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Story 1: THE ADULTEROUS WOMAN 
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Post Story 1: THE ADULTEROUS WOMAN
Story 1: THE ADULTEROUS WOMAN

Please use this thread for discussing the short story "The Adulterous Woman."



Sun May 18, 2008 6:11 pm
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Janine is in the midst of a midlife crisis, and then:

"Janine, leaning her whole body against the parapet, was speechless, unable to tear herself away from the void opening before her. Beside her, Marcel was getting restless. He was cold; he wanted to go back down. What was there to see here, after all? But she could not take her gaze from the horizon. Over yonder, still farther south, at that point where sky and earth met in a pure line



Mon May 19, 2008 9:03 pm
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Thanks. It's really a wonderful passage that translation hasn't seemed to hurt. Janine becomes connected here to something much larger; knowledge of human minuteness might be part of it. The story stressed how her life was circumscribed by her existence as Marcel's wife. What little value she seemed to herself to have depended on Marcel, whom she now wonders if she has ever loved. This is a profoundly religious moment she has, an epiphany of connectedness and of sympathy with the human condition. She is weeping inside (as at the end she weeps outwardly) in both affliction and wonder. She had dreaded coming here and initially hated everything about it. Now she comes out of herself and finds herself, in an alien place become suddenly recognizable as a world always promised to her but not before attained.

Thomas, do you have an idea about the word "adulterous."? It's an intriguing choice. I was sure the title pointed to her becoming involved with the jackal-faced French soldier, but Camus has something more subtle in mind.
DWill


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Thu May 22, 2008 6:45 pm
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Will, the story is amazing. Now I know why Camus got the Nobel prize.

Epiphany or gnosis -- a secular experience of ultimate reality.

"Jackal-soldier" probably (I'm guessing) refers to an Algerian Arab soldier.

Isn't irony a specialty of the French? Maybe Ophelia will tell us. "Adulterous" appears to be ironic misdirection. "Oh no," I said to myself when I saw the title. "Another Madame Bovary." But it isn't about adultery at all. Rather than the woman taken in adultery of John 8, Camus is probably alluding to the woman at the well of John 4 who meets God, and that's what happens to Janine: gnosis. (How ironic for an atheist group!)

KJV

[John 4:10] Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.

THE ADULTEROUS WOMAN

"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. The next moment, the whole sky stretched out over her, fallen on her back on the cold earth."

And gnosis is her separation from Marcel, the mundane person: "Marcel, preoccupied, tore his bread into little pieces. He kept his wife from drinking water. "It hasn't been boiled. Take wine." She didn't like that, for wine made her sleepy." (Moral reform is the effort to throw off sleep.)

Janine is focused on death. Even the stones and stars die. We are all one in death, so alienation is a social illusion.

Tom



Thu May 22, 2008 9:25 pm
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Thomas Hood wrote:
"Adulterous" appears to be ironic misdirection.


One of the things that makes this story exceptional is the fact that we can completely disagree about the meaning of the title. I believe Camus said exactly what he meant. Janine is unsatisfied with her life and particularly with her husband. Will she decide to stifle these new feelings and go back to accepting life as it has been? Will she keep the feelings, but continue to (externally, at least) live the same life? Or will she decide to act on her desire for something (someone?) different?

And, perhaps most importantly, does it matter whether she acts or not? Is the very thought equal to the action? How about just the inkling of being willing to think the thought?

I think these are the kinds of questions Camus pokes, prods, and hints at.



Fri May 23, 2008 8:21 pm
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I suspected that Janine's adultery lay somehow in her act of making a spiritual connection which, one feels, simply has to transform her attitude about living with her husband. This is how wyrrn sees it, too, I think. Thomas's "find" is remarkable, though, and fits extremely well. I agree the story is superb.
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Fri May 23, 2008 8:36 pm
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wyrrn wrote:
Quote:
And, perhaps most importantly, does it matter whether she acts or not? Is the very thought equal to the action? How about just the inkling of being willing to think the thought?


And DWill:
Quote:
Thomas's "find" is remarkable, though, and fits extremely well. I agree the story is superb.


Double entendre, maybe? I was thinking just about the same thing as wyrrn.


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Fri May 23, 2008 8:46 pm
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Here is what I found on good 'ol Wikipedia:

Quote:
Biblical Reference

The title of the story is taken from John 8:3-11 - The Adulterous Woman, in which a mob brings an adulteress before Jesus for judgment, the usual punishment for adultery being death by stoning. Jesus decrees that the first stone be thrown by one who is free from sin; until eventually no one remains. This story from the bible parallels Camus' thinking on Capital Punishment as outlined in Reflections on the Guillotine. Namely, that no authority exists which is capable of passing judgment on another human being because no person possesses absolute innocence.

[edit] Intent vs. Act

Contrary to the title, at no point does Janine commit any physical act of adultery. The adultery in question is symbolic and in her own mind. By the end of the story, Janine is only guilty of the thought but it is not clear if she will take further action on her frustration or if she is prepared to go back to how things were before and accept her life. The title could be read as implying that the will to commit the act is equal to the act itself.


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Fri May 23, 2008 9:21 pm
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Puroosing the internet I also found this:

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=9575453

It is a link to NPR:

All Things Considered, April 13, 2007 · In 1957, French-Algerian writer Albert Camus won the Nobel Prize for Literature, and his short story collection Exile and the Kingdom was first published in French. The first English translations of the stories were not well received by critics.

Fifty years later, Carol Cosman has given a fresh translation to the book, which is being published in paperback, with a forward by Turkish novelist and recent Nobel winner Orhan Pamuk.


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Fri May 23, 2008 9:28 pm
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The 1957 translation you mention must be the one by O'Brien that I and I assume others are using. It seems fine to me, but what do I know about it? I am interested in getting a hold of the French, just to see if I can tell anything about the choices made. I'd be interested to know, for example, why the translator chose the word "renegade" to translate the title of the second story. Also, maybe "adulterous" doesn't do full justice to Camus' French. I think we need a consult from Ophelia.
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Sat May 24, 2008 10:42 am
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DWill,
I'm reading the new translation by Carol Cosman. It would be interesting to compare the two. I've wondered which translation others are reading.

So anyone, which are you reading?

Saffron


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Sat May 24, 2008 10:59 am
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I'd like to defend my interpretation of Janine's non-adulterous adultery. Her adultery is spiritual, not mundane. In Catholic iconography spiritual ecstasy in women is represented as orgasm. (See the statue of the Ecstasy of St Teresa by Bernini at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecstasy_of_St_Theresa ) Or as Camus expresses it:
"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. The next moment, the whole sky stretched out over her, fallen on her back on the cold earth."

Apparently Camus combined the adulterous woman at the well of John 4 with the woman taken in adultery of John 8. There is a long review of The Adulterous Woman by David B. Parsell at

http://www.geocities.com/paul_rim/adulterous.htm

Professor Parsell points out two allusions to John 8, the threatened stoning ("the bus on which Janine and Marcel are riding is frequently pelted by wind-driven sand") and Jesus' writing in the sand ("An even deeper inscription of the parable occurs when Janine perceives undecipherable writing in the sand. . . ." In The Adulterous Woman, atop the fort Janine sees in the remote distance camels resembling writing: "All around them a flock of motionless dromedaries, tiny at that distance, formed against the gray ground the black signs of a strange handwriting, the meaning of which had to be deciphered.")

Parsell unfortunately overlooks the relevance of the woman at the well, so his interpretation is primarily secular. Algeria is an arid place, a symbol of modern western society. Janine finds the well of the water of life within herself.

Tom



Sat May 24, 2008 2:08 pm
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Thanks so much for selecting this wonderful story, so easily accessible on the internet as Christ has kindly mentioned.

My view is that the adultery is between France and Algeria. Janine represents the vital spirit of French life, stifled by the constraining bonds of economic life. She sees the Algerians - "poverty-stricken but free lords of a strange kingdom" - as a symbol of the connection to reality that France has foresworn in its imperial self identity. As a child of empire, Janine looks wistfully at the free outsiders (pun) who are excluded from power but retain their soul. She wishes in her heart to adulterate the proud Caldoche image - rather like the mayor in Chocolat - by combining it with a cultural outlook with real connection to the earth. There are echos here of Goethe's Faust, with the big modern European myth that one had to sell one's soul to the devil. Janine looks with contempt on her wooden husband, with all creativity drained from him by the exigencies of membership in the dominant order.



Sat May 24, 2008 8:45 pm
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Since I wasn't aware of the Biblical reference in this story, I found an alternate meaning to the title while I was reading it. Adulterous means not being faithful. So, an alternate take on the story could be that when Janine realizes that she didn't really love her husband, she realizes that she hasn't been faithful, in thought, both to herself and her husband, for all of the 20+ years she's lived with him.

PS: Kudos to those who chose this book! :up: The story has several interpretations which I really doubt I would've realized had I read it alone by myself. These are the kind of books that are better for and lead to discussions.



Sun May 25, 2008 8:08 am
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Saffron wrote:
I'm reading the new translation by Carol Cosman. It would be interesting to compare the two. I've wondered which translation others are reading.

So anyone, which are you reading?

The translation in mine is by Justin O'Brien. From the replies I've seen here, I'm guessing that's the (older and) more popular translation.



Sun May 25, 2008 8:12 am
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