skin from nervousness, the ex-wife isn't uncomfortable in
her singlehood at all; she rests "her head....against the back of the cane chair, her eyes closed with an air of
satisfied lassitude." Colette's last sentence tells us Alice even sees the woman as "superior."
Why would this be? Because she, at last, is divested of the need to indulge a man, to be subservient to his wishes
and whims. Alice wishes she could be so lucky.
This story can be found in "The Collected Stories of Colette."
It is available in paperback from Amazon here:
It is also available in paperback from Barnes and Noble here: