(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Taking its ironic title from the parable that is related in John 8:3-11, “The Adulterous Woman” describes a day of sensual and spiritual crisis in the life of a middle-aged, faithful wife who, until the time of the story, has had little reason or occasion to question the basic facts of her existence. Narrated in the third person, although from the limited viewpoint of the title character, known only as Janine, the story tells of Janine’s inner and outer adventures during the course of a business trip on which, however reluctantly, she has agreed to accompany Marcel, her husband.

Although French by origin and culture, both Janine and Marcel are pieds-noirs (black feet), presumably born and reared in Algeria during the period of French domination that still continues. Neither Janine nor her husband has ever managed to master the language of Algeria’s Arab majority; throughout their marriage, Janine and Marcel have lived all but confined to their apartment in one of Algeria’s northern, Europeanized cities, intent on the precarious textile trade that Marcel has inherited from his family. The trip described in the story is in fact their first venture into the Algerian interior, prompted by Marcel’s long-planned determination to eliminate the “middleman” in his transactions with rural Arab merchants.

During the course of a long, difficult bus ride, Janine finds herself recalling the years of her marriage to Marcel and, for the first time, questioning her attachment to him. Marcel is shorter than she is, with irritating mannerisms; what is more, he has long since abandoned his legal studies in favor of the business in which Janine often assists him. Under the frank gaze of a jackal-faced French soldier seated across from her on the bus, Janine begins simultaneously to doubt and to reaffirm her sexual desirability: Tall and far from slender, she is, she reasons, probably still attractive....

(The entire section is 790 words.)